So far, we’ve talked a certain amount about villains, but what about heroes?
We have three different varieties, in fact. First, there are the French, officers and men of His Majesty’s navy, with a few civilians thrown in. As we said in our first post, we began our work by deciding that the basis for this series would be a variant of our own world of the late 18th century. At that time, France and England had been involved, on and off, in wars with each other back into the previous century. At the same time, from the mid-18th century on, both had been rivals in exploration of the Pacific.
For English-speakers, the most famous of these explorers is Captain James Cook. In three expeditions (1768-71, 1772-75, and 1776-79), Cook mapped large areas of the ocean and its lands before being killed in a skirmish with Hawaiians in February, 1779.
A parallel explorer, from the French navy of the time, is completely unknown in the English-speaking world except as the name of a flower.
This was Louis Antoine de Bougainville, who is the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the globe in 1766-69. Just as we have learned a great deal from Cook’s voyages, so we have added to our knowledge with de Bougainville, who is a remarkable figure even in the Age of Enlightenment. (You can read a period English version of his famous account at: https://archive.org/download/VoyageAroundTheWorldbyLewisDeBougainville1766-9/Bougainville_Voyage_Eng_Transcr_JFF.pdf)
Twenty years later, another Frenchman, whose story is even more romantic, appears in the literature of the Pacific, Jean-Francois de Galaup de La Perouse. In a voyage which began in 1785 and which only ended in 1788 with the disappearance of La Perouse and his two ships, L’Astrolabe and La Boussole (the Astrolabe and the Compass), and included, along the way, a vast stretch of the Pacific, including Australia and the Kamchatka Peninsula.
This voyage had so attracted public attention that its commissioner, Louis XVI, supposedly asked for news about it on the way to his execution.
So what did the French look like? Common sailors during this time were not normally issued uniforms, but their working gear clearly marked them out as seamen. Officers, however, wore blue coats with red cuffs and small clothes (vests and pantaloons and possibly stockings).
Our second variety of hero is the English equivalent: the Royal Navy, its officers and men. Like the French, their sailors wore no uniforms, only working clothes, which were similar to those of the French, and the officers were blue coats with white collars, cuffs, and small clothes.
When we began our research for Across the Doubtful Sea and its sequels, we were interested to find that it was quite easy to turn up information for the Napoleonic era, but earlier material was harder to come by. Besides paintings from the era, our illustrations come from John Mollo, Uniforms of the American Revolution (British Navy, figures 152-57; French, 158-63) and Eugene Leliepvre, Ancien Regime (plate 15, “Officiers de Marine et Matelots, 1679-1786″),
In our next, we want to share with you the ships we’ve used as models for our ships. In that post, we’ll include exciting news about a new, full-size, sailing replica of the 1770s frigate, L’Hermione.
And, in the post after that, we want to talk about our third variety of hero, the Matan’a’e amavi’o…