Bougainville and Tahiti

Arnold Whitridge describes how, in April 1768, Bougainville reached ‘an enchanting island’ in the South Pacific.

It is ironic that while to most people today the too rampantly over everything, to his own name ‘Bougainville’ suggests only an un- generation in England as well as in France distinguished tropical plant which climbs all Admiral Bougainville was a man of the most varied and striking accomplishments. In 1754, at the age of twenty-five he had been elected a member of the Royal Society in London on the strength of his treatise on calculus. Thanks to D’Alembert, a devoted friend as well as teacher, he was already well-known as a mathematician in Paris. Not long after his election to the Royal Society he was fighting against the British in Canada.

When Montcalm was appointed to the command of the French forces in Canada he took with him as aide-de-camp, on the strength of Mme. de Pompadour’s recommendation, young Louis Antoine de Bougainville. Mme. de Pompadour had been a friend of Bougainville’s uncle long before her rise to fame, and it was because of her insistence that the young man was appointed. For once Mme. de Pompadour made no mistake. Bougainville had an active, enquiring mind; he spoke English well, and he was eager for the job. Montcalm was delighted with him. For an intelligent Frenchman in the wilds of Canada it was gratifying to have a sympathetic anvil at hand upon which he could hammer out his ideas.

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