Francois Péron - Scientist of the Day
Francois Péron, a French zoologist, was born Aug. 22, 1775. In 1800, Péron signed on with Le Geographe and Le Naturaliste, two ships that were headed for Australia, commanded by Nicolaus Baudin, with a full complement of 24 scientists on board. Péron was the junior naturalist, but as others succumbed to scurvy and dysentery, he gradually rose to become the senior man (which is to say, the sole survivor). The voyage gathered some hundred thousand specimens, quite a number of them still living, which—animals and plants alike—would be farmed out to such artificial Edens as the gardens of Malmaison, the estate of Josephine, Napoleon’s wife. Baudin himself died in 1803, before the ships returned, and so it fell to Péron’s lot to write the narrative of the voyage. The curse of Baudin eventually spread to Péron, who died in 1810, when he was only 35 years old, and the narrative had to be finished by yet another. We displayed Péron’s Voyage de découvertes aux terres Australes (1807-16) in our Grandeur of Life exhibition in 2009; on the web version you can see the plates of two banded wallabies and two black emus. The images above, from the same work, show two platypi (Ornithorhynchus), a family of Tasmanian aborigines with their reed canoes, and a pair of quoll (Dasyrus), which are small carnivorous marsupials.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City