Jules Crozet stared in awe at the beauty around them. From this hill he could see east down to the sparkling Indian Ocean and west into the jungle of Madagascar. A lemur stared at him from a nearby tree, a look of casual indifference on its face. But he already knew that there was more to this place.
“Do you know what I see here, Crozet?” Captain du Fresne asked, gold buttons gleaming as he puffed out his chest.
“The sea, my captain?” Crozet asked.
“Hahaha, no, more than that,” du Fresne replied.
“Hahaha, no, more interesting.”
“Some sort of strange monkey?”
“Come now, Crozet, where is your poetry?”
Crozet shrugged. “I prefer prose.”
“What I see,” du Fresne said, “is a land rich in potential.”
It seemed best to nod.
“Very well said, captain,” Crozet replied. “Though sadly it is also rich in smallpox. Seven of the crew are dead already. We should resupply quickly and move on.”
“Show some spirit,” du Fresne said, punching his second-in-command on the arm. “A Frenchman does not go running at the first hint of danger.
“Though we should probably get going. The ocean will not explore itself.”
Given the choice between fetching water and chopping wood for repairs, Crozet had decided to join the logging party. After weeks stuck aboard the cramped quarters of the ship, he wanted to cut loose swinging an axe.
Plus someone had to keep an eye on the captain.
Sunshine streamed down from a clear sky as they walked up from the clear blue waters of the cove.
“Do you know what I see here, Crozet?” Captain du Fresne asked. Instead of an axe or rope he was carrying a telescope, the better to see the rest of the scenery.
“I believe the British have named it Tasmania,” Crozet said.
“True, true,” du Fresne replied. “But what do you see that the British missed?”
“Frenchmen?” Crozet asked. “I believe we’re the first here.”
“Hahaha, very funny. But no, something else.”
“Those locals in the treeline? The ones with the hatchets and stones?”
“Well, maybe,” du Fresne conceded. “But something grander.”
Crozet shrugged. “I’m not a grand man like you, my captain.”
“True, true,” du Fresne said, nodding his head. “What I see is a land rich in potential.”
A stone came flying out of the woods, hitting one of the sailors. As he stumbled, clutching his bleeding forehead, a flurry of rocks and axes hurtled their way, accompanied by angry shouting.
“I don’t think the natives want us here,” Crozet said, raising his hands to protect his head. “Perhaps we should head back to the boats?”
“A Frenchman does not flee peril,” du Fresne said. An axe spun through the air, planting itself in the ground beneath his feet. “But he might go back to fetch the muskets. With me, boys!”
Together they turned tail and ran.
A smiling young woman held out a large leaf piled with slices of meat. Returning her smile, Crozet took a piece. It tasted like pork.
There were a lot of Maori in Te Kauri’s village today. Every day, more of the chief’s people followed du Fresne on his expeditions around the island. Crozet still didn’t know whether they were curious or keeping an eye on the explorers.
“Do you know what I see here, Crozet?” du Fresne asked.
Friendly as their hosts had initially been, Crozet felt the need for a note of caution.
“One of the young men who stole our anchor?” he asked.
“Hahaha, such japes,” du Fresne replied. “Reminds me of my youth.”
“Those elders who shout at you when you go fishing in the cove?”
“If it was really a problem, don’t you think they would have stopped us by now?”
“One of our sailors who harassed Te Kauri’s daughter?” Crozet asked, pointing at the offending crewman, who looked away embarrassed.
“Come now, Crozet, can’t you think bigger?”
At last Crozet let himself smile. Here he was in this lovely village, being offered refreshments by a pretty young woman. The locals were the most friendly they had ever met. The food was delicious. The scenery was stunning.
“I see a land rich in potential,” he said.
“Well now,” du Fresne said, also smiling. “I think you might be right.”
Gathering up his fishing party, du Fresne headed down towards the sea. They carried nets and rods, while their Maori companions carried spears and clubs. The Maori didn’t seem to fish in the same way as them.
The young woman held out the tray of meat towards Crozet again.
“I’m afraid I have to go work,” he said, hoping she might at least understand his tone. “Later, perhaps.”
He headed back to the ship.
Chief Te Kauri surveyed the pile of bodies next to the fire. He might keep the French captain’s coat. He liked the buttons.
“Do you know what I see?” he asked as his men started stripping the bodies.
“Not enough of them,” his daughter Whetu replied angrily. “We’ve been sloppy. His man Crozet will come in search of vengeance.”
“Crozet’s a coward,” Te Kauri said. “Something else.”
“I don’t know.” Whetu emptied one of the sailors’ pouches onto the floor, then stared in irritation at three misshapen dice and a cracked clay pipe. “More junk for your collection of foreign things.”
“Better than that,” Te Kauri said, reaching out for one of the bodies.
“Alright, I give up.” Whetu sighed. “Though if you just say lunch-”
Te Kauri picked up his cleaver and licked his lips as he looked at du Fresne’s thigh.
“I see a body rich in potential,” he said.
* * *
The ill-fated voyage of Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne was a real one which took place in 1771-2. The captain discovered many new places for the French, most of which had previously been discovered by the British, and all of which had already been discovered by their inhabitants. He ended up being killed by Maoris led by Te Kauri, and the claim that he was then eaten seems credible, though there are conflicting accounts of events leading up to the killing. Jules Crozet made it out alive, and even had some islands named after him.
For more on ill-fated expeditions like this one, I recommend Ed Wright’s book Lost Explorers, which is where I first read about du Fresne. And if you’d like more short historical fiction, there’s also my book From a Foreign Shore, available on Kindle through Amazon.