On December the 9th, French Navigator, and Captain Jean-Michel Huon De Kermadec and his crew, were facing imminent peril. Their ship, La Esperance, stricken by wild, heavy seas and harrowing gale force winds, was being driven towards the coast. To their great relief they finally reached a headland (which he named Cape Le Grand) and sighted a bay that offered shelter and protection.
The small fleet sailed into Esperance Bay. In fact, they sheltered in the lee of a granite rock which was given the name Observatory Island. French Rear Admiral Antoine D’ Entrecasteaux in La Recherche (The Research) the sister ship to L’Esperance, gave orders to anchor near L’ Esperance.
He wrote in his journal, “I decided to give the harbour the name of ‘‘Esperance Bay”, that of the first frigate to enter it”. He named the archipelago “Recherche” after the ship of that name. He also named Cape Le Grand, Mount Le Grand. The local aboriginal people called the bay ‘Gabbi Kyle’, describing the bay as “where the waters lie like a boomerang”.
In 1791, Antoine Raymond Joseph de Bruni, Chevalier d’Entrecasteaux (1737-1793) was put in command of an expedition to search for the explorer La Pe’rouse and his scientists, who had disappeared after leaving Botany Bay in March 1788.
‘The expedition reached Tasmania on 21st April 1792, intending to replenish their water supply. They stayed there for some time charting part of the coast, planting crops and befriending the natives of the area, who were very shy, although they had been previously visited by other French explorers. Here the water was fresh and the fishing good and they took on three month’s supply of dried and salted fish. D’Entrecasteaux then sailed on to the Pacific, searching for La P’erouse without success; they sailed westward to the Indian Ocean.
The expedition due to adverse winds was compelled to sail well out from the coast. On December 5th they sighted Cape Leeuwin, having circumnavigated Australia. After rounding Cape Leeuwin they named Cape D’Entrecasteaux, owing to high winds they were unable to enter King George Sound so continued along the south coast, naming Cape Riche on the way. The high winds increased, driving the ships along the coast until the Recherche Archipelago was sighted. The whole expedition was in great danger of being lost in a heavy gale’.
‘Esperance before Settlement’ by Thelma c. Daniell
M. Labillardiere tells in some detail of the entrance of the L’Esperance into the bay and writes:
“The L’Esperance was driving towards the land so rapidly, that she was on the point of being stranded, when the Citizen Le Grande, an officer of distinguished merit, went to the mast head, in the very midst of the tempest, and almost immediately came down, exclaiming with enthusiasm that the ship was out of danger! He then pointed out the anchoring place, which he had viewed, and in which he was certain that she would ride in safely. This discovery saved both the ships. We gave it (the cape) the name of Citizen Legrand, which will recall the signal service which that able mariner rendered to our expedition”
Esperance Yesterday and Today John Rintoul
In 1792, the earliest knowledge of the vegetation of the southern coastal area of Western Australia was gained by C.A.G. Riche, a French botanical collector and entomologist, who came to Australia as naturalist on “Esperance” (D’Entrecasreaux expedition, 1791-4), and lost his way while botanising.
Labillardiere made one of a search party. Riche was traced to the edge of a salt lake, near Esperance. For fifty-four hours he had almost been without food, and supplemented his slender supply with the fruit of the shrub now known as Leucopogon Richei. His specimens were all lost, but Labillardiere collected while searching and his finds included Leucopogon Richei, Banksia reprens, Banksia nivea, Chorizema ilicifolia, Eucalyptus cornuta, and Anigozanthos rufa.
The name chorizema, adapted from Greek words meaning “dance” and “drink,” was given because Labillardiere and his party danced with joy at the spot where the plant was found, for they were very thirsty and close by was a spring of fresh water.
“A story of a Hundred Years” Western Australia 1829-1929
During the time they were in Esperance both M.Riche and M. Labilardiere took a keen interest in the geology and natural history of their surroundings. Both describe the considerable detail the rocks, plant life and birds which they saw. As Mr. C.A. Gardner, one time Government Botanist in Western Australia points out, the first kangaroo paw to be collected and described, was discovered and named at Esperance by M. Labillardiere, who writes in his journal; “In those arid wastes grows a fine plant which nearly resembles the iris … I have denominated this species arigosanthus rufa.” To Esperance then goes the honour of having produced the first example of the flower which has become our State’s floral emblem.
Reference Esperance Yesterday and today – John Rintoul