It is less well known than it should be. Jeanne Baret was a great woman. At first, she was the first woman to go around the world. But it was much more than that. Her will as a discoverer led her to overcome the prejudices of her time in the 18th century.
The only known picture of Jeanne Baret was found in a travel book. It is the “Navigazioni di Cook pel grande ocean ed in the whole world” (1816-1817). It is an allegorical picture. Beret wears baggy sailor clothing, which symbolizes his journey. The bouquet on his arm represents botany, and the Phrygian cap alludes to freedom.
He was born in 1740 in a small town in Burgundy, France. At the age of 22 she became a babysitter for the son of the naturalist Philibert Commerson. It is believed that Jeanne learned botany from the scientist who entrusted her with the preparation of the herbaria.
Commerson was named “The King’s Physician”. Louis XV Allowed naval officer and explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville (1729-1811) to circumnavigate the globe. It would begin with the mission to deliver the Falkland Islands to the Spanish.
Commerson would be part of the expedition. He immediately thought of taking beret. However, women were forbidden to board ships belonging to the French National Navy.
So Jeanne began the journey in l’Etoile on February 1st, 1767, disguised as a man under the name of ‘Jean Baré’. He was Commerson’s assistant. The frigate La Boudeuse was the other ship that was part of the Bougainville expedition. After three months, the expedition reached Montevideo, the Falkland Islands and Patagonia. During the crossing, the naturalist suffered a leg injury that restricted his mobility. Jeanne was responsible for collecting most of the plants.
Adventure of travel
In 1773 Commerson died on Maurice Island. Jeanne had to marry a French soldier to return to France. In 1776 he returned to Paris with more than thirty sealed boxes containing 5,000 species of plants that he had collected on his travels around the world. 3,000 of them were new. These collections were linked to those of the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, where Commerson’s manuscripts could be consulted.
Jeanne Baret’s work with Commerson was officially recognized by the King. This granted him a pension of £ 200. In gratitude for the work of this botanist – and the first woman to travel the world – biologist Eric Tepe and his team have named a flower after him, the Solarium baretiae.
“Baret deserves recognition for his work,” says Tepe. We named new species in honor of Baret to change historical amnesia about them.
“She must have been an admirable woman, very brave and determined. Dressing up as a man and joining a ship is not for everyone. She is portrayed as little more than the mistress of the famous botanist Commerson. But she was a great botanist and explorer herself. Your contributions certainly deserve recognition. “