Jeanne Baré

po_Bare-JeanneJeanne Baret (July 27, 1740 – August 5, 1807) was a member of Louis Antoine de Bougainville’s expedition on the ships La Boudeuse and Étoile in 1766–1769. Baret is recognized as the first woman to have completed a voyage of circumnavigation.

Jeanne Baret joined the expedition disguised as a man, calling herself Jean Baret. She enlisted as valet and assistant to the expedition’s naturalist, Philibert Commerçon (anglicized as Commerson), shortly before Bougainville’s ships sailed from France. According to Bougainville’s account, Baret was herself an expert botanist.

Commerson named many of the plants he collected after friends and acquaintances. One of them, a tall shrub with dark green leaves and white flowers that he found on Madagascar, he named Baretia bonafidia. But Commerson’s name for this genus did not survive, as it had already been named by the time his reports reached Paris; it is currently known as Turraea. While over seventy species are named in honor of Commerson, only one, Solanum baretiae, honors Baret.

For many years, Bougainville’s published journal – a popular best-seller in its day, in English translation as well as the original French – was the only widely available source of information about Baret. More recent scholarship has uncovered additional facts and documentation about her life, but much of the new information remained little-known and inaccessible to the general public, particularly outside of France. The first English-language biography of Baret, by John Dunmore, was not published until 2002, and then only in New Zealand. Other articles appeared only in scholarly journals.

The 2010 biography of Baret by Glynis Ridley, The Discovery of Jeanne Baret, brought Baret to the attention of a wider audience and helped to overturn some of the old misconceptions about her life. However, Ridley’s biography has also been highly criticized by some reviewers for its reliance on improbable chains of speculation that are not corroborated by any other primary or secondary sources