A French Voyage to the Spice Islands 1838

Dutch vessels in Ambon Bay. Louis Le Breton

From 1837 to 1840 the French vessels Astrolabe and Zellee commanded by Dumont d’Urville conducted a scientific expedition around the Pacific including a visit to the Moluccan Islands of Ternate, Ambon, Banda and Ceram. The official ship’s artist had died during the voyage and the Assistant Surgeon, Louis Le Breton had taken over as the ship’s artist. Whatever his skills as a doctor, his artistic skills are remarkable and self-evident from these sketches, paintings and lithographs that he produced.

The Strait in Ternate. Louis Le Breton

In Ternate, enterprising merchants brought out to the ship a large number of stuffed Birds of Paradise. There was a glut of birds because no European ship had called there for months and no fewer than four hundred of these birds changed hands.

The Sultan Mosque in Ternate. Louis Le Breton

After a banquet at the Dutch Residency they attended a reception in their honour by the Sultan of Ternate. The evening began with tea, served in exquisite china the Sultan had received from the Dutch Royal Family. All around the huge whitewashed reception room were luxurious gifts from Holland, which the Sultan showed off with great pride and the evening concluded with traditional dances.

Anchored off Fort Victoria in Ambon Bay. Louis Le Breton

After an uneventful four day voyage from Ternate they anchored off Fort Victoria in Ambon. During their twelve days here, the ships rigging were checked and repaired, water and provisions were replenished and for the officers there were numerous invitations to lunches, dinners and receptions.

Collecting fresh water from a stream in Ambon. Louis Le Breton
The river at Batu Merah in Ambon. Louis le Breton

From Ambon they sailed to the Banda Islands a visit which was marked by the same generous hospitality. D’Urville went with the Dutch Governor to inspect the nutmeg plantations on the island of Lontar and some of the crew climbed the Gunung Api volcano.

Gunung Api and ships in the strait of Banda. Louis Le Breton

From Banda they sailed towards Ceram, the village of Warrou, and then towards the New Guinea coast and the Torres Strait.

The village of Warrou on Ceram. Louis Le Breton
A Mosque in the village of Warrou on Ceram. Louis Le Breton


About ianburnet

Author of the book, Spice Islands. Which tells the History, Romance and Adventure of the spice trade from the Moluccas in Eastern Indonesia over a period of 2000 years. Author of the book, East Indies.Which tells the history of the struggle between the Portuguese Crown, the Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company for supremacy in the Eastern Seas. Author of the book 'Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia'. Author of the book 'Where Australia Collides with Asia' Author of the book 'The Tasman Map'. Author of the book 'Eastern Voyages'.
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7 Responses to A French Voyage to the Spice Islands 1838

  1. Denis O'Hara says:

    Thanks Ian. Fascinating. From the artists impressions it is an easy step to imagine the places and times.

  2. ianburnet says:

    And an excellent artist for a ship’s surgeon.

  3. Denise Merla Shaw says:

    Thanks Ian. Just so totally absorbing & intriguing! I’m such a huge fan of all your research & books. The “Journey Through Java” Tour you led many years ago was so inspiring & enjoyable… highlight in my life! Wishing you a Happy & safe 2022.

  4. Bama says:

    Now I regret for not seeing The Sultan Mosque while I was in Ternate. I just googled it up and apparently the roofs look modern now, although fortunately they retained the original architectural style during the renovation sometime in the past.

  5. Randy Rutledge says:

    The doctor/artist was truly talented. These sketches are amazing.

    Apparently the Ternate Royal family has finally ended it’s internal family feuds and crowned the late sultan’s third son as the 49th Sultan of Ternate.

  6. ianburnet says:

    Good News and thanks for keeping me up to date

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