Jeanne Baret was part of Bougainville's expeditions on ships Etoile and La Boudeuse in 1766-1769. She is considered as the female to complete a voyage of circumnavigation of the globe.
Five Facts about Jeanne Baret
Baret disguised herself as a male and was known as "Jean Baret."
She was from a low-income family.
Baret has had a lot of knowledge in different plants and gathering them.
She did not intend to disguise as a man.
She also worked as a tavern-keeper.
Jeanne Baret Biography
Jeanne Baret had a humble upbringing. She was born on July 27, 1740, in La Comelle, France. According to her baptism records, she was a legitimate child of Jeanne Pochard and Jean Baret. Her father was said to have worked as a laborer and showed signs of illiteracy because he was unable to sign in the parish register.
Not much information is known about Baret's early childhood and young adulthood. However, she told Bougainville at some point that she was an orphan who lost her money in a lawsuit before deciding to dress as a man. But, this account is widely considered as a fabrication among many historians. They believe Baret only said this to protect Commerson from being involved with her disguised.
Relationship with Commerson and Bougainville
Between 1760 and 1764, Baret was employed by Commerson as a housekeeper. When Commerson's wife died just after giving birth to a son, it is believed that Baret took over the management of the Commerson household.
The relationship between Baret and Commerson was obviously more than an employee and employee. This was made when she fell pregnant in 1764. During that time, the French law required mothers who were pregnant out of wedlock to get a "certificate of pregnancy." In Baret's certificate, she insisted on keeping the identity of her child's father. But, many historians say that the father was no doubt to be Commerson. He was also the one who facilitated the arrangement for witnesses and a lawyer for her behalf.
After giving birth, Baret and Commerson moved to Paris. She continued to serve as Commerson's housekeeper but changed her name to "Jeanne de Boonefoy."
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The child she gave birth to was named Jean-Pierre Baret. He was later given to the Paris Foundling Hospital. Unfortunately, the child died in 1765, shortly after being placed in a foster mother's care.
In 1765, Bouganville invited Commerson to be part of his expedition. However, Commerson hesitated because he was sickly, and he needed Baret's assistance, but women were not allowed on French Navy ships during this period. This was when the idea of Baret disguising herself as a man came into the story.
In 1766, Baret and Commerson agreed to join Bougainville on his expedition. They were on-board the ship named Etoile. Since Commerson had plenty of equipment with him, the ship's captain gave up his sizable cabin for Commerson and Baret. This enabled Baret to have a little more privacy to maintain her disguise.
In 1768, Bougainville interviewed Baret personally after an incident in Tahiti. Baret was surrounded by Tahitians, who were adamant for her to be a girl. She had to be transported back to the ship for her own protection.
At some point in the expedition, Baret and Commerson chose to be left behind in Mauritius to stay with Commerson's friend, Pierre Poivre, the island's governor. Bougainville was ecstatic about the arrangement, especially because he could get rid of the woman who illegally boarded the ship.
Baret's role as the assistant and housekeeper of Commerson continued even when they stayed in Mauritius. However, between 1770 to 1772, Commerson was suffering from constant health issues. He later died in 1773. Although Commerson passed away, Baret established herself on the island and was given a Port Louis property.
After the demise of Commerson, Baret operated a tavern in Port Louis. In 1774, she was married to Jean Debrnat, who was a non-commissioned officer of the French Army. However, there was no information about whether Baret and her new husband arrived in France, which means it is unsure if she indeed completed her voyage of circumnavigation.
In 1785, Baret was awarded a pension of 200 livres per year by the Ministry of Marine. The document which granted her the pension made clear high regard to her circumnavigation of the globe under a disguise.
Commerson was known to name the plants he gathered after his acquaintances and family. Of course, this included Baret. He named a tall shrub with white flowers and dark green leaves he found on Madagascar after her. He called it "Bateria Bonadidia." But, the name did not stick because the records were unable to reach Paris on time and somebody else registered it as Turraea.
In 2010, Baret's life gained a wider audience when Glynis Ridley did a biography on her.
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