National Heritage List inscription date 7 October 2005
It will be difficult to describe my feelings at the sight of this solitary harbour situated at the extremities of the globe, so perfectly enclosed that one feels separated from the rest of the universe. Everything is influenced by the wilderness of the rugged landscape. With each step, one encounters the beauties of unspoilt nature.
Bruni d'Entrecasteaux 1792
D'Entrecasteaux’ scientific and exploratory expedition to the north-east peninsula of Recherche Bay in the 1790s saw the cataloguing of numerous plants, astronomical observations and geomagnetic tests, and the documenting of early European interactions with Aboriginal communities that remain important today.
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The French explorers
During the late 18th century when there was widespread speculation in Europe about Terra Australis Incognita (the unknown southern land), Britain and France were competing to chart and explore the new world. French explorer La Perouse following Captain Cook’s 1770 voyage notes, arrived in Botany Bay just days after the First Fleet in 1788, then sailed north with his two ships, disappearing without a trace.
Three years later an expedition led by Bruni d'Entrecasteaux left France under orders from Louis XVI to try to find missing French explorer La Perouse and also to complete charts of the southern land. The expedition set sail in two 350 tonne frigates, the Recherche and the Esperance.
The landing in Van Diemen’s Land in April 1792, was the result of an accident. Following a violent storm, the French vessels mistook what was later named Recherche Bay for Adventure Bay, a safe harbour observed by Tasman, as a place to recuperate. They stopped there for more than four weeks, then undertook an extended but unsuccessful search for La Perouse to the northeast of Australia, and returned to Recherche Bay for another three weeks in 1793.
During both visits, Recherche Bay saw much activity by the 221 passengers and crew. The explorers set up a camp, made a garden and scientific observatory and while they replenished their supplies, they also dedicated as much time as possible to scientific research.
Scientific observations of the southern land
Not only did they prepare a garden to establish European plants, but the expedition’s botanists catalogued almost 5,000 specimens including the blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus), which later became Tasmania's floral emblem.
Jacques Julien Houtou de Labillardiere’s botanical collection from Recherche Bay, is included in the first publication of general flora of Australia— Novae Hollandiae Plantarum Specimen (1804-06).
Elisabeth Paul Edouard Rossel set up an observatory at Bennett's Point and conducted the first scientific experiment in Australia, observing that geo-magnetism varied with latitude. This discovery was to revolutionise compass use and make navigation much safer, especially in and around Terra Australis Incognita. This was of great significance to navigational science and the event was commemorated by the unveiling of a plaque on the site by the CSIRO in 1992.
The ‘French Garden’ was planted with the intention of providing food for other maritime adventurers, but also as a ‘gift’ from the French for the benefit of the Indigenous people.
The relatively extensive, well-documented (both pictorially and written), encounters on the north east peninsula of Recherche Bay between the expedition members and the Indigenous people provided a very early opportunity for meetings and mutual observation. The recordings, from the French perspective, of these encounters, are important observations of the lives of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people. These observations contribute significantly to knowledge of the diversity of traditional Aboriginal cultures.
Today, Recherche Bay can still only be reached by boat. It is possible to land on the beach, but there are no walking trails through the area and it is best experienced from the water.
Consultation with Indigenous people about the Recherche Bay (North East Peninsula) Area national heritage listed place
Indigenous people are the primary source of information on the value of their heritage and should be consulted on a proposed action likely to significantly impact on the listed Indigenous heritage values of the place and/or on a protected matter that has Indigenous heritage values (like listed threatened species).
Prior to undertaking any action, proponents should contact the appropriate Aboriginal Traditional Owners and custodians of the land on which the action will occur that has listed values that may be significantly impacted, as well as the Aboriginal Traditional Owners and custodians of adjoining lands that may be significantly impacted by the action.
A letter from the appropriate representative bodies declaring that they have been adequately consulted on the action informs the Department that a best practice approach has been undertaken. Further information on Aboriginal representative bodies is available from Native Title Corporations or via local Aboriginal Land Councils. Guidance about best practice Indigenous engagement can be found at Engage early – guidance for proponents on best practice Indigenous engagement for environmental assessments under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).