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Landmark biography of explorer Dumont d'Urville

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Thursday 25 September 2014 12:01pm

Dumont D'Urville cover

Set against a broad sweep of European and Pacific history, a comprehensive new biography of explorer Jules Sébastien César Dumont d'Urville (1790–1842) reveals his life and times as never before.

Dumont d'Urville (1790–1842) is one of the most famous explorers of the age of sail, an exceptionally erudite navigator who has been called France’s Captain Cook. D’Urville cultivated a profound engagement not only with maritime exploration but also with botany, entomology, ethnography and the diverse languages of the world. He lived through a tumultuous period of revolution, territorial expansion and scientific discovery. As a young ensign he was decorated for his pivotal part in the acquisition of the famous Vénus de Milo.

“D’Urville has something to offer all who encounter him,” says author Edward Duyker.

Dumont d’Urville: Explorer & Polymath, published by Otago University Press, is an unrivalled biographical work, fully encompassing the private and public world of this indubitably larger than life figure. Author Edward Duyker charts the multiple facets of d’Urville: his passionate but emotionally fraught marriage; his scientific legacy in the Pacific, Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica; his secret orders to search for the site for a French penal colony in the Antipodes; his radical political views and participation in the French Revolution of 1830.

‘I've used primary documents that have long been overlooked, including d'Urville's personal journal during the voyage of the Coquille. To my knowledge this journal has not been used by any other historian,’ says Professor Duyker.

This book also surveys d’Urville’s scientific contribution and the plant and animal species he collected. And it discusses his conceptualisation of the peoples of Pacific—it was d’Urville who coined the terms ‘Melanesia’ and ‘Micronesia’.

D’Urville made an invaluable contribution to Pacific exploration as well as to the ethnography and natural history of Australia and New Zealand. The grand adventure of his life is fully recounted with surprising drama and pathos in this elegant hardback, which includes 68 illustrations and 10 maps.

Edward Duyker was born in Melbourne to a Dutch father and a Mauritian mother. He received his PhD from the University of Melbourne in 1981 and has published 17 books, many dealing with early Australian, New Zealand and Pacific exploration and natural science.

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