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All his life, Jose has seen the tall ships sailing into Port Louis on the island of Mauritius, where he was born. As he watches them leave again, disappearing below the horizon, he dreams of one day sailing away with them - to see the world. He thinks about all the adventures he would have, the ships he would capture and the buried treasure he would find on faraway islands.
But, when the young and beautiful Rose de Freycinet arrives on board the Uranie in 1817, JosÃ©'s life changes in ways that he had never imagined. Pirates, cannibals, storms and shipwrecks become harsh realities and Jose is forced to muster all his courage and intelligence to survive the dangers of shipboard life.
This is a story of adventure on the high seas at a time in history when ships sailed the vast oceans of the world with only the wind to power them. Huge continents and tiny islands lay in uncharted waters waiting to be added to the world map. But so did treacherous reefs, icebergs, powerful currents and destructive winds. Ships disappeared without trace. Sailors risked their lives atop swaying masts and below in dank, dark holds. They suffered from scurvy, dysentery and sometimes starvation, far from medical attention. And yet, men still ventured into the unknown. Jose became one of those men.
To See the World is highly acclaimed author, Elaine Forrestal's new book. A fictional account of Rose de Freycinet's voyage on the Uranie, 1817-1820, it based on Rose's journal kept in the National Library of Australia.
The story is narrated by Jose, an illiterate mulatto, who dreamed of being a famous sea captain and encounters with pirates and cannibals. A real person, Jose begins his journey as a cabin boy, knowing nothing but how to be free and wild. He ends it literate in more than letters; with experiences that would have killed a weaker spirit. This is a wonderful adventure of courage and determination whichever way you look at it.
With women prohibited on state ships, Rose de Freycinet dressed as a man and boarded the vessel to be close to her husband, Louis, Commander of the Uranie. He had a passion for terrestrial magnetism, astronomy and meteorology, and meticulously charted every detail of his research and discoveries.
Rose's life is a magnificently recorded document. She spent the entire journey educating Jose, recording everything she heard, saw, and experienced. Rose became the ‘first European woman to write an account of her circumnavigation of the world'. The Uranie was shipwrecked on the Falkland Islands on its return voyage in February, 1820.
Elaine Forrestal has recreated a breathtaking vision of this real event. From the beginning of this love story amidst a great historical event, she has filled each page with excitement, courage and resilience.
The book ends in two pages of references and a Glossary. More on this extraordinary voyage can be found in the NLA archives.
Just yesterday one of my students was very excited about her discovery of the excellent My Story series, and I suspect that another fan of historical fiction has been born! I wonder if she might also enjoy To See the World which is based on a similar premise: bringing history to life through the story of a child who lived in a previous era.
To See the World is based on the true life story of a cabin boy named José, who went to sea aboard L'Uranie, a ship commanded by Louis de Freycinet in the early 18th century. Elaine Forrester has crafted his story from the journals of Rose de Freycinet, the adventurous young wife who disguised herself as a boy to stow away aboard L'Uranie, scandalising French society and worrying the superstitious sailors who thought that women brought bad luck. The book begins with José's alarm at being expected to take lessons with Madame Freycinet, and he finds reading and writing hard going at first after his free-and-easy life in Mauritius.
As the author explains in the historical notes at the back of the book, in 1818 many of the French officials on Mauritius had taken mulatto mistresses, and they were often generous to these women and their children. When José's father was recalled to France in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, he made provision for José by placing him in the care of Freycinet. Teaching him would provide an interest for Rose (who by the time L'Uranie reached Mauritius was bored and homesick) and an education for José would give him a better chance in life.
As the lessons progress, José matures. He comes to see Rose as a person, and to care about her. At the same time, he adapts to life at sea, first taking on duties in the galley, and later when he is older, as a sailor. (The voyage lasts more than three years so he leaves boyhood behind as well as his family). He witnesses a death at sea, and is asked by the Commander to listen out for any incriminating conversations so that the murderer can be identified. He survives massive storms, shipwreck and being marooned on an island. He also witnesses historical events of interest to Australians: the removal of the Vlamingh plate; an encounter with the Malgana People of Shark Bay WA, and a visit to the fledgling Sydney Town at Port Jackson on the east coast. (Alas, Rose had some of her precious belongings stolen in Sydney - but, well, what could she expect ‘when more than half the population has been sent here for breaking the law'!
The last part of the voyage where the ship's company is at the mercy of a competing gun-runner and an American whaler is quite exciting, and José ‘s subsequent journeys are a bit of an anti-climax. But over all, I think young people will enjoy this book for the glimpse of an adventurous life that seems appealing despite its discomforts and dangers. Each chapter is illustrated with B&W reproductions of images from the National Library, including a painting featuring Rose and José that was censored from the official account of this voyage because Rose was not supposed to be on board.
Rose de Freycinet herself, of course, deserves to be better known because while not the first woman to circumnavigate the world, she was the first to journal her experiences. (An image of a French publication of her journal is included in the book). Her husband, Louis de Freycinet is known to Australians as the navigator who managed to publish his map of the Australian coastline (complete with French place names and claims of French discoveries already made by the British) ahead of Matthew Flinders' map because Flinders was detained by the French governor at Mauritius for six years. But time goes by, and petty rivalries can be set aside in honour of the brave men - and woman - who showed great courage and tenacity in the quest to explore the planet.
A most interesting and enjoyable book that deserves a place in school libraries everywhere.