Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Girardin, Marie-Louise Victoire (1754–1794)

by Edward Duyker

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Marie-Louise Victoire Girardin (1754-1794), ship's steward and cross-dresser, was born on 29 June 1754 in the parish of Saint-Louis, Versailles, France, daughter of Jean Girardin, a former royal gardener turned wine merchant, and his wife Angélique Benoise, née Hanet. Marie-Louise was one of nine children. In 1776 she married 26-year-old Etienne Lesserteur, a café proprietor at Versailles. On 14 April 1778 her 11-month-old son Jean died, and on 14 July 1781 she was widowed.

In the early days of the revolution, Girardin fled disgrace and paternal wrath after giving birth to an illegitimate child. Small, plain and very youthful in appearance, she disguised herself as a man and journeyed to Brest with a letter of introduction to the widowed sister of Jean-Michel Huon de Kermadec, Mme Le Fournier d'Yauville. In the busy port of Brest, Huon de Kermadec helped her to find a post as a commis (steward), under the name of Louis Girardin, on board the 74-gun ship Deux Frères, commanded by Le Jar Du Clesmeur. When the crew threatened mutiny, Huon de Kermadec helped her to transfer to La Recherche, which was about to leave in search of La Pérouse. The vessel sailed from Brest in September 1791 under the command of Bruny d'Entrecasteaux.

As a steward, Girardin was exempt from medical examination and enjoyed a small, separate cabin. On 23 April 1792 the expedition reached Recherche Bay in Van Diemen's Land and Girardin became probably the first European woman to visit the island. The French ships left for New Caledonia on 28 May 1792. Girardin was with them when they visited the south-western coast of New Holland (Western Australia) between 9 and 17 December 1792 and when they were back in Van Diemen's Land between 21 January and 27 February 1793. During this second stay, there was much curiosity on the part of the indigenous inhabitants regarding the gender of crewmembers and the apparent lack of women among the ranks of the expedition. Jacques-Malo La Motte du Portail, an officer in L'Espérance, commented in a letter that had the Aborigines examined the steward of La Recherche 'they would have come across what they wished to find'.

The expedition also visited Tenerife, the Cape of Good Hope, New Ireland, the Admiralty Islands, Ambon, Tongatapu, and Balade (New Caledonia) before disintegrating on royalist and republican lines in the Dutch East Indies on receipt of news of the execution of King Louis XVI. Although her shipmates suspected that she was female, Girardin maintained her assumed identity with dogged determination. With operatic dash, she was even slashed on the arm in a duel with an impertinent assistant-pilot whom she had challenged. There is evidence, in the La Motte du Portail journal, that she may eventually have formed a relationship with Mérite, a young ensign in La Recherche. Both died of dysentery, within a day of the other—Mérite at Batavia and Marie-Louise in the Dutch transport Dordrecht on 18 December 1794. The ship's surgeon then revealed her true gender.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Dupont, D’Entrecasteaux: Rien que la Mer un Peu de Gloire (Paris, 1983)
  • E. and M. Duyker (eds and translators), Bruny d’Entrecasteaux: Voyage to Australia and the Pacific 1791-1793 (Melb, 2001)
  • E. Duyker, Citizen Labillardière (Melb, 2003)
  • Connaître les Yvelines: Historie et Archéologie dans les Yvelines, no 9, Oct 1981
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Edward Duyker, 'Girardin, Marie-Louise Victoire (1754–1794)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/girardin-marie-louise-victoire-12938/text23381, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 22 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Girardin, Louis
Birth

29 June 1754
Versailles, France

Death

18 December 1794
at sea

Cause of Death

dysentery

Cultural Heritage
Occupation