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Huon De Kermadec, Jean-Michel (1748–1793)

by Edward Duyker

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

Jean-Michel Huon De Kermadec (1748-1793), mariner, was born on 12 September 1748 in the Manoir du Tromeur, Bohars, near Brest, Finistère, France, son of Jean-Guillaume Huon de Kermadec and his wife Anne, née du Mescam. Jean-Michel joined the navy as a garde de marine in May 1766 and was promoted enseigne de vaisseau in 1773. During the American war of independence he took part in the battle of Ushant (1778) and served in the Diadème at the capture of Grenada and the siege of Savannah (1779); in 1781 he was appointed (chevalier) to the Order of Saint Louis.

In 1785 Huon joined the Résolution at Brest as second-in-command to Bruny d'Entrecasteaux and took part in the ship's voyage of exploration to China. Huon gained his first command, the Rhône, in 1789 and on 11 April that year became a member of the Académie de la Marine. He again served under d'Entrecasteaux in the Patriote in 1790-91, then took command of the Espérance, as part of d'Entrecasteaux's expedition in search of La Pérouse, which cleared the harbour of Brest on 28 September 1791. At sea the following day Huon was advised of his promotion to capitaine de vaisseau. After visiting Tenerife and the Cape of Good Hope and surveying the islands of Amsterdam and Saint Paul, d'Entrecasteaux decided to investigate reports that the inhabitants of the Admiralty Islands were 'adorned with French uniforms and marine sword belts' and to approach these islands 'by passing south of New Holland'. On 23 April 1792 the two vessels arrived at and named Recherche Bay in Van Diemen's Land, where fresh water was found. Their sojourn lasted until 28 May.

The expedition then sailed north to the Isle of Pines, along the west coast of New Caledonia to New Ireland, to the Admiralty Islands and then to Ambon without finding any trace of La Pérouse. From the Netherlands East Indies, they headed for south-western New Holland and, after negotiating the hazardous 'Archipelago of the Recherche', reached and named Esperance Bay, Western Australia, on 9 December. The French remained anchored off the coast until 17 December.

With reserves of water critically low by January 1793, Huon persuaded d'Entrecasteaux to sail directly to Van Diemen's Land, where they could be assured of replenishment, thereby losing the opportunity to determine the existence of a strait south of New Holland. On 21 January the expedition returned to Recherche Bay. This second visit to Tasmania, which lasted until 27 February, was characterized by friendly contact with the indigenous inhabitants. It was also significant for the discovery of the Derwent estuary. The Recherche and Espérance sailed on to Tongatapu and then Balade in New Caledonia where Huon de Kermadec died of tuberculosis on 6 May 1793. He was buried on the offshore island of Poudioué (Cook's Observatory Island).

A well-read and cultured man, who sketched and played the flute, Huon left precise instructions that his substantial library should be distributed among his fellow officers. He was unmarried. D'Entrecasteaux named the Huon River in Tasmania and the Kermadec Islands, north-east of New Zealand, after him. The Kermadec Trench and Kermadec Ridge in the Pacific also honour his name as does, indirectly, the magnificent Huon pine (Lagarostrabus franklinii) in Tasmania.

Select Bibliography

  • E. P. E. de Rossel (ed), Voyage de D’Entrecasteaux, Envoyé à la Recherche de la Pérouse (Paris, 1808)
  • M. Dupont, D’Entrecasteaux: Rien que la Mer un Peu de Gloire (Paris, 1983)
  • H. Richard, Le Voyage de D’Entrecasteaux à la Recherche de Lapérouse (Paris, 1986)
  • F. Horner, Looking for La Pérouse (Melb, 1995)
  • E. and M. Duyker (eds and translators), Bruny D’Entrecasteaux: Voyage to Australia & the Pacific 1791-1793 (Melb, 2001)
  • E. Duyker, Citizen Labillardière: A Naturalist’s Life in Revolution and Exploration (1755-1834) (Melb, 2003)
  • private information.

Citation details

Edward Duyker, 'Huon De Kermadec, Jean-Michel (1748–1793)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/huon-de-kermadec-jean-michel-12998/text23495, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 30 October 2014.

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

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