Australian Dictionary of Biography

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La Billardière, Jacques-Julien Houtou de (1755–1834)

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Jacques-Julien Houtou de La Billardière (1755-1834), naturalist, was born at Alençon, France, on 23 October 1755. He studied botany at Montpellier before graduating as a doctor of medicine at Paris. After spending eighteen months in England examining plants brought from many parts of the world he botanized in the Alps, Cyprus, Syria and Mount Lebanon, Crete, Sardinia and Corsica. On his return to France he began to publish Icones Plantarum Syriae Rariorum Discriptionibus et Observationibus Illustratae (Paris, 1791), which he completed in 1812.

In 1791 he joined the expedition sent out under Bruny d'Entrecasteaux in La Recherche and L'Espérance to search for La Pérouse. On the voyage La Billardière collected not only plants but animals, fish and birds. He was a keen observer and his Relation du Voyage à la Recherche de La Pérouse (1-2, and book of illustrations, Paris, 1800; English translation, London, 1800) contains valuable descriptions of the lands and peoples the expedition visited, including detailed accounts of the appearance and ways of the Australian Aboriginals. When, after the death of Bruny, the officers, mainly royalists, handed the ships to the Dutch in Java, La Billardière and a few other republicans were imprisoned from October 1793 until March 1795. Many members of the expedition died in Java and only 120 of the 219 who had set out from France survived to reach Mauritius.

When La Billardière arrived in France he discovered that his collections which contained more than 4000 plants, of which three-quarters were previously unknown, had been sent to England as prizes of war. He persuaded the French government to claim them. Sir Joseph Banks supported the claim and they were returned. In 1792 La Billardière had been made a corresponding member of L'Académie Royale des Sciences and in 1800 was elected to the Institut. He published Nova Hollandiae Plantarum Specimen (1-2, Paris, 1804-06), and many other works. He was aloof, independent and had a sharp tongue, but was evidently an active, versatile and devoted naturalist. He died in Paris on 8 January 1834.

According to Pierre Flourens (1794-1867), physiologist and member of the French Academy, La Billardière should be regarded as 'one of the first naturalists who made known the peculiar vegetation of the southern countries, which by their dissection and their classification, have added so much to botany'. His collections were bought by the English botanist, P. B. Webb (1793-1854), who bequeathed them to the grand Duke of Tuscany; they are now in the museum of Florence. His name has been given to an Australian shrub (billardiera) of the Apocynam (dog's bane) family.

Select Bibliography

  • Nouvelle Biographie Générale, vol 28 (Paris, 1861)
  • R. W. Giblin, The Early History of Tasmania, vol 1 (Lond, 1928).

Citation details

'La Billardière, Jacques-Julien Houtou de (1755–1834)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/la-billardiere-jacques-julien-houtou-de-2316/text3007, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 17 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • La Billardiere, Jacques-Julien Houtou de
Birth

23 October 1755
Alençon, France

Death

8 January 1834
Paris, France

Cultural Heritage
Occupation