I have been to Shark Bay before, but not for many years. Certainly not since I began to research and write the story of Rose de Freycinet. As we flew over the Bay itself I was fascinated to see it through Rose’s eyes. Clear sky, not a single tree and hidden sand banks making unexpectedly shallow patches in the water. When the landing party went ashore even the dinghies they were using ran aground. Two members of the crew insisted on carrying Rose, much to her embarrassment. When I read these comments in her journal I assumed it was because the sailors regarded it as unladylike for her to wade ashore like everyone else. But now that I have seen just how far out from the shore the dinghies would have been grounded I have a new understanding of the situation.
As they were leaving Shark Bay the Uranie ran aground on one of the sandbanks and Rose thought they were shipwrecked. ‘Marooned in one of the most desolate places on earth,’ she lamented. Then Louis came to tell her that they had lightened the ship by jettisoning three anchors and would be underway again in no time. Unfortunately they could not solve the problem so easily when, more than a year later, they hit a rock, hidden below the surface of the ocean near Cape Horn. The Uranie’s hull was holed and the ship sank – but that’s another story.
In Shark Bay today things are very different from what they were in 1818. There is a flourishing town, and a near-new Heritage Museum where details of the Uranie’s voyage and of the first meeting between Europeans and the local Malgana people are on display. There is also an art gallery, named after Rose de Freycinet, acknowledging the unique place she occupies in the history of Western Australia.