He tells a fantastic tale that ends with him running his ship aground nearby (to avoid English pirates) and having to walk many miles back to town on foot. His story covers the two years since he set sail from this very port in his 100 tonne ship the Hope and 170 men. And it all leads to a climactic claim:
“I, Binot de Gonneville, have discovered the great Austral land!”
R H Major in History of Early Voyages to Terra Australis, 1859 summarises de Gonnerville’s journey:
“de Gonneville, who commanded her, weighed anchor in the month of June 1503, and doubled the Cape of Good Hope, where he was assailed by a furious tempest, which made him lose his route, and abandoned him to the wearisome calm of an unknown sea”.
“Not knowing what course to steer, the sight of some birds coming from the south determined them to sail in that direction in the hope of finding land.”
“They remained six months at this land; after which the crew of the ship refused to proceed further, and Gonneville was obliged to return to France. When near home, he was attacked by an English corsair, and plundered of every thing; so that his journals and descriptions were entirely lost. On arriving in port, he made a declaration of all that had happened in the voyage to the Admiralty, which declaration was dated July the 19th, 1505, and was signed by the principal officers of the ship.
This journey was largely forgotten until Jean Paulmier de Courtonne in 1663 wrote of de Gonneville in his book the Memoirs Concerning the Establishment of a Christian Mission in the Austral Land. This claim of discovery tapped into French patriotism, stimulating a new French interest in the ocean exploration. Again it shows the power of the mythology of the Great Southern Land to stir exploration.
So, was it the French who actually discovered this mythical southern land?
No, more likely he reached the southern coast of Brazil somewhere near Santa Catarina. De Gonneville, in fact, returned with a local Indian ESSOMERICQ who was baptised on the return ship and went on to live into his 90’s as a prominent citizen of Honfleur (subsequently adopted by Gonneville).
But de Gonnerville’s story, although discounted even at the time, was one of the first accounts of the discovering down under- only adding to the myth of the Great Southern Land…