On this day in 1759 the French explorer Robriand de Mexses reached the coast of Australia but decided against discovering it. De Mexses was initially overjoyed upon reaching the continent, but after a brief landing, burnt all maps of the area and sailed away, never to speak of it again.
De Mexses, the illegitimate son of a Silesian cattle thief and the dowager Duchess of Burgundy, had gained much favour at the court of Louis XV for his quick wit and skill at canasta. In 1734 he distinguished himself during the siege of Milan when only his quick thinking and application of vinegar saved the king’s favourite breeches from a terrible wine stain. As a reward for this bold action he was granted the prestigious title of Royal Lavatory Attendant and the governorship of Tobago. In 1741 he was raised to the rank of general and sent to occupy Berbice, a task which set about with his usual flair and integrity, being thwarted only due to the difficult tropical climate and the cunning tactics of the Dutch general Van Hojdvink, who made life intolerable for the French troops by destroying the colonies’ supply of cafes and very thin cigarettes. After Van Hojdvink annihilated much of his advance guard by luring them into a local boulangerie and then setting it on fire de Mexses was forced to admit defeat and set sail for France in disgrace. However fate intervened in the form of a slight navigational error that saw de Mexses circumnavigate the globe twice, discovering Alaska and Mauritius along the way, before eventually reaching Marseille.1
Now widely feted as an explorer de Mexses was commissioned by the French East India Company, and its parent company the Royal Bordeaux Catsgut and Prophylactic Corporation, to chart the unexplored wastes of the South Pacific. The voyage was briefly delayed when de Mexses was imprisoned in the Bastille for refusing to lend the Dauphin’s mistress a portable billiard table, but he was able to secure his release after it was discovered that the table in question had been stolen by marauders en route from Calais, and the expedition was able to set off only two years later than planned.2 Along the way he was able to get some measure of revenge on his old adversary Van Hojdvink when he intercepted a shipment of Edam bound for Van Hojdvink’s plantation on Bali, thereby triggering the Fourth Sino-Dutch war.3
Reaching the area early in 1759 de Mexses soon came upon the windswept shores of the Australia continent. Although initially optimistic de Mexses soon decided against discovering the country after a disastrous initial scouting expedition. De Mexses describes the discovery in his journal:
Although initially filled with great excitement by our discovery we soon were dismayed to find that this new land was not everything we had hoped. After rowing ashore my bo’sun, Gregoire, leapt into the surf in order to pull our boat onto the sand, whereupon he was immediately torn to pieces by a great evil fish. Although with much exertion we were able to fend this beast off many of my sailors were in the process stung by the shoal of most queer jellyfish which had clustered around the boat, these stings later proving most fatal. Upon landing we were dismayed to find this new land devoid of even the most basic necessities needed to sustain human life, such as vinyards or patisseries. One crewmember did claim to have seen a boutique art-gallery in the distance but this proved to be a hallucination brought about by heatstroke and despair. To add to our discomfort the coxswain and ship’s carpenter reported themselves stung by strange insects after which they turned a most distressing purple colour, swelled up to four times their normal size and burst like an untended flan. Our cabin boy, Pierre, returned from a hunting expedition reporting that the ship’s chandler had been disemboweled by a sort of enormous rabbit. We were successful in capturing a number of tree-dwelling sloth-like creatures but these proved most bad to eat and we lost three men to the flux, after which the surviving crew members began to express the opinion that we had all been drowned in a shipwreck and now found ourselves in hell. It was at this point that I decided to set sail for France and never speak of this place again for as long as I should live. I daresay that someday some brave fool shall come along and discover this land for himself. May the Lord have mercy on his soul.
De Mexses stayed true to his word, swearing his crew to secrecy and marking the continent down on his charts as an area of empty ocean “full of dangerous icebergs and to be avoided by sailors at all costs,” and it is only through the recent unearthing of his journal that we have learned of his amazing discovery. Sadly the great man himself would not live to see France, either dying of malaise or being killed by Malays on the return voyage.4 Thus ended the story of one of histories’ great unsung explorers and, for his bold prevention of any attempt to establish an Australian colony, a true French hero.
1- Daviokr Ibbenne, Morons: How Imbeciles Created the Modern World (Port-au-Prince: Drax Publishing, 1803), 81-94.
2-Louis, Dauphin of France, I’m Not a Fucking Porpoise (New Orleans, The New Orleans Automatic Writing and Clairvoyance Co., 1914), 78.
3- Piotr van der Snood, Graf Van Hojdvink: The Conqueror of China (Vanhojdvinkstown: Imperial Dutch Publishing, 1999), 89.
4- Pierre Gascon, Eye Woz De Mekshes Cabern Boye (Izhevsk: Drax Publishing, 1769), 109.