On the 12th December 1769, Captain Jean-Marie Francois de Surville ( his friends called him “Survy”) stood on the deck of his ship the Saint Jean-Baptiste as he set his eyes on what was to become the British colony of New Zealand. Remarkably, at the same time, Captain James Cook was sailing only an estimated 40 kilometres from the French ship but the two explorers never sighted each other due to fog.

Captain Jean-Marie Francois de Surville

It would be another 55 years before the French next visited New Zealand when Captain Jules Sebastien Cesar Dumont d’Urville (his friends called him “Dervy”) sailed into the Bay of Islands in the small warship, Coquille. He liked what he saw in this strange land and found the Maoris of great interest so he returned 3 years later in the same ship now called Astrolabe and spent time learning the Maori language so he could understand these fascinating natives. Like other explorers of the time, d’Urville was interested in natural sciences and spent time studying the strange plants and birds he discovered in this new country. The French explorer made a third trip to New Zealand in 1840 to map the coastline and it was from this trip that the French legacies through place names were established. We have Coquille Bay in the Able Tasman National Park. Pepin Island in Cable Bay is named after d’Urville’s wife and Croisilles Harbour in Nelson province is named after d’Urville’s mother’s family. read more