Author's note: I travelled around the world and met with historical experts from museums and libraries in an attempt to get
my facts right - so it was rewarding to receive this review in a learned journal by a leading historian/specialist in the subject
matter of Baudin's Last Breath
Victor Barker has written an
engaging novel centred on
the explorer's relationship
with Alexandrine Kerivel. I
was charmed by the manner
in which Barker has woven
his tale around her and
other historical figures such
as Alexandrine's brothers
Antoine and Jacques, her
Jacobin husband Pierre
Francois Kerivel (who was
deported from the Ile de
France with some fifty others
in October 1799 and
perished in the wreck of the
Brule-Gueule) and the
musician Antoine Guth
(another Jacobin deportee
who had a wife and children
at the Ile de France and
returned clandestinely to the
island as a stowaway on
Baudin's Geographe).
Dr. Edward Duyker,
Department of French
Studies, University of
Sydney, is a foremost
authority on French
exploration in the South
Pacific: these are
extracts from his review:
Dr Edward Duyker is the author
of fifteen books. These include
several books dealing with early
Australian exploration, including
The Discovery of Tasmania and An
Officer of the Blue (1994) and
Nature's Argonaut, his biography of
Daniel Solander the Swedish
naturalist on the Endeavour. His
most recent book Citizen
Labillardière (2003) is the biography
of Jacques-Julien Houtou de
Labillardière yet another one of the
founders of the natural sciences in
Australia. This book won the New
South Wales Premier's General
History Prize in 2004. In 2000 Dr
Duyker was made a Chevalier de
l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques by
the French government. He was
awarded the Centenary Medal by
the Australian Government in 2003
and the Medal of the Order of
Australia in 2004. Dr Duyker is an
Honorary Senior Lecturer in the
Department of French Studies at
the University of Sydney, Associate
Editor of Explorations (published by
the Institute for the Study of
French Australian Relations). He is
also a Fellow of the Linnean Society
of London and the Royal Historical
There is a dreamy surreal quality
to this novel. Victor Barker has
crafted an unusual literary work
in which he allows Baudin to
recount his story, at the foot of
the novelist's hospital bed, and
enriches the narrative with
reminiscences drawn from his
(Barker's) own years at sea.
...a novelist has freedoms an
historian can only imagine
and (as I keep reminding
myself) art and historical
scholarship are not bound by
the same criteria - though
they are by no means
mutually exclusive. Barker's
novel remains fiction imbued
with engaging insight. And
whatever the truth, it is a
delight to read...
One should always be careful
judging a work of art as an
historical treatise,.. there is,
nevertheless, a thesis in this
novel which I think likely - and
which I have already alluded to
in my article 'In Search of
Madame Kerivel and Baudin's
Last Resting Place' (National
Library of Australia News,
September 1999)...