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Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne


Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne

Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne
Born (1724-05-22)22 May 1724
St Malo, Brittany, France
Died 12 June 1772(1772-06-12) (aged 48)
Tacoury's Cove, Bay of Islands,
New Zealand
Nationality French
Education Private Tutor
Occupation Explorer, navigator, cartographer
Title Capitaine de frégate
Spouse(s) Julie Bernardine Guilmaut de Beaulieu
Parent(s) Julien Marion du Fresne & Marie Seraphique, (née Le Fer de la Lande)

Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne (22 May 1724 – 12 June 1772), with the surname sometimes spelled Dufresne, was a Breton-born French explorer who made important discoveries in the south Indian Ocean, in Tasmania and in New Zealand. Du Fresne was killed by Maori in 1772.[1]

He is commemorated in various place names, as well as in the name of the research vessel providing logistical support to the French Southern Territories of Île Amsterdam, Île Saint-Paul, Îles Crozet, and Îles Kerguelen, the Marion Dufresne II.


  • Early career 1
  • Exploration 2
    • New Zealand 2.1
    • Murder and cannibalisation (1772) 2.2
  • References 3
  • Bibliography 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6

Early career

Du Fresne was born in Saint Malo and, until recently, was thought to have joined the French East India Company at the age of 11 as a sub-lieutenant aboard the Duc de Bourgogne. However, the Australian historian Edward Duyker, in the (revised) French edition of his biography of Marion Dufresne, has revealed that this was in fact the future explorer's older brother.

During the War of the Austrian Succession, he commanded several ships and was a captain by 1745. In the Seven Years' War, he was engaged in various naval operations. After the war, he again sailed on the East India routes and eventually settled in Port Louis on Mauritius, where he also was the harbourmaster for some time.


When the French East India Company collapsed and was dissolved in 1769, du Fresne was suddenly unemployed. He convinced Pierre Poivre, the civil administrator, to equip him with two ships and send him on a twofold mission to the Pacific. Du Fresne's fellow explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville had recently returned from the Pacific with a Tahitian native, Ahutoru. Du Fresne was engaged to return Ahutoru to his homeland, and then to explore the south Pacific for Terra Australis Incognita.[2] For these purposes du Fresne was given two ships, the Mascarin and the Marquis de Castries.

Neither part of du Fresne's mission could be achieved; Ahu-toru died of smallpox shortly after embarkation at Port Louis, and the expedition did not locate the Australian mainland.[2] Instead, du Fresne discovered first the Prince Edward Islands and then the Crozet Islands before sailing towards New Zealand and Australia. His ships spent several days in Tasmania, where Marion Bay in the south-east is named after him. He was the first European to explore the island and, due to his interaction with Aboriginal Tasmanians, was the first person to show that Tasmania was not terra nullius.

New Zealand

Monument to the memory of Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne and his party at Te Hue Bay, "Assassination cove"
A close up of the monument to Du Fresne and his men.

Du Fresne sighted New Zealand's Mount Taranaki on 25 March 1772, and named the mountain Pic Mascarin without knowing that James Cook had named it "Mount Egmont" three years earlier.

Over the next month, they explored the islands, repaired their two ships and treated their scurvy, first anchoring at Spirits Bay,[3] and later in the Bay of Islands. Apparently their relations with the Māori were peaceful at first; they could communicate thanks to their Tahitian vocabulary learned from Ahu-toru, and the Māori even held a ceremony for them. Later it appears that Maori decided to attack the French to obtain their guns, tools and supplies.

The conventional and long-accepted story that the French appear to have broken tapu by fishing in Manawaora Bay is significantly at variance with the known facts.[4] Tapu had been placed on the area after members of the local tribe drowned here some time earlier, and their bodies had been washed up at Tacoury's (Te Kauri's) Cove. The local Māori believed that the violation would anger the gods and neighbouring tribes, provoking war.[4] On 12 June 1772, a few hundred Māori warriors set on du Fresne and his fishing crew, who had unsuspectingly arrived in his favourite fishing area in a small "gig". This story appears to be inaccurate as it was not published until 1964 and was based on a 74-year-old story that had been passed on, 200 years after the event.

Murder and cannibalisation (1772)

Du Fresne and 26 men of his crew were killed and eaten. Those killed included de Vaudricourt and Pierre Lehoux (a volunteer), Thomas Ballu of Vannes, Pierre Mauclair (the second pilot) from St Malo, Louis Ménager (the steersman) from Lorient, Vincent Kerneur of Port-Louis, Marc Le Garff from Lorient, Marc Le Corre of Auray, Jean Mestique of Pluvigner, Pierre Cailloche of Languidic and Mathurin Daumalin of Hillion. Two contemporary accounts were written by French officers, Jean Roux and De Clesmeur.

The French had been anchored in the bay for many weeks and got on well with Maori. They established a significant vegetable garden on Moturua Island. They had been invited to visit local Maori at their Pa – a very rare event – and had slept there overnight. Maori in return had been invited on board the ships and had slept in the ships overnight. The French officers made a detailed study of the habits and customs of Maori including greetings, sexual mores, fishing methods, the role of females, the making of fern root paste, the killing of prisoners and cannibalism.[1]

Sixty of the French sailors had developed scurvy and were on shore in a tent hospital. In these months two Maori had been arrested. The first had sneaked on board ship and stole a cutlass. He was detained for a brief period to give him a fright, then released to his friends.[1] The French had been at the supposed tapu beach for 17 days. The beach was not under the control of distant Ngati Pou but at the foot of Te Kauri's village and controlled by him. Te Kauri had numerous dealings with the French and he had been on board the ships at the cove many times.[1]

Du Fresne fished at the cove (now known as Assassination Cove, located at 35°15'26" S, 174°12'48" E in New Zealand's Bay of Islands area) numerous times in the 26 days he was there, without Maori suggesting that fishing was tapu or forbidden. He was fishing within a few hundred metres of Te Kauri's village. On one occasion du Fresne was invited on shore to a special celebration where he was crowned and Te Kauri made it clear that he was making du Fresne the "king" of all the surrounding area. After this Maori made a night raid on the hospital camp taking away many guns and uniforms. While the soldiers chased the raiders, Maori slipped back and stole an anchor.[1]

Two men were held as hostage against the return of the stolen goods. One of them admitted he had been involved in the theft but accused Te Kauri of being involved. Du Fresne, finding the men bound, ordered them unbound and released. Later an armed a party of Maori approached the French as if to challenge them, but the French understood enough tikanga to make peace with them by exchanging gifts. At no time was the question of tapu or fishing raised.[1]

That night French sentries at the hospital camp noticed about six Maori prowling. In the morning it was discovered that Maori had also been prowling around a second camp where the French had been making masts. The next day Maori from Marion Island arrived with a present of fish. Roux said the Maori were astonished at the blunderbusses he had mounted outside his tent. He noticed the visiting chief taking a close look at the weapons and how they worked, as well as the defences of the camp, and became suspicious of his motives. The chief asked for the guns to be demonstrated and Roux shot a dog.[1]

That night more Maori were found on Moturoa Island prowling around the hospital camp but ran when sentries approached. Captain du Clesmur alerted du Fresne to the rise in suspicious activity, but Du Fresne did not listen. That afternoon du Fresne and 15 armed sailors went to Te Kauri's village and then went to go fishing. He never returned. That night 400 armed Maori suddenly attacked the hospital camp but were stopped in their tracks by the threat of the multiple blunderbusses.[1]

Roux held his fire and realised that they had narrowly escaped being massacred in their sleep. One chief told Roux that Te Kauri had killed Marion. At this point longboats full of armed French sailors arrived with the news that du Fresne and the sailors had been killed. One survivor, who had been speared, told them Maori had tricked them into going into the bush, where they had been ambushed, with all the others being killed.[1]

In the following days the French came under relentless attack. The next day about 1,200 Maori surrounded the French, led by Te Kauri. As they approached, Roux ordered Te Kauri shot. Later even more Maori reinforcements arrived. The French decided to abandon the hospital camp. The Maori then stole all the tools and supplies and burnt the camp down. They were close enough that the French could see they were wearing the clothes of du Fresne and his fellow dead sailors.[1]

The French retreated to Moturoa Island. That night Maori again attacked the camp and this time the French opened a general fire. The next day even more Maori arrived taking their forces to about 1,500 men. The French charged this huge force with 26 armed soldiers and put them to flight, the Maori fleeing back to Te Kauri's pa. The French attacked the pa firing at the defenders, who showered them with spears. The remainder got into canoes and fled. About 250 Maori including five chiefs were killed in the battle. Many of the French were wounded.[1]

A month later on 7 July Roux searched Te Kauri's deserted Pa and found a sailor's cooked head on a spike, as well as human bones near a fire.[5] They left on 12 July 1772. The French buried a bottle at Waipoa on Moturua, containing the arms of France and a formal statement taking possession of the whole country, with the name of "France Australe."


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Diary of du Clesmeur. Historical records of NZ. Vol l1, Robert McNab
  2. ^ a b Beaglehole 1968, pp. cxvi-cxvii
  3. ^ New Zealand in History. The discovery of New Zealand, Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne - France 1724 (approx.) - 1772, retrieved on 26 October 2014
  4. ^ a b "The First Pakehas to Visit The Bay of Islands"
  5. ^ From Tasman to Marsden, R. McNab 1914, Ch 5.



Further reading

  • Edward Duyker (ed.) The Discovery of Tasmania: Journal Extracts from the Expeditions of Abel Janszoon Tasman and Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne 1642 & 1772, St David's Park Publishing/Tasmanian Government Printing Office, Hobart, 1992, pp. 106, ISBN 0-7246-2241-1.
  • Edward Duyker, An Officer of the Blue: Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne 1724–1772, South Sea Explorer, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1994, pp. 229, ISBN 0-522-84565-7.
  • Edward Duyker, Marc-Joseph Marion Du fresne, un marin malouin à la découvertes des mers australes, traduction française de Maryse Duyker (avec l'assistance de Maurice Recq et l'auteur), Les Portes du Large, Rennes, 2010, pp. 352, ISBN 978-2-914612-14-2.
  • Edward Duyker, 'Marion Dufresne, Marc-Joseph (1724–1772)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, Melbourne University Press, 2005, pp 258–259.
  • Kelly, Leslie G. (1951). Marion Dufresne at the Bay of Islands. Wellington: Reed.

External links

  • Biography of Marc Joseph Marion du Fresne, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
  • Robbie Whitmore. "Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne - New Zealand in History". Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  • "Biography - Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne - Australian Dictionary of Biography". Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  • "‘The death of Marion du Fresne’ – Ideas of Māori origins – Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand". Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
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