1756 – The French King Louis XV sent Louis-Antoine de Bougainville to look for the Southern lands.
After a stay in South America and the Falklands, Bougainville reached Tahiti in April 1768, where his boat was surrounded by hundreds of canoes filled with beautiful women. “I ask you,” he wrote, “given such a spectacle, how could one keep at work 400 Frenchmen?
He claimed Tahiti for the French and sailed westward, past Samoa and Vanuatu, until his passage was blocked by a mighty reef.
Passing by the Samoa group and sailing through the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu), Bougainville’s expedition sighted land to the west on 5 June 1768. The description of low-lying islets on which the seas were breaking, high land on the distant horizon, has led to the firm believe that this was the first sighting of eastern Australia. Bougainville had apparently discovered the Great Barrier Reef, two years before Captain Cook’s epic journey through these waters in the Endeavour. Fearing the treacherous shallows of the reef, Bougainville turned his ships northwards without approaching the continent.
By this time the crews of La Boudeuse and L’Etoile were in a weakened state, having battled storms and suffering seriously from scurvy. For a period of weeks they hugged the Papua NewGuinea shore, seeking a safe place to land as rations ran low. It was not until they reached the island of New Britain, having passed the Solomons (where La Boudeuse came under fierce attack from natives in a canoe), and the island Bougainville named for himself, that they found a safe anchorage and enough fresh water that they could struggle on.
With his men weak from scurvy and desease and no way through he sailed north.
When he returned to France in 1769, he was the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the globe and the first European known to have
seen the Great Barrier Reef.