D'Urville sails through 'French Pass'

28 January 1827

Dumont d’Urville, commander of the Astrolabe (Alexander Turnbull Library, B-052-010)

In a feat of navigational daring – and after several attempts – the French explorer Jules Sébastien César Dumont d’Urville sailed the Astrolabe from Tasman Bay through the narrow ‘French Pass’ into Admiralty Bay in the Marlborough Sounds. His officers named the large island they passed in his honour.

D’Urville first visited New Zealand in 1824 as second-in-command to Louis Duperrey. At the Bay of Islands, he heard the Māori version of the 1772 death of Marion du Fresne and his crew (see 4 May).

On his second voyage of exploration and scientific investigation from 1826, d’Urville commanded the Astrolabe. He spent three months charting the northern coast of the South Island and the east coast of the North, also studying the local people, plant and animal life.

In the 1830s d’Urville published scholarly and popular accounts of the voyage of the Astrolabe. He made a third visit to New Zealand in 1840, arriving from the sub-Antarctic and sailing up the entire east coast of the country, with a stopover in Akaroa Harbour. By then New Zealand was in British hands.