Philibert Commerson

18 Nov 1727
13 Mar 1773
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Dr. Philibert Commerçon (also sometimes spelled Commerson) (November 18, 1727 – March 13, 1773) was a French naturalist, best known for accompanying Louis Antoine de Bougainville on his voyage of circumnavigation in 1766–1769.

Commerçon was born at Châtillon les Dombes in France. He studied medicine and botany at Montpellier, and for a time was a practicing physician. At the request of Carolus Linnaeus, Commerçon collected and categorized fish of the Mediterranean on behalf of the museum in Stockholm.

Commerçon returned to live at Châtillon les Dombes in 1756 and there occupied himself in creating botanical gardens.

In 1766, Commerçon joined Bougainville on his voyage of circumnavigation.

Among the wildlife that Commerçon observed was a particular kind of dolphin in the Strait of Magellan. The animal is now known as Commerson’s Dolphin.

Commerçon’s housekeeper and assistant, Jeanne Baré, accompanied him on the voyage, dressed as a man since women were strictly forbidden on French Navy ships at the time.

Baré acted as a nurse to Commerçon, who was often ill, as well as assisting him in his scientific work. Her genderpublicly discovered while the expedition was at Tahiti, but she remained with Commerçon until the end of his life.

Commerçon was an astute observer of the Tahitian people and culture, thanks in part to a remarkable lack of European prejudice compared to other early visitors to the island.

Commerçon and Bougainville together were responsible for spreading the myth of Tahitians as the embodiment of the concept of the noble savage.

Commerçon also studied and collected plants wherever the expedition stopped. On the return voyage to France, he remained behind at the island of Mauritius, in order to botanize there and on Madagascar.

Commerçon died at Mauritius at the age of 45.

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