Born in 1740 in the Burgandy region of France, Jeanne Baret was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. Baret disguised herself as a man in order to join an expedition on the ship Etoile in 1766 with her lover, the botanist Philibert Commerson. At the time, women were forbidden from French Navy ships, so Commerson brought her on as his “assistant” and helped her conceal her identity from the rest of the crew.
There was apparently much speculation about her sex throughout the journey. (She even “confessed” to being a eunuch in response to some awkward questions from the sailors). At some point, her disguise was discovered, although the details vary depending on the report. The journals of three crew members, however, claim that Baret was forcibly stripped and gang-raped by the ship’s crew in Papua New Guinea.
Shortly after, Baret became pregnant. She was forced to leave the ship with Commerson on Mauritius island in the Dutch New Indes. Commerson grew ill and died during their stay, leaving Baret without the means to return to France on her own.
In 1774, she married a non-commissioned French Army officer named Jean Dubernat, who brought her with him back to France, completing her circumnavigation of the globe. While her story is tragic in many ways, Baret’s bravery and willingness to defy gender expectations has won her wider recognition in recent years.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
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