The Explorers

ERNEST DE LAGREE

Lagree, the leader of the expedition, was a naval officer and amateur entomologist in his mid-forties. He took up a post in Indochine in the hope that the climate would alleviate his chronically ulcerated throat, which it ultimately failed to do.

Throughout the journey he was often in severe pain and also suffered from fevers and amoebic dysentery, as well as constant infections from leeches.

By the time the expedition reached Yunnan he was too sick to be transported and they pressed on to Ta-li without him.

After an unsuccessful operation conducted by Joubert, he soon succumbed to an acute abscess on his liver.

FRANCIS GARNIER

Garnier, the second-in-command, as well as its hydrologist and surveyor, was a twenty-six year old naval officer based in Saigon.

By his own admission he was obsessed with the idea of journeying up the Mekong to find its source.

It was at his urging that the Governor of Cochinchine petitioned the French Minister for the Colonies to formally establish the Mekong Exploration Commission.

Following Lagree’s death Garnier assumed command of the expedition, guiding it safely to Shanghai via the Yangtze River.

LOUIS DELAPORTE

Delaporte, a young naval officer of twenty-four,  was chosen because of his talent for drawing and, likewise, his ability to graphically document the expedition.

An amateur musician, he also kept notes on local music along the way.

During the course of the journey the young artist visited Angkor Wat where he was struck by the strangeness and immensity of the ruins.

The detailed drawings he produced illustrated Garnier’s official report of the expedition published in 1870.

LOUIS DE CARNE

De Carne was the twenty-three-year-old nephew of the Governor and a would-be diplomat.

His tautly enthusiastic personality gave offence to his travelling companions, especially his grandiose plans for the expansion of France’s Indochine empire.

He had little talent for friendship and was temperamentally unsuited to military discipline.

He was universally distrusted not the least because his inclusion in the expedition was simply based on nepotism.

LUCIEN JOUBERT

Joubert was the second doctor included in the expedition; but he also possessed a combination of other capacities most evident in his strong interest in geology.

At thirty-four, his record of long and healthy service in Senegal testified to his ability to function and survive the extremities of the tropical climate.

CLOVIS THOREL

Thorel was thirty-three years old and had been serving as a naval doctor in Cochinchine since 1861.

He had demonstrated a strong interest in botany which was seen as a necessary skill for the research side of the expedition.

THE MEMBERS OF THE MEKONG EXPLORATION COMMISSION

– ANGKOR, JUNE 1866 –

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(L-R) Francis Garnier, Louis DelaporteLucien JoubertClovis ThorelLouis de CarnéDoudart de Lagrée.

Scrutinising the photo, one is impressed more by its poignancy than its bravado. Far from sustaining the intended air of relaxed informality, it is as if the postures adopted by the explorers had been carefully rehearsed and their relative positions measured out with a ruler. On the extreme right, le commandant…Doudart de Lagree sits slightly apart from his colleagues, and not actually on the steps but on a ledge beside them. His legs are crossed, his shoes have buckles, and a well-placed sleeve displays the gold braid of his rank. Positioned not so as to make space for his name but so as to emphasise the scope of his authority, Lagree (for short) affects a certain dignity.

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SURVIVING MEMBERS WITH THEIR ESCORT

– HANKOW, JUNE 1868 –

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1.Francis Garnier  2.Louis Delaporte  3.Lucien Joubert  4.Clovis Thorel  5.Louis de Carne

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