Nicolas Baudin was born in February 1754 at St-Pierre-de-Ré, France. After service in the mercantile marine, he joined the navy as a cadet in 1774 and in 1786 was promoted sub-lieutenant. Baudin was seconded to the Archduke Francis of Austria, and in 1792 took charge of a scientific expedition to the Indian Ocean to collect plants and specimens for the palace of enlightenment at Schönbrunn. In 1796 he made a similar scientific voyage to the West Indies, where he collected material for museums in Paris.
As a result of these activities Baudin was selected to lead an expedition to complete the cartographic survey of the coast of Australia and conduct other scientific investigations there. He received his instructions on 24 April 1800 and sailed on 19 October. He had two ships, Le Géographe and Le Naturaliste (Captain Hamelin); with him were a number of scientists, including the naturalist François Péron, and the cartographer-surveyor Louis Freycinet, who sailed in Le Naturaliste.
During the long six months voyage to reach Mauritius, shipboard quarrels, illness and poor conditions influenced 46 sailors and 10 members of the scientific staff to abandon the expedition. Baudin sailed from Mauritius on 25 April, sighted Cape Leeuwin on 27 May and anchored in Geographe Bay three days later. Flora and fauna were collected and described, but then the two vessels lost touch with each other. Contrary to his instructions, Baudin in Le Géographe sailed north and, after a cursory examination of the coast as far as Cape Levêque, he reached Timor on 21 August hoping to refresh his crew. Next month Le Naturaliste joined him there after having explored the coast as far as Shark Bay much more thoroughly.
On 13 November the two ships departed Timor and Baudin sailed to Tasmania where they arrived 13 January 1802. Surveys of D'Entrecasteaux Channel and collections of flora and fauna were made as well as ethnological studies. Over a month was spent in Tasmania before sailing north to complete the charting of the southern coast. Off the east coast the two ships were separated again but Baudin continued westward and made a rough survey of the coast from Wilson's Promontory and along the south east coast of South Australia, giving French names to what he called Terre Napoléon. In April he met Matthew Flinders in Encounter Bay.
Further detail of the voyage with extracts from Baudin's journal, maps, details of the work of naturalists and artist and accounts of the numerous difficulties experienced can be found on the Encounter 1802-2002 website under Baudin's voyage.