La Boudeuse stopped at several other islands, but very few of them were as beautiful and hospitable as Tahiti. On one island, the natives suffered from disease and attacked the Frenchmen when they attempted to trade for food.
Bougainville named it the Isle of Lepers. By the end of May, supplies were seriously low, and Bougainville and his crew were forced to kill and eat rats.
In June, the ship approached the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. Bougainville, however, directed his ship north to avoid the treacherous coral and did not discover the giant continent behind it.
By late June, the sailors had grown so hungry that Bougainville was forced to issue orders forbidding them to eat leather. Battered by storms and rain, the ships maneuvered among dangerous currents, coral reefs, and islands.
Food was difficult to find. Many of the islands had already been explored by other Europeans, and the natives attacked the white men when they appeared and forced them to flee. On another island, the sailors discovered fresh water, but were unable to fish because of sea snakes and scorpions.
In August, the last of the ship’s food was gone, and the crew despaired when the first sailor died of scurvy. “People have long argued about the location of hell,” wrote Bougainville. “Frankly, we have discovered it.”
Finally, on August 30, the weary crew spotted a Dutch settlement on Bum Island. The half-starved crew was treated to a sumptuous meal by their Dutch hosts.
After resting and refitting, Bougainville set sail and arrived in France seven and a half months later to a hero’s welcome.