In 1763, the French signed a treaty with the English that ended the French and Indian Wars. The treaty marked a shattering defeat for the French, as it gave the English all of the formerly French colonies in North America.
With the Northern Hemisphere closed to the French, a French soldier named Louis Antoine de Bougainville led a 400-man crew into the vast, uncharted waters of the Pacific Ocean.
The French king Louis XV hoped Bougainville would discover new lands brimming with spices and jewels to add to the French Empire. Bougainville left France on November 15, 1766, in a sturdy 26-gun frigate called La Boudeuse, with a supply ship following close behind.
Storms forced repairs, and it took more than a year for Bougainville to sail south and navigate through the treacherous Strait of Magellan. On January 26, 1768, the two ships entered the Pacific, sending a surge of joy through captain and crew.
For the next three months, La Boudeuse sailed steadily across the South Pacific. Bougainville took precautions to sterilize the water and keep his crew healthy, but without fruit and vegetables, some grew ill with scurvy. Finally, on March 22, an island surrounded by beach with patches of forest appeared on the horizon.
An excited Bougainville ordered the ship closer. They were blocked by a reef of razor-sharp coral that surrounded the island like a wall. Disappointed, La Boudeuse and the supply ship had to sail on.