Jules Dumont D'Urville - Early Years in The Navy

Early Years in The Navy

In 1807 Dumont was admitted to the Naval Academy at Brest where he presented himself as a timid young man, very serious and studious, little interested in amusements and much more interested in studies than in military matters. In 1808, he obtained the grade of first class candidate.

At the time the French navy was only a neglected "cousin", of a much lower quality than Napoleon's army and its ships were blockaded in their ports by the absolute domination of the Royal Navy. Dumont was confined to land like his colleagues and spent the first years in the navy studying foreign languages. In 1812, after having been promoted to ensign and finding himself bored with port life and disapproving of the dissolute behaviour of the other young officers, he asked to be transferred to Toulon on board the Suffren; but this ship was also blockaded in port.

In this period Dumont built on his already substantial cultural knowledge. He already spoke, in addition to Latin and Greek, English, German, Italian, Russian, Chinese and Hebrew. During his later travels in the Pacific, thanks to his prodigious memory, he acquired some knowledge of an immense number of dialects of Polynesia and Melanesia. He learnt about botany and entomology in long excursions in the hills of Provence and he studied in the nearby naval observatory.

Finally Dumont undertook his first short navigation of the Mediterranean Sea in 1814, when Napoleon had been exiled to Elba. In 1816, he married Adélie Pepin, daughter of a clockmaker from Toulon, who was openly disliked by Dumont’s mother, who thought her inappropriate for her son and refused to meet her and, later on, her grandsons from the marriage.

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