Exploring hidden stories of WA’s trailblazing women

Toni Church is exploring the maiden voyages of women to Western Australia as part of her PhD research at Notre Dame University.

3 October 2017

Imagine going against the French authorities, masking your identity and hiding on a rickety ship as part of a voyage to the unknown – a mysterious place called Western Australia to collect new knowledge and discover uncharted territories.

Rose De Freycinet, a newly-married 20-year-old, was desperate for adventure. Conspiring with her husband, Louis, she dressed in male disguise and was smuggled aboard her husband’s ship, the Uranie, just hours before the expedition left the French city of Toulon. She eventually revealed her true identity to the other 300 sailors a few days into journey – far enough away from the French border that she couldn’t be returned.

Stories of trailblazing women who encountered Western Australia from 1818-1848, such as Rose, are being explored by Notre Dame University PhD candidate, Toni Church. She hopes to document through her thesis and visual exhibition the writing, painting and scientific accounts of enlightened women on their maiden voyages.

“Rose De Freycinet famously documented in July 1818, upon hearing that she would be returned to France, that ‘…the Governor understood full well that if he did not allow me to leave of my own free will, I would still do so in spite of him’,” Toni said.

“Her expression of autonomy and courage stands in stark contrast to the expectations of women in the ‘gentle’ classes in the 1800s. As a result, she became the first European women to circumnavigate the world.

“While the ideals of polite womanhood demanded they be fair, gentle and devoted wives, women such a Rose De Freycinet were drawn to the adventure of exploration, travel and settlement in new lands. They also had demonstrated inquiring, intelligent and even scientific minds.”

Budding researchers and those looking to enhance their knowledge, skills and career prospects can explore course options at Notre Dame’s Postgraduate & Honours Information Evening on Tuesday 17 October 2017. To register, please visit notredame.edu.au/freo/events.

Notre Dame is one of Australia’s leading universities as recognised in The Good Universities Guide. Reflecting a 28-year reputation for excellence in education Notre Dame achieved 5-star ratings in eight categories in the Guide – including ‘Overall Quality of Educational Experience’, ‘Student Support’ and ‘Graduate Employment Rate’.


Leigh Dawson: Tel (08) 9433 0569; Mob 0405 441 093; leigh.dawson@nd.edu.au