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François Levaillant

Levaillant, François, 1753—1824

François Levaillant was born on 6 August 1753 at Paramaribo in Suriname, the son of Nicolas François Vaillant (1723-c.1795), French consul, and Catherine Joséphine, née François. He was raised by parents who imparted to him their own keen interest in natural history.

On 4 April 1763, he and his family returned to Europe, settling at Metz, his father’s birthplace. After seven years there, Levaillant resided two years in Germany and another seven in Lorraine and Alsace, all the while developing his ornithological knowledge and expanding his collection of stuffed birds. At Lunéville, he married Suzanne de Noor in 1773 and in 1777 moved with her to Paris, all the while continuing to expand his collection of specimens.

Levaillant’s expertise recommended him as naturalist on a zoological expedition to the Cape of Good Hope, a voyage that lasted from 1780 to 1784, during which time he participated in two journeys into the interior of southern Africa. Upon his return to Europe his first marriage was dissolved (his wife had not accompanied him on his travels), and he married twice more: Pierrette Foyot (d. 1798) in 1789 and Rose Dubochet in 1802. His first account of the expedition, Voyage, appeared in 1790 and was translated the same year into English by rival publishers (one of which was translated by Elizabeth Helme). A Second Voyage dans l’intérieur de l’Afrique followed in 1795. He intended the travel writings to be accompanied by a zoological companion, but work on this proceeded more slowly, Histoire des Oiseau d’Afrique (1796) being the first installment, the last appearing in 1812 or 1813. Despite plans for more works of this nature, nothing further appeared.

After the death of his third wife in 1812, Levaillant resided in Paris near his children and continued to be known for his trade in naturalist specimens. He died in 1823 at Paris.

Sources:

Rookmaaker, L. C. The Zoological Exploration of Southern Africa 1650-1790. Rotterdam: Brookfield, 1989. 178-80.

Texts

Title Published
Travels from the Cape of Good Hope 1790

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