Les émigrés aux Terres Australes, ou le dernier chapitre d'une Grande Révolution.
Les Emigrés aux Terres Australes, ou le dernier chapitre d'une Grande Révolution; comédie en un acte en prose, représentée, pour la première fois, sur le Théâtre des Amis de la Patrie, le 24 novembre 1792, (vieux style). Par le citoyen Gamas. [The emigrants in the Southern Lands or the last chapter of a great revolution; a prose comedy in one act, played for the first time at the Theatre of the Friends of the Motherland, 24 November 1792 (old calendar)].

Paris: chez la citoyenne Toubon, sous les galeries du Théâtre de la République, à côté du passage vîtré, 1794.

Octavo, 30 pp and a final blank leaf, bucolic woodcut headpiece at start of text; completely uncut, stitched in later plain wrappers, owner's stamp and notes on front wrapper; preserved in a fitted quarter morocco box.

The earliest Australian play: a celebrated 18th-Century rarity

A celebrated and long recognised rarity: the first play in any language about the new British colony of New South Wales, performed over two weeks in revolutionary Paris of 1792, and published two years later in the changed political climate following the fall of Robespierre.

A celebrated and long recognised rarity: the first play in any language about the new British colony of New South Wales, performed over two weeks in revolutionary Paris of 1792, and published two years later in the changed political climate following the fall of Robespierre.


Just four copies of this elusive rarity had been known for some decades until the appearance of this newly discovered example: the British Library and Bibliothèque Nationale copies, and another at the University of Michigan, are examples of the same issue as this, while the Nan Kivell copy at the National Library of Australia is of a later issue with a variant publisher's details pasted to the title-page. The State Library of New South Wales holds a manuscript text of the play copied for Professor Ernest Scott from their original by the Bibliothèque Nationale during WWI.

A modern edition and translation of the play by Patricia Clancy was published as "'The Emigrés in the Austral Lands': the first 'Australian' play" in 1984. She explained that "Copies of the play, which was not printed until 1794, are extremely rare and its existence was brought to the attention of the Australian public by Professor Ernest Scott in an article published in The Argus on the 23rd February 1918. It is difficult to know whether he found the play himself or whether it was brought to his attention by someone else. In any case he requested a copy from the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, which was closed because of the war. However when the authorities were informed that the copy was wanted by an Australian, one was written out for him, and is now in the Mitchell Library…".

The plot and setting

The play has a group of French nobles transported to Australia for having tried to save themselves by escaping from France during the Revolution, with Gamas evoking an imaginary Australia to satirise the ancien régime. The deported "emigrants" have to create a new society from scratch out of the virgin continent. While the nobles and priests fight to preserve their privileges and hope to recreate the discredited society which they had left behind, the simple citizens work towards a democracy in which they are supported by the "Noble Savages" who inhabit the land.

This imaginary Australia is conjured from an understanding of what had appeared in English about Cook and the First Fleet, and the very few French texts: La Pérouse's voyage would not appear in print until 1797. Publication of the three Cook voyages started in 1772 and had long been completed by the 1790s; Tench appeared in two editions in 1789, Phillip not until 1791.

While the charming woodcut headpiece is clearly generic, in context it hints at a gloriously productive land amenable to agriculture.

The author

François Marin Gamas (1775-1835) was the author of this and just two other published plays of the revolutionary style and period, but evidently he could sway with the political breeze: eight years before the Revolution he had published Epître aux François, sur la naissance du dauphin (1781), a laudatory royalist poem on the birth of the Dauphin Louis-Joseph, the short-lived second child and first son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

1794 was Gamas's year: three other works by him came out in print, also published by the same Mme Toubon:

Cange, ou le Commissionnaire de Lazare, fait historique en 1 acte et en prose, 1794 [an uplifting piece based on the popular story of a good samaritan jailer who, during the Terror, helped both the family of an imprisoned man, and the man himself].

Michel Cervantes, opéra-comique en trois actes et en prose, 1794.

Le plan d'opéra, comédie en un acte et en prose, mêlée d'ariettes, 1795.

These were more easily published in the milder political climate of later 1794 since July of that year had seen the Thermidor coup and the end of the reign of Terror with the execution of Robespierre.

Performances and texts

A sound recording exists of a performance broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on 27 September 1987, adapted and directed by Murray Copland as "The citizen sets his scene in Terra Australis" (recording held by Macquarie University library).

The Nan Kivell copy at the National Library of Australia has been digitised and can be seen at http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-527845997.

Google Books has digitised copies at British Library and University of Michigan.

A full text appears in Patricia Clancy's 'The Emigrés in the Austral Lands': the first 'Australian' play (see Appendix 3 below).


Appendix 1: Ernest Scott's Argus article (23 February 1918)

Online at https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/1641550?searchTerm=gamas%20%22les%20emigres%22

Appendix 2: Article in the Courrier Australien (29 January 1954)

Online at https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/160819918?searchTerm=gamas%20%22les%20emigres%22

Appendix 3: Patricia Clancy edited version

Patricia Clancy, in her important article "'The Emigrés in the Austral Lands': the first 'Australian' play" (in Eighteenth Century News, 198409, 12; and in Margin, no.12, Canberra, 1984: i-xv), reproduces a text of the play accompanied by a translation, which she precedes with a substantial introductory discussion of the work and its literary and historical context.

Appendix 4: Paola Perazzolo

"In Les Émigrés aux terres australes, ou le Dernier Chapitre d'une grande révolution of Gamas… quarrelsome emigrants, conspirators and parasites with revealing names – Prince de Fierabras, Baron de la Truandière, Dom Gourmet, the Marquise de Vertpré, not to mention President de Balourdet and Madame, the Abbé Doucet or the financier Sangsue – express a dangerous attachment to the Ancien Régime and its symbols by flaunting cordons and honours and «en singeant les airs de la Cour» (Gamas 1794: 9). Unmasked and ridiculed – the captions indicate that the men wear «les costumes les plus bisarres» and that the women are «parées [...] grotesquement» (4, 6, 9) – the aristocrats are finally forced by Francœur, Florval and Mathurin, true patriots equipped with Phrygian caps and pikes (24, 25), to get to work, actively collaborating in the subsistence of a community based on French libertarian principles."

(Translated from Paola Perazzolo, "Au théâtre, l'habit fait parfois le moine" 1: il significato politico di alcuni costumi e accessori nel teatro della Rivoluzione, online resource)

Appendix 5: Paul d'Estrée

(But it was not enough to deliver the nobles and priests to public ridicule or the execration of the masses, it had to be made impossible for them to do harm, either by confining them to a sort of relegation to the interior, or by purging French soil of their presence, by the guillotine, or by deportation to the colonies, once the era of executions was over. This was the goal that Robespierre had in mind, claimed several of his biographers: so be it, but the priority of the idea did not belong to him.

On July 16, 1792, Gamas gave, at the Théâtre des Amis de la Patrie [a former theatre on the rue de Louvois] Les Emigrants aux terres australes ou Le dernier chapter d'une grande Révolution [Spectacles de Paris et de la France pour l'année 1793: "Pure morality and true principles of patriotism," says this almanac of Gamas's play], a sort of drama which seemed to be the only rational solution to the Jacobin problem. The question was also topical. Emigration was in full swing; and the downfall of Louis XVI was imminent. If the Terror was not yet on the agenda, neither on the public highway, nor in the theatres, disorder reigned there, maintained by broadsides of insults or by scenes of fighting. But Gamas was assured of having the majority of the spectators on his side, when he sounded loudly the note of indignation against bad Frenchmen, counting on the victories of the coalition in order to return to their homes.

The decor was already impressive. In a wild site, bristling with rocks, miserable tents were scattered here and there; the sea was blue in the last shots and near the shore appeared a ship motionless on its anchors. It was there that Francoeur, captain of the National Guard, landed "monsters who wanted to tear the bosom of the country". For them, death would be a "favour to me"; but he, Francoeur, condemns them to live "consumed with regrets and remorse." An obelisk, erected by the natives and by volunteers from the National Guard, bears an inscription attesting that, in year III (of the Revolution), "France, free and triumphant, in concert with all of Europe, deported in these places of the rebels whom she has overthrown".

These rebels are represented by a baron, a marquise, an abbot, a president and a financier, dressed in the most bizarre costumes. Imbued with age-old prejudices, they argue fiercely about the value and extent of their privileges, but they soon find themselves obliged to work in order to live. The comparison of their mentality with that of the crew is to the credit of the sailors. Mathurin, one of the latter, is a brave man, whereas the baron is a coward: he prefers the red cap to the finest crown; the abbot is only a cheat and the president an idler.

Francoeur is not only the vigilante who punishes; it is still the colonizer who sows well-being and happiness along his path: he has offered the chief of the savage tribe to give him useful lessons in culture; and the natives carry it in triumph.

(Unedited translation from Paul d'Estrée, Le théâtre sous la Terreur (Théâtre de la peur), [The theatre under the Terror (Theatre of fear)], 1793-1794, pp.217-9, online resource at gallica.fr.

"Mais il ne suffisait pas de livrer à la risée publique ou à l'exécration des masses les nobles et les prêtres, il fallait les mettre dans l'impossibilité de nuire, soit en les cantonnant dans une sorte de relégation à l'intérieur, soit en purgeant le sol français de leur présence, par la guillotine, ou par la déportation dans les colonies, une fois l'ère des exécutions fermée. C'était le but que se proposait Robespierre, prétendaient plusieurs de ses biographes : soit, mais la priorité de l'idée ne lui appartenait pas.

Le 16 juillet 1792, Gamas donnait, au Théâtre des Amis de la Patrie [Ancien théâtre de la rue de Louvois] les Emigrés aux terres australes ou Le dernier chapitre d'une grande Révolution [Spectacles de Paris et de la France pour l'année 1793: « Morale pure et vrais principes de patriotisme », dit cet almanach de la pièce de Gamas], sorte de drame qui était comme la seule solution rationnelle du problème jacobin. La question était d'ailleurs d'actualité. L'émigration battait son plein ; et la déchéance de Louis XVI était imminente. Si la Terreur n'était encore à l'ordre du jour, ni sur la voie publique, ni dans les théâtres, le désordre y régnait, entretenu par des bordées d'injures ou par des scènes de pugilat. Mais Gamas était assuré d'avoir pour lui la majorité des spectateurs, quand il faisait sonner bien haut la note d'indignation contre de mauvais Français, escomptant, pour rentrer dans leurs foyers, les victoires de la coalition.

Le décor était déjà impressionnant. Dans un site sauvage, hérissé de rochers, s'espaçaient çà et là de misérables tentes ; la mer bleuissait aux derniers plans et près du rivage apparaissait un navire immobile sur ses ancres. C'est là que Francoeur, capitaine de la Garde nationale, a débarqué des «'monstres qui ont voulu déchirer le sein de la patrie ». Pour eux, la mort serait « mie faveur » ; mais lui, Francoeur, les condamne à vivre « consumés de regrets et de remords ». Un obélisque, dressé par les indigènes et par des volontaires de la Garde nationale, porte une inscription attestant que, l'an III (de la Révolution) « la France, libre et triomphante, de concert avec toute l'Europe, a fait déporter en ces heux des rebelles qu'elle a terrassés ».

Ces rebelles sont représentés par un baron, une marquise, un abbé, un président et un financier, revêtus des costumes les plus bizarres. Imbus de préjugés séculaires, ils discutent avec acharnement sur la valeur et l'étendue de leurs privilèges, niais ils se voient bientôt dans l'obligation de travailler pour vivre. La comparaison de leur mentalité avec celle de l'équipage est tout à l'honneur des matelots. Mathurin, un de ces derniers, est un brave, alors que le baron est un lâche : il préfère à la plus belle couronne le bonnet rouge ; l'abbé n'est qu'un fourbe et le président un oisif.

Francoeur n'est pas seulement le justicier qui punit ; c'est encore le colonisateur qui sème le bien-être et le bonheur sur son passage : il a offert au chef de la tribu sauvage de lui donner d'utiles leçons de culture ; et les indigènes le portent en triomphe.

(Paul d'Estrée, Le théâtre sous la Terreur (Théâtre de la peur), 1793-1794, pp.217-9, online resource at gallica.fr).

Appendix 6: Peter McPhee

"The most important organized form of popular leisure in revolutionary Paris was theatre. A rich example of this theatre—and the political ideology which pervaded it—in the autumn of 1792 is a play written by the 'citizen Gamas'. Emigres in the Austral Lands or the Last Chapter of a Great Revolution, a Comedy, was performed for the first time in the Theatre des Amis de la Patrie in Paris in November 1792. Before this time there had been two centuries of European Utopian literature about the 'Austral Lands', an ideal place for authors to locate an imaginary world turned upside down. In France this interest had been heightened by the tales of the Pacific brought back by Bougainville. This was a literature which was more about France and its discontents than any real southern land. Marin Gamas's short play, while within this genre, is of particular interest because it was the first play in any language about the new British colony of New South Wales. It was located at Botany Bay, described in the play as 'an uncultivated landscape' strewn with 'rocks and a few tents'.

The play is redolent of the heady mix of patriotic virtues and hatred for the old Europe of the aristocracy so typical of these months. It depicts the struggle of a group of anti-revolutionary emigres exiled to Australia to come to terms with life in a 'state of nature'. The characters are stereotypes, including Truehart, Captain of the National Guard, and the emigres Prince Braggart, Baron Swindle, Judge Blunder, the abbot Smarmy, the financier Leech, and the monk Greedy. The noble and clerical Emigre's, still dressed in their finery and utterly unreconstructed in their prejudices, have to come to terms with life in a state of nature. Oziambo, chief of the Aborigines, is an idealized child of nature, who worships a Supreme Being but has no need of priests: indeed, he expresses some good Parisian anticlericalism when he mistakes the abbot Smarmy in his cassock for a woman. Oziambo is eager to learn from Mathurin the ploughman, the 'benefactor of humanity', and speaks perfect French. Mathurin, one of 'those really useful men who used to be despised in Europe', is the hero of the play. Oziambo announces him the leader of the colony: 'Love of fellow man, courage, integrity, these are his obligations. There are none more sacred... The idle man is the greatest scourge of any society and will forever be banished from ours.' The abbot Smarmy is thereby thwarted in his machinations to place himself at the head of the local people, turning the natives into a new Third Estate, and he and the other emigres are condemned to a life of having to earn their keep. The play ends with a rousing song castigating 'the hideous hydra of despotism' and promising that 'our strong arms may set free the universe', sung to the tune of the 'Marseillaise' first heard in Paris only a few months earlier." (Peter McPhee, The French Revolution, 1789-1799, OUP, 2001).

Provenance: A. Barthélemy (stamped ex-libris on front wrapper with shelfmark and a handwritten title, with a manuscript note of reading -- "Lu 5/13").

Les archives de la Révolution française, 12.198; http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb372385505. Leslie Rees, A History of Australian Drama, vol. 1 ("the earliest known play concerned with Australia"); M. Blackmann, 'Upside-down at the Bottom of the World: the first 'Australian' Play', in The French-Australian Cultural Connection, University of New South Wales, 1984.

Condition Report: In good original condition, with scattered foxing, paper of the second of the two gatherings of 8 leaves browned.

Ref: #5000815

Condition Report