SONNERAT, Pierre. Lyon 18.8.1748 — Paris 31.3.1814. French Naval Officer, Naturalist and Traveller in the East. Travels: 1768-71 Madagascar and neighbouring islands, 1772-74 Moluccas and Philippines, 1774-81 India and China. Correspondent of the French Academy. Details of his life, especially of early years, are defective. In his first travel collaborated with several naturalistes, e.g. the botanist Pierre Poivre, the cousin of his mother. From 1774 official position as sous-commissaire de la marine. In 1785-93 he was the commanding officer of Yanam, the French base on Andhra coast. Captured by British he spent 20 years as prisoner and was only liberated in 1813. During these years he prepared the third volume of his work (Nouveau voyage aux Indes Orientales), but the unpublished manuscript was lost. Married with Marguerite Mérussier, one son and one daughter.
Sonnerat’s Travels was one of the most important books on Asia in his time. He was a noted naturalist, especially botanist, but also gave a good, though occasionally credulous account of many other things, such as customs, religion, art and crafts of South India, all with may good illustrations. The Indian part of his account, mainly collected on the Coromandel Coast, fills most of the first two volumes of the 8vo edition.
Publications: Voyage à la Nouvelle-Guinée. 1776.
– Voyage aux Indes orientales et à Chine, fait par ordre du Roi depuis 1774 jusqu’en 1781 avec Observations sur le Cap de Bonne Espérance, les isles de France et de Bourbon, les Maldives, Ceylan, Malacca, les Philippines, les Moluques etc. 1782 (1-2 in 4o / 1-3 in 8o, 2nd ed 1806), German tr. Reise nach Ostindien und China. Zürich 1783.
Sources: A. Casile, D.O.L.F. 905-907; *M. Ly-Tio-Fane, P.S. 1748–1814. An account of his life. 1976; Windisch 17f.; Wikipedia (much more in French version).