The IHR Blog |

Labat’s Travels in the West Indies

by

We came across this edition of Nouveau Voyage aux Isles de l’Amerique during the reclassification of the Colonial history collection. Jean Baptiste Labat (1663-1738) travelled to the West Indies in the 1690s as a missionary and worked as an engineer and developer in the sugar industry: ‘il se fait architect et bâtisseur, ingénieur et chef de guerre, chef d’exploitation agricole et botaniste, comme il l’a si bien raconté dans son Nouveau Voyage..’ (Dictionnaire de Biographie Française). He wrote the work following his return to Europe and it was published in 1722. The account focusses on Martinique and Guadeloupe, and covers details of the natural history and industry, the inhabitants past and present, and wars and events that happened during the author’s time there.  The volumes are richly illustrated, and the detailed accounts and illustrations reflect Labat’s interests as a naturalist and scientist.

The IHR edition was printed in 1742, although had been erroneously catalogued to match the 1722 edition, possibly during the conversion of the card catalogue. It was acquired by the IHR in 1932. Our first volume is missing its title page and we at first thought that this was because it had a ‘dedication signed: F. Jean-Baptiste Labat’ indicated in the catalogue record, but it appears that this was an error and we never had a copy with this dedication. The copy will be recatalogued and will remain in closed access. There are copies of the 1722 edition in other libraries within the Senate House Libraries, and it can also be viewed in the Making of the Modern World (subscription-only) electronic resource.

Further biographical information about Jean Baptiste Labat: