François Le Vaillant, born Vaillant (6 August 1753 – 22 November 1824) was a French author, explorer, naturalist, zoological collector, and noted ornithologist. He described many new species of birds based on birds he collected in Africa and several birds are named after him.
In 1780 he travelled to the Cape where he collected specimens of birds and animals until July 1784. During his trip he changed his name to Le Vaillant (meaning the valiant). Back at home he published Voyage dans l’intérieur de l’Afrique (1790, 2 vols.), and Second voyage dans l’intérieur de l’Afrique (1796, 3 vols.), both of which became best sellers across Europe and was translated into several languages. Le Vaillant’s fame as collector in his lifetime was based on bringing back the first giraffe skeleton to France. He also sold a significant collection to the Paris Natural History Museum, which included the secret of Becoeur’s arsenical soap; this was widely used in taxidermy till the 1950s.
As a traveller in Africa, Le Vaillant tended to describe the African people without prejudice. He shared Rousseau’s idea of the “Noble savage” and attacked civilised conventions. His work was the first detailed ethnographical account based on fieldwork.
The Library of the National Museum houses a copy of the first two volumes published in 1790 in its Africana collection and a recent translation of his work Travels into the Interior of Africa via the Cape of Good Hope VOLUME 1,was added to our collection. This new translation by Ian Glenn provides an introductory section that places Le Vaillant in his historical and intellectual context and discusses the literary and historical importance of his work.