The French realized that there was precious wealth lying in the west only after a Spanish ship laden with Mexican gold and silver was captured. This incident sparked the French dream of the colonization of the New World, and kings sought the services of famous explorers from the country to discover maritime routes to the American continents.
One of the greatest explorers in the history of France, Jacques Cartier was the first person to explore the Gulf of St Lawrence and chart St Lawrence river. He left for his first expedition on May 10, 1534, in his ship Grande Hermine. This voyage was sanctioned by the King of France to discover a western passage around North America, to the rich markets of Asia. On this journey he discovered the Prince Edward Island. Cartier built a fort at Stadacona―the present-day Quebec. Other than Grande Hermine, Cartier used ships named Petite Hermine, Emerillon, Georges, and Saint Brieux for voyages throughout his life. His beautiful journey of life came to an end with his death on September 1, 1557, in his hometown, St. Malo.
Samuel de Champlain
Also known as "The Father of New France", Samuel de Champlain was a French explorer, geographer, and cartographer. He was born in 1570, in Saintonge province of France. In 1608, he guided an expedition which led to the discovery of Quebec―the first permanent French colony in North America. He played a vital role in persuading the French government for further exploration in North America, as he thought it would help in discovering the north-west passage to Asia. Champlain was assigned the duty of the Governor of Quebec in 1612, which he continued until England conquered Quebec in 1629. He returned to Quebec as the Governor when the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which returned Quebec to France, was signed in 1633. Here he spent the last few years of his life, before passing away on December 25, 1635.
Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse
Jean-François de Galaup was a French navy officer and an explorer. At the age of 15, Jean-François joined a naval college in Brest. In 1782, he played a significant role in the war against British by capturing two English forts: Prince of Wales Fort and York Fort in Hudson Bay. He was selected by the French authorities to lead an expedition around the world. This expedition was aimed to explore the Pacific Ocean, establish trade contacts, and open maritime routes. The expedition sailed off from France on August 1, 1785, in ships named 'Astrolabe' and 'Boussole'. During this journey, Jean-François became the first European to set his foot on the Maui Island of Hawaii. The expedition crossed Pacific in 100 days. They traveled from Alaska to Northeast Asia and then to Australia. After reaching the Botany Bay in Australia on January 26, 1788, he sent his journals and letters to Europe with a British ship and continued his voyage towards the southern coast of Australia. There was no sign of him or his crew thereafter. It was assumed that his ships ran into some natural calamity and everybody on board, including Jean-François, lost their lives.
Louis Hennepin was a catholic priest and an explorer from France. Though he was born in Belgium, Hennepin became a French national when the French army captured 'Bethune'―the area in which he lived―in 1659. In 1678, he was given the orders to accompany Robert de LaSalle in an expedition to explore the western areas of New France. He is believed to be the first European to step ashore present-day Missouri. He is also credited with the discovery of two marvelous waterfalls: Niagara Falls in North America and Saint Anthony Falls in Minneapolis. Instead of returning to France, Hennepin preferred to spend the last days of his life in Rome.
Jules Dumont d'Urville
Jules Dumont was a French explorer and a Naval officer. In 1807, Jules joined a naval academy at Brest. He was also trained in botany and entomology. He had a good command over multiple languages like Greek, Italian, English, Chinese, Latin, German, and Russian. His first navigation was the trip to Mediterranean Sea in 1814. Later, he led expeditions to southern and western parts of the Pacific Ocean as well as the continent of Antarctica and Australia. In 1840, Jules was promoted to the post of Rear Admiral. Later, he became the President of French Societé de géographie. Jules Dumont died on May 8, 1842, in a tragic rail accident (the Versailles train crash).
These were some explorers hailing from France, who carved a niche for themselves with their immense contribution to the world geography.