Jean-Francois de Galaup, Comte de La Perouse (La Perouse) was born near Albi, France on 22 August 1741. He was a naval officer and an explorer. In 1785, the King of France, Louis XVI, inspired by Captain Cook's explorations, commissioned La Perouse to lead an expedition to explore the north and south Pacific region. La Perouse was provided with two vessels, La Boussole and L'Astrolabe. He was the commander of the La Boussole. On both ships he was accompanied by the crew, soldiers and a group of scientists, including astronomers, botanists and zoologists. During the following three years they mapped much of the Pacific region.
The group sailed from Brest in August 1785, rounded Cape Horn and sailed to Alaska via Easter Island and the Sandwich Islands (1786). From Alaska, La Perouse sailed down the west coast of America in July 1786 to California and made his way over the Pacific to China. He reached China in January 1787 and then proceeded to the Philippines and Japan. In December in 1787 La Perouse reached Samoa. In Samoa the commander of L'Astrolabe and eleven of his men were killed by local inhabitants.
La Perouse sailed on to Botany Bay and established a camp on the northern shore on 24 January 1788. This is the area now known as La Perouse. Captain Phillip and the First Fleet had landed there six days earlier. During his six week stay, La Perouse maintained cordial relations with Phillip, who had moved on to Sydney Cove. Contact between the English at Sydney Cove and the French at Botany Bay was made possible by using an existing aboriginal track. This track was named the
"Frenchman's Road" and is part of the existing Frenchman's Road.
Prior to his departure, La Perouse handed over letters and journals to Phillip. These were sent to France. Thus records remain of the voyage to Australia and were published in 1797 (Voyage Round the World). A commemorative monument to La Perouse was erected on the landing site by Captain H de Bougainville in 1825.
La Perouse left Botany Bay on 10 March 1788 and was never heard of again. Antoine d'Entrecasteaux was sent from France in 1791 to search for La Perouse but failed to find any trace. In 1826, Peter Dillon found European relics on Vanikoro Island in the Santa Cruz group. He revisited the area in 1827 and came to the conclusion that La Perouse's two ships had become wrecked on the island. He theorized that some of the crewmembers were massacred when they landed on the island, while others may have used the wreckage to build another boat and sailed away.
List of References
- Australian Encyclopaedia, Volume 5
- Australian Geographic, 1996
- Australian Bicentenary (Brochure), La Perouse Museum, 1998
- A. Nisbet, French Navigators and the Discovery of Australia, School of French, UNSW, 1985