|Jean-François de La Pérouse
(1741 – ca. 1788)
On August 1, 1785, French Navy officer Jean-François de La Pérouse with 2 ships, the Astrolabe and the Boussole, and 200 men left Brest to lead an expedition around the world. The objectives of the journey were to complete the Pacific discoveries of James Cook (whom La Pérouse greatly admired), correct and complete maps of the area, establish trade contacts, open new maritime routes and enrich French science and scientific collections.
La Pérouse already gained lots of experiences on earlier trips. He entered the naval college at the age of 15 and took part in an expedition traveling to New France. In a second supply expedition to Louisberg, the fort was under siege, wherefore they had to travel around Newfoundland. In the early 1780’s, he gained much reputation by capturing two English forts at Hudson Bay and making a deal with the Price of Wales.
In 1783, the Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolutionary War and only two years later, Lapérouse was given the task to travel around the world with two ships, both weighing 500 tons. The goal was to explore the south and north Pacificas well as the Far East and Australia, while sending home frequent reports.
La Pérouse, the leader of the expedition was a popular member of the crew of 144 men including about 10% of scientists. They decided to take astronomer, mathematicians, geologists, botanists, physicists and many other on board. One famous application to join the expedition had to be rejected, it was Napoleon Bonaparte, who back then was rather interested in navy duties because of his knowledge in mathematics and his warfare skills.
The adventure began on August 1, 1785, when the two ships traveled towards Cape Horn, observing Chile and arriving Easter Island in April of the following year. The route then took them to the Hawaiian Islands, where La Pérouse was the first to set foot on Maui. Their next goal was the present day California, creating important maps while being the very first non-Spanish visitor since 1579. The crew had to cross the Pacific in 100 days in order to arrive at Asia. Japan and Russia were important stops. They created more maps and performed scientific experiments while enjoying the Russian hospitality. The south Pacific Navigator Islands were reached in late 1787, when natives attacked the travelers, wounding and killing several dozens. In Australia, where they arrived in 1788, La Pérouse sent home numerous journal entries and manuscripts he collected during their time on sea. He noted that his crew would return to France in June, 1789, which they never could since no crew member was ever seen again. His manuscripts were published posthumously.
Two rescue ships were sent towards Australia in 1791 but stayed unsuccessful. More expeditions in order to find the wrecked ships or at least evidences were sent in 1826, 2005 and 2008. It is now known that both frigates were damaged at Vanikoro’s reefs, the rest can only be assumed. Historians believe that the crew was attacked by natives.
La Pérouse’s expedition became famous, which was mainly caused by the many questions left behind that are still unanswered to this day. Jules Verne was inspired by the adventure, making it a subject in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture by Dr. Jim Bennett about ‘The Age of Discovery‘.
References and Further Reading:
- Early Exploration: Lapérouse Expedition
- Biography of Laperouse
- Laperouse Museum
- The Voyage of La Perouse at BibliOdyssey
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