LAPÉROUSE, Jean Francois Galaup, Comte de (1741-1788)


LAPÉROUSE, Jean Francois Galaup, Comte de (1741-1788)
explorer
was born at Albi, France, on 23 August 1741. His name is usually spelt La Pérouse, but Ernest Scott has pointed out that Lapérouse and later members of his family wrote it as one word. In November 1756 Lapérouse entered the French marine service as a royal cadet, and for the next 30 years served in many ships, fought in many sea actions, and gained a very high reputation as an officer. In 1785 he was selected by Louis XVI to make a voyage of discovery in the South Seas, in charge of two ships of the navy, La Boussole and L'Astrolabe. The king had been much interested in the voyages of Cook (q.v.), and felt that a French expedition might make further discoveries of great importance. Lapérouse had a personal interview with the king and was given elaborate instructions, with, however, power to modify them should that be necessary. The expedition sailed on 1 August 1785, rounded Cape Horn in January 1786, sailed up the Chile coast and visited Easter Island in April, and the Sandwich Islands in May. The two ships then sailed north to Alaska, then down the coast to California, and then almost due west to Macao on the coast of China, which was reached in January 1787. After a visit to the Philippines a course was set north to Formosa, up the coast of China, round the north of Japan and then generally south or south-east to the Navigator Islands. At one of these islands de Langle, the commander of the Astrolabe, and all of his crew who had gone ashore to obtain fresh water, were murdered by natives in December 1787. Twenty others were severely wounded, one of whom Père Receveur, priest and naturalist, died of his injuries at Botany Bay and was buried there. After the massacre the ships sailed to the south-west, and arrived off the east coast of Australia practically at the same time as the First Fleet under Phillip (q.v.). The French ships sailed into Botany Bay on the morning of 26 January 1788. Happy relations were established between the French and English officers, but there is no evidence to show that Lapérouse and Phillip ever met. After a stay of a few weeks the French ships sailed from Botany Bay on 10 March 1788, and nothing more was heard of them for many years. In 1791 two ships under Admiral D'Entrecasteaux were sent to search for tidings of them. Esperance Bay in Western Australia is named after one of these ships, D'Entrecasteaux Channel to the south of Tasmania is named after the admiral. Their search yielded nothing. Other ships afterwards looked for relics of Lapérouse, but it was not until 1826 that Captain Dillon of the St Patrick found European articles on the island of Tucopia. He made inquiries and learned that two ships, evidently those of the Lapérouse expedition, had been wrecked in the Vanikoro cluster of islands, some of the crew had been murdered when they got ashore, others built a boat out of the fragments and sailed away never to be heard of again, a few remained on the island until they died, but there is no information about the fate of the leader.
Lapérouse was a great navigator and a great man, accomplished, humane, and able. He married Louise Eleonora Broudon two years before he sailed on his last voyage. She survived him but there was no child of the marriage. A monument to Lapérouse was erected by Baron de Bougainville at Botany Bay in 1825, and there is a statue in bronze in the Place Lapérouse at Albi.
Sir Ernest Scott, Lapérouse, and Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol, XIII, pp. 273-88; Sir William Dixson, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. XXI, pp. 361-90; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vol. I. There are also many works on Lapérouse in French.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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