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- LAPEROUSE - 1/12 -


Monument to Laperouse at Botany Bay Admiral Dentrecasteaux Map of Vanikoro Island Relics of Laperouse

Life of Laperouse

Chapter I.

FAMILY, YOUTH and INFLUENCES

Jean-Francois Galaup, Comte De Laperouse, was born at Albi, on August 23, 1741. His birthplace is the chief town in the Department of Tarn, lying at the centre of the fruitful province of Languedoc, in the south of France. It boasts a fine old Gothic cathedral, enriched with much noble carving and brilliant fresco painting; and its history gives it some importance in the lurid and exciting annals of France. From its name was derived that of a religious sect, the Albigeois, who professed doctrines condemned as heretical and endured severe persecution during the thirteenth century.

But among all the many thousands of men who have been born, and have lived, and died in the old houses of the venerable city, none, not even among its bishops and counts, has borne a name which lives in the memory of mankind as does that of the navigator, Laperouse. The sturdy farmers of the fat and fertile plain which is the granary of France, who drive in to Albi on market days, the patient peasants of the fields, and the simple artisans who ply their primitive trades under the shadow of the dark-red walls of St. Cecile, know few details, perhaps, about the sailor who sank beneath the waters of the Pacific so many years ago. Yet very many of them have heard of Laperouse, and are familiar with his monument cast in bronze in the public square of Albi. They speak his name respectfully as that of one who grew up among their ancestors, who trod their streets, sat in their cathedral, won great fame, and met his death under the strange, distant, southern stars.

His family had for five hundred years been settled, prominent and prosperous, on estates in the valley of the Tarn. In the middle of the fifteenth century a Galaup held distinguished office among the citizens of Albi, and several later ancestors are mentioned honourably in its records. The father of the navigator, Victor Joseph de Galaup, succeeded to property which maintained him in a position of influence and affluence among his neighbours. He married Marguerite de Resseguier, a woman long remembered in the district for her qualities of manner and mind. She exercised a strong influence over her adventurous but affectionate son; and a letter written to her by him at an interesting crisis of his life, testifies to his eager desire to conform to his mother's wishes even in a matter that wrenched his heart, and after years of service in the Navy had taken him far and kept him long from her kind, concerning eyes.

Jean-Francois derived the name by which he is known in history from the estate of Peyrouse, one of the possessions of his family. But he dropped the "y" when assuming the designation, and invariably spelt the name "Laperouse," as one word. Inasmuch as the final authority on the spelling of a personal name is that of the individual who owns it, there can be no doubt that we ought always to spell this name "Laperouse," as, in fact, successors in the family who have borne it have done; though in nearly all books, French as well as English, it is spelt "La Perouse." In the little volume now in the reader's hands, the example of Laperouse himself has been followed.

On this point it may be remarked concerning another navigator who was engaged in Australian exploration, that we may lose touch with an interesting historical fact by not observing the correct form of a name. On maps of Tasmania appears "D'Entrecasteaux Channel." It was named by and after Admiral Bruny Dentrecasteaux, who as commander of the RECHERCHE and ESPERANCE visited Australian waters. We shall have something to say about his expedition towards the close of the book. Now, Dentrecasteaux sailed from France in 1791, while the Revolution was raging. All titles had been abolished by a decree of the National Assembly on July 19th, 1790. When he made this voyage, therefore, the Admiral was not Bruny D'Entrecasteaux, a form which implied a territorial titular distinction; but simply Citizen Dentrecasteaux. The name is so spelt in the contemporary histories of his expedition written by Rossel and Labillardiere. It would not have been likely to be spelt in any other way by a French officer at the time. Thus, the Marquis de la Fayette became simply Lafayette, and so with all other bearers of titles in France. Consequently we should, by observing this little difference, remind ourselves of Dentrecasteaux' period and circumstances.

That, however, is by the way, and our main concern for the present is with Laperouse.

As a boy, Jean-Francois developed a love for books of voyages, and dreamt, as a boy will, of adventures that he would enjoy when he grew to manhood. A relative tells us that his imagination was enkindled by reading of the recent discoveries of Anson. As he grew up, and himself sailed the ocean in command of great ships, he continued to read all the voyaging literature he could procure. The writings of Byron, Carteret, Wallis, Louis de Bougainville, "and above all Cook," are mentioned as those of his heroes. He "burned to follow in their footsteps."

It will be observed that, with one exception, the navigators who are especially described by one of his own family as having influenced the bent of Laperouse were Englishmen. He did not, of course, read all of their works in his boyhood, because some of them were published after he had embraced a naval career. But we note them in this place, as the guiding stars by which he shaped his course. He must have been a young man, already on the way to distinction as an officer, when he came under the spell of Cook. "And above all Cook," says his relative. To the end of his life, down to the final days of his very last voyage, Laperouse revered the name of Cook. Every Australian reader will like him the better for that. Not many months before his own life ended in tragedy and mystery, he visited the island where the great English sailor was slain. When he reflected on the achievements of that wonderful career, he sat down in his cabin and wrote in his Journal the passage of which the following is a translation. It is given here out of its chronological order, but we are dealing with the influences that made Laperouse what he was, and we can see from these sincere and feeling words, what Cook meant to him:

"Full of admiration and of respect as I am for the memory of that great man, he will always be in my eyes the first of navigators. It is he who has determined the precise position of these islands, who has explored their shores, who has made known the manners, customs and religion of the inhabitants, and who has paid with his blood for all the light which we have to-day concerning these peoples. I would call him the Christopher Columbus of these countries, of the coast of Alaska, and of nearly all the isles of the South Seas. Chance might enable the most ignorant man to discover islands, but it belongs only to great men like him to leave nothing more to be done regarding the coasts they have found. Navigators, philosophers, physicians, all find in his Voyages interesting and useful things which were the object of his concern. All men, especially all navigators, owe a tribute of praise to his memory. How could one neglect to pay it at the moment of coming upon the group of islands where he finished so unfortunately his career?"

We can well understand that a lad whose head was full of thoughts of voyaging and adventure, was not, as a schoolboy, very tame and easy to manage. He is described as having been ardent, impetuous, and rather stubborn. But there is more than one kind of stubbornness. There is the stupid stubbornness of the mule, and the fixed, firm will of the intelligent being. We can perceive quite well what is meant in this case. On the other hand, he was affectionate, quick and clever. He longed for the sea; and his father, observing his decided inclination, allowed him to choose the profession he desired.

It may well have seemed to the parents of Laperouse at this time that fine prospects lay before a gallant young gentleman who should enter the Marine. There was for the moment peace between France and England. A truce had been made by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748. But everybody knew that there would be war again soon. Both countries were struggling for the mastery in India and in North America. The sense of rivalry was strong. Jealousies were fierce on both sides. In India, the French power was wielded, and ever more and more extended, by the brilliant Governor Dupleix; whilst in the British possessions the rising influence was that of the dashing, audacious Clive. In North America the French were scheming to push their dominion down the Ohio-Mississippi Valley from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, in the rear of the line of British colonies planted on the seaboard from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Florida. The colonists were determined to prevent them; and a young man named George Washington, who afterwards became very famous, first rose into prominence in a series of tough struggles to thwart the French designs. The points of collision between the two nations were so sharp, feeling on either side was so bitter, the contending interests were so incapable of being reconciled, that it was plain to all that another great war was bound to break out, and that sea power would play a very important part in the issue. The young Laperouse wanted to go to sea, and his father wanted him to distinguish himself and confer lustre on his name. The choice of a calling for him, therefore, suited all the parties concerned.

He was a boy of fifteen when, in November, 1756, he entered the Marine service as a royal cadet. He had not long to wait before tasting "delight of battle," for the expected war was declared in May, and before he was much older he was in the thick of it.

Chapter II.

THE FRENCH NAVAL OFFICER.

Laperouse first obtained employment in the French navy in the CELEBRE, from March to November, 1757. From this date until his death, thirty-one years later, he was almost continuously engaged, during peace and war, in the maritime service of his country. The official list of his appointments contains only one blank year, 1764. He had then experienced close upon seven years of continuous sea fighting and had served in as many ships: the CELEBRE, the POMONE, the ZEPHIR, the CERF, the FORMIDABLE, the ROBUSTE, and the SIX CORPS. But the peace of Paris was signed in the early part of 1763. After that, having been


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