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Produced by Col Choat. HTML version by Al Haines.



Ernest Scott


To my friend T.B.E.




All Sydney people, and most of those who have visited the city, have
seen the tall monument to Laperouse overlooking Botany Bay. Many have
perhaps read a little about him, and know the story of his surprising
appearance in this harbour six days after the arrival of Governor
Phillip with the First Fleet. One can hardy look at the obelisk, and at
the tomb of Pere Receveur near by, without picturing the departure of
the French ships after bidding farewell to the English officers and
colonists. Sitting at the edge of the cliff, one can follow Laperouse
out to sea, with the eye of imagination, until sails, poops and hulls
diminish to the view and disappear below the hazy-blue horizon. We may
be sure that some of Governor Phillip's people watched the sailing, and
the lessening, and the melting away of the vessels, from just about the
same place, one hundred and twenty four years ago. What they saw, and
what we can imagine, was really the end of a romantic career, and the
beginning of a mystery of the sea which even yet has not lost its

The story of that life is surely worth telling, and, we trust, worth
reading; for it is that of a good, brave and high-minded man, a great
sailor, and a true gentleman. The author has put into these few pages
what he has gleaned from many volumes, some of them stout, heavy and
dingy tomes, though delightful enough to "those who like that
sort of thing." He hopes that the book may for many readers touch with
new meaning those old weatherworn stones at Botany Bay, and make the
personality of Laperouse live again for such as nourish an interest in
Australian history.


(Not included in etext)

Portrait of Laperouse, with Autograph
Laperouse's Coat of Arms
The Laperouse Family
Comte de Fleurieu
Louis XVI Giving Instructions to Laperouse
Australia as known at the time of Laperouse's visit
Chart of Laperouse's Voyage in the Pacific
Massacre of Captain de Langle's Party
Tomb of Pere Receveur
Monument to Laperouse at Botany Bay
Admiral Dentrecasteaux
Map of Vanikoro Island
Relics of Laperouse

Life of Laperouse

Chapter I.


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

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

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

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.


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
promoted to the rank of ensign, he had a rest.

It was not a popular peace on either side. In Paris there was a current
phrase, "BETE COMME LA PAIX," stupid as the peace. In England, the
great Pitt was so indignant on account of its conditions that, all
swollen and pinched with gout as he was, he had himself carried to the
House of Commons, his limbs blanketted in bandages and his face
contorted with pain, and, leaning upon a crutch, denounced it in a
speech lasting three hours and forty minutes. The people cheered him to
the echo when he came out to his carriage, and the vote favourable to
the terms of the treaty was carried by wholesale corruption. But
all the same, Great Britain did very well out of it, and both
countries - though neither was satisfied - were for the time being tired
of war.

For Laperouse the seven years had been full of excitement. The most
memorable engagement in which he took part was a very celebrated one,
in November, 1759. A stirring ballad has been written about it by Henry
Newbolt: -

"In seventeen hundred and fifty-nine
When Hawke came swooping from the West,
The French King's admiral with twenty of the line
Came sailing forth to sack us out of Brest."

Laperouse's ship, the FORMIDABLE, was one of the French fleet of
twenty-one sail. What happened was this. The French foreign minister,
Choiseul, had hatched a crafty plan for the invasion of England, but
before it could be executed the British fleet had to be cleared out of
the way. There was always that tough wooden wall with the hearts of oak
behind it, standing solidly in the path. It baffled Napoleon in the
same fashion when he thought out an invasion plan in the next century.
The French Admiral, Conflans, schemed to lure Sir Edward Hawke into
Quiberon Bay, on the coast of Brittany. A strong westerly gale was
blowing and was rapidly swelling into a raging tempest. Conflans,
piloted by a reliable guide who knew the Bay thoroughly, intended to
take up a fairly safe, sheltered position on the lee side, and hoped
that the wind would force Hawke, who was not familiar with the
ground, on to the reefs and shoals, where his fleet would be destroyed
by the storm and the French guns together. But Hawke, whose name
signally represents the bold, swift, sure character of the man,
understood the design, took the risk, avoided the danger, and clutched
the prey. Following the French as rapidly as wind and canvas could take
him, he caught their rearmost vessels, smashed them up, battered the
whole fleet successively into flight or splinters, and himself lost
only two vessels, which ran upon a shoal. Plodding prose does scant
justice to the extraordinary brilliancy of Hawke's victory, described
by Admiral Mahan as "the Trafalgar of this war." We cannot pass on
without quoting one of Mr. Newbolt's graphic verses: -

"'Twas long past the noon of a wild November day
When Hawke came swooping from the west;
He heard the breakers thundering in Quiberon Bay,
But he flew the flag for battle, line abreast.
Down upon the quicksands, roaring out of sight,
Fiercely blew the storm wind, darkly fell the night,
For they took the foe for pilot and the cannon's glare for light,
When Hawke came swooping from the West."

"They took the foe for pilot:" that is a most excellent touch, both
poetical and true.

The FORMIDABLE was the first to be disposed of in the fight. She was an
80-gun line-of-battle ship, carrying the flag of Admiral du
Verger. Her position being in the rear of the squadron, she was early
engaged by the RESOLUTION, and in addition received the full broadside
of every other British ship that passed her. The Admiral fell mortally
wounded, and two hundred on board were killed. She struck her colours
at four o'clock after receiving a terrible battering, and was the only
French ship captured by Hawke's fleet. All the others were sunk, burnt,
or beached, or else escaped. The young Laperouse was amongst the
wounded, though his hurts were not dangerous; and, after a brief period
spent in England as a prisoner of war, he returned to service.

An amusing rhyme in connection with this engagement is worth recalling.
Supplies for Hawke's fleet did not come to hand for a considerable time
after they were due, and in consequence the victorious crews had to be
put on "short commons." Some wag - it is the way of the British sailor
to do his grumbling with a spice of humour - put the case thus: -

"Ere Hawke did bang
Monsieur Conflans,
You sent us beef and beer;
Now Monsieur's beat
We've nought to eat,
Since you have nought to fear."

An interesting coincidence must also be noted. Thirty-five years later,
only a few leagues from the place where Laperouse first learnt
what it meant to fight the British on the sea, another young officer
who was afterwards greatly concerned with Australasian exploration had
his introduction to naval warfare. It was in 1794 that Midshipman
Matthew Flinders, on the BELLEROPHON, Captain Pasley, played his
valiant little part in a great fleet action off Brest. Both of these
youths, whose longing was for exploration and discovery, and who are
remembered by mankind in that connection, were cradled on the sea
amidst the smoke and flame of battle, both in the same waters.

During the next twenty-five years Laperouse saw a considerable amount
of fighting in the East and West Indies, and in Canadian waters. He was
commander of the AMAZON, under D'Estaing, during a period when events
did not shape themselves very gloriously for British arms, not because
our admirals had lost their skill and nerve, or our seamen their grit
and courage, but because Governments at home muddled, squabbled,
starved the navy, misunderstood the problem, and generally made a mess
of things. We need not follow him through the details of these years,
but simply note that Laperouse's dash and good seamanship won him a
high reputation among French naval officers, and brought him under the
eye of the authorities who afterwards chose him to command an
expedition of discovery.

One incident must be recorded, because it throws a light on the
character of Laperouse. In 1782, whilst serving under Admiral
Latouche-Treville in the West, he was ordered to destroy the British
forts on the Hudson River. He attacked them with the SCEPTRE, 74 guns.
The British had been engaged in their most unfortunate war with the
American Colonies, and in 1781, in consequence of wretchedly bad
strategy, had lost command of the sea. The French had been helping the
revolted Americans, not for love of them, but from enmity to their
rivals. After the capitulation of the British troops at Yorktown, a
number of loyalists still held out under discouraging conditions in
Canada, and the French desired to dislodge them from the important
waterway of the Hudson.

Laperouse found little difficulty in fulfilling his mission, for the
defence was weak and the garrisons of the forts, after a brief
resistance, fled to the woods. It was then that he did a thing
described in our principal naval history as an act of "kindness and
humanity, rare in the annals of war." Laperouse knew that if he totally
destroyed the stores as well as the forts, the unfortunate British,
after he had left, would perish either from hunger or under the
tomahawks of the Red Indians. So he was careful to see that the food
and clothing, and a quantity of powder and small arms, were left
untouched, for, as he nobly said, "An enemy conquered should have
nothing more to fear from a civilised foe; he then becomes a friend."

Some readers may like to see the verses in which a French poet
has enshrined this incident. For their benefit they are appended: -

"Un jour ayant appris que les Anglais en fuite
Se cachaient dans un bois redoutant la poursuite,
Tu laissas sur la plage aux soldats affames,
Par la peur affoles, en haillons, desarmes,
Des vivres abondantes, des habits et des armes;
Tu t'eloignas apres pour calmer leurs alarmes,
Et quand on s'etonnait: 'Sachez qu' un ennemi
Vaincu n'a rien a craindre, et devient un ami.'"

The passage may be rendered in English thus: "One day, having heard
that the fleeing English were hidden in a forest dreading pursuit, you
left upon the shore for those soldiers - famished, ragged, disarmed,
and paralysed by fear - abundance of food, clothes and arms; then, to
calm their fears, you removed your forces to a distance; and, when
astonishment was expressed, you said: 'Understand that a beaten enemy
has nothing to fear from us, and becomes a friend.'"

Chapter III.


"My story is a romance" - "Mon histoire est un roman" - wrote Laperouse
in relating the events with which this chapter will deal. We have seen
him as a boy; we have watched him in war; we shall presently follow him
as a navigator. But it is just as necessary to read his charming love
story, if we are to understand his character. We should have no true
idea of him unless we knew how he bore himself amid perplexities that
might have led him to quote, as peculiarly appropriate to his own case,
the lines of Shakespeare: -

"Ay me! for ought that ever I could read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth,"

During the period of his service in the East Indies, Laperouse
frequently visited Ile-de-France (which is now a British possession,
called Mauritius). Then it was the principal naval station of the
French in the Indian Ocean. There he met a beautiful girl, the daughter
of one of the subordinate officials at Port Louis. Louise Eleonore
Broudou is said to have been "more than pretty"; she was distinguished
by grace of manner, charm of disposition, and fine, cultivated
character. The young officer saw her often, admired her much,
fell in love with her, and asked her to marry him. Mademoiselle loved
him too; and if they two only had had to be consulted, the happy union
of a well-matched pair might have followed soon.

It signified little to Laperouse, in love, that the lady had neither
rank nor fortune. But his family in France took quite a different view.
He wrote to a favourite sister, telling her about it, and she lost no
time in conveying the news to his parents. This was in 1775. Then the
trouble began.

Inasmuch as he was over thirty years of age at this time, it may be
thought that he might have been left to choose a wife for himself. But
a young officer of rank in France, under the Old Regime, was not so
free in these matters as he would be nowadays. Marriage was much more
than a personal affair. It was even more than a family affair. People
of rank did not so much marry as "make alliances" - or rather, submit
to having them made for them. It was quite a regular thing for a
marriage to be arranged by the families of two young people who had
never even seen each other. An example of that kind will appear

The idea that the Comte de Laperouse, one of the smartest officers in
the French King's navy, should marry out of his rank and station,
shocked his relatives and friends as much as it would have done if he
had been detected picking pockets. He could not, without grave risk of
social and professional ruin, marry until he had obtained the
consent of his father, and - so naval regulations required - of his

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