Monsieur de la Perouse
The company were received with all possible politeness and respect; the president of the missions, in his sacerdotal vestment, with the holy water in hand, waited to receive them at the entrance of the church, which was splendidly illuminated as on their highest festivals: he then conducted them to the foot of the high altar, where Te Deum was sung in thanksgivings for their arrival. Before they entered the church they passed a ran g e of Indians: the parish church, though covered with straw, is neat, and decorated with paintings, copied from Italian originals. The Indians, as well as the missionaries, rise with the sun, and devote an hour to prayers and mass, during which time a species of boiled food is prepared for them: it consists of barley meal, the grain of which has been roasted previous to its being boiled. It is cooked in the centre of the square, in three large kettles. This repast is called atole by the Indians, who consider it as delicious: it is destitute of salt and butter, and must consequently be insipid. The women have little more to attend to than their housewifery, their children, and the roasting and grinding of several grains: the latter operation is long and laborious, as they employ no other means than that of crushing it in pieces with a cylinder upon a stone.
The Indians of the rancheries, or independent villages, are accustomed to paint their bodies red and black, when they are in mourning; but the missionaries have prohibited the former, though they tolerate the latter, these people being singularly attached to their friends. The ties of family are less regarded among them than those of friendship: the children show no filial respect to the father, having been obliged to quit his cabin as soon as they were able to procure their own subsistence.
A Spanish commissary at Monterey, named M. Vincent Vassadre y Vega, brought orders to the governor to collect all the otter-skins of his missions and presidencies, government having reserved to itself the exclusive commerce of them; and M. Fages assured La Perouse that he could annually furnish twenty thousand of them. The Spaniards were ignorant of the importance of this valuable peltry till the publication of the voyages of Captain Cook; that excellent man has navigated for the general benefit of every nation; his own enjoys only the glory of the enterprise, and that of having given him birth.
New California, though extremely fertile, cannot boast of having a single settler; a few soldiers, married to Indian women, who dwell in the forts, or who are dispersed among the different missions, constituting the whole Spanish nation in this district of America. The Franciscan missionaries are principally Europeans; they have a convent in Mexico.
On the evening of the 22c1 every thing was on board, and leave had been taken of the governor and missionaries. On the morning of the 24th they sailed. On the 3d of November the frigates were surrounded with noddies, terns, and man-of-war birds; and on the 4th they made an island which bore west. This small island is little more than a rock of about five hundred toises in length. La Perouse named it Isle Necker. About an hour past one in the morning La Perouse saw breakers at two cables' length ahead of the ship; the sea being so smooth, the sound of them was hardly heard; the Astrolabe perceived them at the same time, though at a greater distance than the Boussole; both frigates instantly hauled, with their heads to the south-east; La Perouse gave orders for sounding; they had nine fathoms rocky bottom; soon after ten and twelve fathoms, and in a quarter of an hour got no ground with sixty fathoms. They just escaped the most imminent danger to which navigators can be exposed.
The island of Assumption, to which the Jesuits have attributed six leagues of circumference, from the angles now taken, was reduced to half, and the highest point is about two hundred toises above the level of the sea. A more horrid place cannot be conceived. It was a perfect cone, as black as a coal, and very mortifying to behold, after having enjoyed, in imagination, the cocoa-nuts and turtles expected to be found in some one of the Marianne Islands. Having determined the position, he continued his course towards China; and on the 1st of January 1787, found bottom in sixty fathoms; a number of fishing-boats surrounded him the next day. On the 2d of January our navigators made the White Rock. In the evening they anchored to the north-ward of Ling-sing Island, and the following day in Macao Road. Macao, situated at the mouth of the Tigris, is capable of receiving a sixty-four gun-ship into its road, at the entrance of the Typa; and in its port, below the city, ships of seven hundred tons half laden.
The climate of the road of Typa is, at this season of the year, precarious; most of the crews were afflicted with colds, accompanied with a fever; which yielded to the salutary temperature of the island of Luconia, when they approached it on the 15th of February. Wanting wood, which he knew was dear at Manilla, La Perouse came to a resolution of remaining twenty-four hours at Marivella to procure some, and early the next morning all the carpenters of the two frigates were sent on shore with the long boats; the rest of the ship's company, with the yawl, were reserved for a fishing-party; but they were unsuccessful, as they found nothing but rocks and very shallow water.