Monsieur de la Perouse

Induced by a western gale, La Perouse attempted to reach the parallel of Bougainville's Navigator's Islands, a discovery due to the French, where fresh provision might probably be procured. On the 6th of December, at three in the afternoon, he saw the most easterly island of that Archipelago, and stood on and off during the rest of the evening and night. Meaning to anchor if he met with a proper place, La Perouse passed through the channel between the great and the little islands that Bougainville left to the south; though hardly a league wide, it appeared perfectly free from danger. He saw no canoes until he was in the channel, yet he beheld several habitations on the windward side of the island, and a group of Indians sitting under the shade of cocoa nut trees, who seemed delighted with the prospect afforded by the frigates.

At break of day they were surprised not to see land to the leeward; nor was it to be discovered till six o'clock next morning. Charmed with the beautiful dawn of the following morning, La Perouse resolved to reconnoitre the country, take a view of the inhabitants at their own homes, fill water, and immediately get under way; prudence warning him against passing a second night at that anchorage, which M. de Langle also thought too dangerous for a longer stay. It was therefore agreed on to sail in the afternoon, after appropriating the morning in exchanging baubles for hogs and fruit. At the dawn of day the islanders had surrounded the two frigates, with two hundred different canoes laden with provision, which they would only exchange for beads, axes, and cloth; other articles of traffic, were treated by them with contempt. While a part of the crew was occupied in keeping them in order, and dealing, the rest were despatching empty casks on shore to be replenished with water. Two boats of the Boussole, armed, and commanded by Messrs. de Clonard and Colinet, and those of the Astrolabe, commanded by Messrs. de Monti and Bellegarde, set off with that view at five in the morning, for a bay at the distance of about a league. La Perouse followed close after Messrs. Clonard and Monti, in his pinnace, and landed when they did. It unfortunately happened that M. de Langle had formed a resolution to make an excursion in his jolly-boat to another creek, at the distance of about a league from their watering-place; from this excursion a dire misfortune ensued. The creek, towards which the long-boats steered, was large and commodious: these and the other boats remained afloat at low water, within half a pistol-shot of the beach, and excellent water was easily procured. Great order was observed by Messrs. de Clonard and de Monti. A line of soldiers was posted between the beach and the natives, who amounted to about two hundred, including many women and children. They were prevailed on to sit down under cocoa-trees, at a little distance from the boats; each of them had fowls, hogs, pigeons, or fruit, and all of them were anxious to dispose of their articles without delay, which created some confusion.

While matters were thus passing with perfect tranquillity, and the casks expeditiously filling with water, La Perouse ventured to visit a charming village, situated in the midst of a neighboring wood, the trees of which were loaded with delicious fruit. The houses formed a circle of about one hundred and fifty toises in diameter, leaving an interior open space, beautifully verdant, and shaded with trees, which rendered the air delightfully cool and refreshing. Women, children, and aged men attended him, and earnestly importuned him to enter their houses; they even spread their finest mats upon the floor, decorated with chosen pebbles, and raised a convenient distance from the ground, to prevent offensive humidity. La Perouse condescended to enter one of the handsomest of these huts, which was probably inhabited by a chief, and was astonished to behold a large cabinet of lattice-work, on which as much taste and elegance were display ed as if it had been produced in the environs of Paris. This enchanting country, blessed with a fruitful soil without culture, and enjoying a climate which renders clothing unnecessary, holds out to these fortunate people an abundance of the most estimable food. The trees invite the natives to partake of the bread-fruit, the banana, the cocoa-nut, and the orange; while the swine, fowls, and dogs, which partake of the surplus of these fruits, afford them a rich variety of viands. The inhabitants of this enviable spot were so rich, and entirely free from wants, that they looked with disdain on the cloth and iron tendered by the French visitors, and only deigned to become customers for beads. Abounding in real blessings they languished only for superfluities.