The Expedition of La Perouse—St. Catherine's Island—Conception Island—The Sandwich Islands—Survey of the American coast—French Port—Loss of two boats—Monterey and the Indians of California—Stay at Macao—Cavite and Manilla—En route for China and Japan—Formosa—Quelpaert Island—The coast of Tartary—Ternay Bay—The Tartars of Saghalien—The Orotchys—Straits of La Perouse—Ball at Kamtchatka—Navigator Islands—Massacre of M. de Langle and several of his companions—Botany Bay—No news of the Expedition—D'Entrecasteaux sent in search of La Perouse—False News—D'Entrecasteaux Channel—The coast of New Caledonia—Land of the Arsacides—The natives of Bouka—Stay in Port Carteret—Admiralty Islands—Stay at Amboine—Lewin Land—Nuyts Archipelago—Stay in Tasmania—Fête in the Friendly Islands—Particulars of the stay of La Perouse at Tonga Tabou—Stay at Balado—Traces of La Perouse in New Caledonia—Vanikoro—Sad fate of the Expedition.

The result of Cook's voyage, except the fact of his death, was still unknown, when the French government resolved to make use of the leisure which the peace just concluded had secured to the navy. The French officers, desirous of emulating the success of their old rivals the English, were fired with a noble emulation to excel them in some new field. The question arose as to the fittest person for the conduct of an important expedition. There was no lack of deserving candidates. Indeed, in the number lay the difficulty.

The Minister's choice fell upon Jean François Galaup de la Perouse, whose important military services had rapidly advanced him to the rank of captain. During the last war he had been intrusted with the difficult mission of destroying the English posts in Hudson's Bay, and in this task he had proved himself not only an able soldier and sailor, but a man who could combine humanity with professional firmness. Second to him in the command was M. de Langle, who had ably assisted him in the expedition to Hudson's Bay.

Portrait of La Pérouse
Portrait of La Pérouse.
(Fac-simile of early engraving.)

A large staff embarked upon the two frigates La Boussole and L'Astrolabe. On board the Boussole were La Perouse; Clenard, who was made captain during the expedition; Monneron, an engineer; Bernizet, a geographer; Rollin, a surgeon; Lepante Dagelet, an astronomer of the Academy of Sciences; Lamanon, a physicist; Duché de Vancy and Prevost the younger, draughtsmen; Collignon, a botanist; and Guéry, a clock maker. The Astrolabe, in addition to her commander, Captain de Langle, carried Lieutenant de Monte, who was made captain during the voyage, and the celebrated Monge, who, fortunately for the interests of science, landed at Teneriffe upon the 30th of August, 1785.

The Academy of Sciences and the Society of Medicine had drawn up reports for the Minister of Marine, in which they called the attention of the navigators to certain points. Lastly, Fleurien, the superintendent of ports and naval arsenals, had himself drawn up the maps for the service of the expedition, and added to it an entire volume of learned notes and discussions upon the results of all known voyages since the time of Christopher Columbus.

The two ships carried an enormous amount of merchandise for trade, as well as a vast quantity of provisions and stores, a twenty-ton boat, two sloops, masts, and reserve sets of sails and rigging.

Map of the journey of La Pérouse

The two frigates sailed upon the 1st of August, 1785, and anchored off Madeira thirteen days later.

The French were at once charmed and surprised at the kind and cordial welcome accorded them by the English residents. Upon the 19th La Perouse put into Teneriffe.

"The various observations," he says, "made by MM. de Fleurien, Verdun, and Borda, upon Madeira, the Salvage Islands, and Teneriffe leave nothing to be wished for. Our attention was therefore confined to testing our instruments."

This remark proves that La Perouse was capable of doing justice to his predecessors. And we shall have other opportunities of observing that quality in him.

While the astronomers devoted themselves to estimating the regularity of the astronomical watches, the naturalists, with several officers, ascended the Peak, and collected some curious plants. Monneron succeeded in measuring this mountain with much greater accuracy than his predecessors, Herberdeen, Feuillée, Bouguer, Verdun, and Borda, who calculated its height respectively at 2409, 2213, 2100, and 1904 fathoms. Unfortunately his work, which would have settled the discussion, never reached France.