FRENCH NAVIGATORS, II
"Want of competition, the prohibitive tariffs, and commercial restrictions of every sort, tend to make the productions and manufactured goods of India and China at least as dear as in Europe; and although the various duties on imports bring to the treasury some eight hundred thousand piastres, the colony costs the Spanish government at least fifteen hundred thousand francs per annum, which are sent from Mexico. The immense possessions of the Spanish in America have prevented the government from bestowing much attention upon the Philippines. They are still like the possessions of great lords, which remain uncultivated, though they might provide fortunes for many families.
"I do not hesitate to state, that a great nation with no colony but the Philippine Islands, supposing that colony to be as well governed as possible, need not envy all the European colonies in Africa and America."
Upon the 9th of April—after having heard of the arrival at Macao of M. d'Entrecasteaux, who had come from Mauritius with the contrary monsoon, and received despatches from Europe by the frigate La Subtile, MM. Guyet, midshipman, and Le Gobien, naval officer, and a reinforcement of eight sailors—the two vessels set out for the coast of China.
Upon the 21st La Perouse sighted Formosa, and at once entered the channel which separates that island from China. He discovered a very dangerous bank unknown to navigators, and carefully examined the soundings and approaches. Shortly afterwards he passed in front of the bay of the ancient Dutch fort of Zealand, where the capital of the island, Tai-wan, is situated.
The monsoon was unfavourable for ascending the channel, and La Perouse therefore resolved to pass to the east of the island. He rectified the position of the Pescadores Islands, a mass of rocks which assume various shapes, reconnoitred the small island of Botol-Tabaco-Xima, where no navigator had landed, coasted Kinin Island, which forms part of the kingdom of Liken, whose inhabitants are neither Chinese nor Japanese, but appear to be of both races, and sighted Hoa-pinsu and Tiaoy-su Islands. The latter form part of the Liken Archipelago, known only through the letters of Father Goubil, a Jesuit.
The frigates then entered the Eastern Sea, and directed their course to the channel which divides China and Japan. La Perouse there encountered fogs as thick as those which prevail upon the coast of Labrador, with variable and violent currents. The first point of interest before entering the Sea of Japan was Quelpaert Island, first made known to Europeans by the shipwreck of the Sparrow Hawk upon its coast in 1635. La Perouse determined its southerly extremity, and surveyed it for a distance of twelve leagues.
"It is scarcely possible," he says, "to find an island of pleasanter aspect. A peak of about four thousand five hundred feet high, visible at a distance of eighteen or twenty leagues, rises in the centre of the island; the land slopes gently from thence to the sea, so that the houses look like an amphitheatre. The soil seemed to be highly cultivated. By the aid of our glasses we clearly made out the divisions of the fields. They are in very small allotments, which augurs a large population. The different shades of the various cultivated patches give a very agreeable variety to the view."
The explorers had ample opportunity for taking the longitude and latitude, which was the more important, as no European vessel had navigated these seas, which were only indicated upon the maps in accordance with the Chinese and Japanese maps published by the Jesuits.
Upon the 25th of May the frigates entered the channel of Corea, which was minutely explored, and in which soundings were taken every half hour.
As it was possible to keep close in shore, it was easy to observe some fortifications in the European style, and to note all their details.
On the 27th an island was perceived which was not to be found upon any map, and which seemed to be about twenty leagues distant from the coast of Corea. It received the name of Dagelet Island.
The course was now directed towards Japan, but it was very slow, on account of the contrary winds that prevailed.
On the 6th of June Cape Noto and the island of Tsus Sima were discovered.
"Cape Noto, upon the Japanese coast," says La Perouse, "is a point on which geographers may rely. Reckoning from it to Cape Kona on the eastern coast, the position of which was determined by Captain King, the width of the northern half of the empire may be ascertained. Our observations have the greater value for geographers as they determine the width of the Gulf of Tartary, to which I now directed my course."
Upon the 11th of June La Perouse sighted Tartary. He made land precisely at the boundary between the Corea and Manchuria. The mountains appeared to be six or seven thousand feet high. A small quantity of snow was visible on the summits. No trace of inhabitants or cultivation could be seen; nor was any river's mouth found upon a length of coast extending for forty leagues. A halt would have been desirable, to enable the naturalists and lithologists to make observations.