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Document Number: AJ-131
Author: La Pérouse, Jean-François de Galaup, comte de, 1741-1788
Title: A Voyage Round the World [excerpt]
Source: La Pérouse, Jean-François de Galaup. A Voyage Round the World; Performed in the Years 1785, 1786, 1787, and 1788, by the Boussole and Astrolabe, under the Command of J.F.G. de la Pérouse: Published by Order of the National Assembly, under the Superintendence of L.A. Milet-Mureau.... In Three Volumes, Illustrated by a Variety of Charts and Plates, in a Separate Folio Volume. Translated from the French. The Third Edition. (London: Printed for Lackington, Allen, and Co., 1807). Volume 2, pages 28-224.
Pages/Illustrations: 200 / 9 (8 of tables)
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-131/

Author Note

Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse (1741-1788) was born to a prosperous French family in 1741. At fifteen years old he joined the French navy and, with France and England at war, saw service in Canada and the English Channel from 1757 to 1762. From 1772 to 1777 he served the French colonial government in the Indian Ocean, sailing from Calcutta to Madagascar and elsewhere in the region. When in 1778 France entered the American Revolution on the side of the colonies, La Pérouse (now in command of his own vessels) returned to harassing the British, seizing ships and burning forts all along the Atlantic Coast and as far north as Hudson Bay. When the American Revolution ended, La Perouse embarked on the expedition described here, from which he failed to return.

Expedition of 1785-1788

When the war ended, the French determined to send out a scientific exploring voyage to rival that of Captain Cook (see AJ-130). La Pérouse was given command of two ships that left France in August 1785, rounded Cape Horn in January 1786, and reached Hawaii in May. On June 1, 1786, they left for Alaska, which was sighted later that month on the 23rd. They spent most of the summer charting the shoreline in a fruitless search for a Northwest Passage. In early August they started south for California and fresh supplies, passing Baranof Island on August 7, Vancouver Island on the August 29, the Columbia River on September 3, and sailing into Monterey on the September 13, 1786.

We have given here the chapters that describe their visit to Hawaii and the West Coast from April through September 1786.

Leaving North America on September 24, 1786, the expedition crossed the south Pacific to China, and spent more than a year in Asian waters. La Pérouse coasted north as far as Korea and Kamchatka, and south to Taiwan and the Philippines before reaching Australia in January 1788. In mid-March 1788 both his ships were wrecked on a coral reef at the remote island of Vanikoro, with the loss of all hands. Thirty years later remains were found and the islanders reported that survivors had built a boat and headed out to sea, but neither La Pérouse nor any of his crew were ever heard from again.

Document Note

La Perouse had sent letters back to Europe from Manila, Macao, and Australia. In October 1787 he had also sent a Russian-speaking officer, Jean Baptiste Barthélemy, Baron de Lesseps (1766-1834) overland from Kamchatka with documents, charts, and journals. De Lesseps made it successfully through Siberia to St. Petersburg and then to Paris, where he arrived late in 1788. In May 1791, when it seemed clear that La Pérouse would never return, the revolutionary government commissioned former army officer Louis Antoine Milet-Mureau (1756-1825) to edit a book from these materials, which was published in Paris in four volumes with an atlas in 1797. A second French edition was required the following year, and English translations appeared in 1798, 1799, 1801, and 1807; German and Dutch editions were published between 1799 and 1804.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

John Robson of Hamilton, New Zealand, maintains a very thorough site on Pacific exploration that includes a comprehensive account of La Pérouse and his voyage at http://pages.quicksilver.net.nz/jcr/~lap2

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