Disaster strikes the fleet at Vanikoro. Image: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

Disaster strikes the fleet at Vanikoro. Image: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

Finding La Pérouse

An ANU anthropologist may have stumbled upon a significant clue to the fate of famous eighteenth century French navigator La Pérouse. Aaron Walker reports.

When Jean François de Galaup La Pérouse departed the French port of Brest in 1785, the renowned naval officer’s voyage was planned to emulate the feats of British counterpart Captain James Cook – discovering and mapping unexplored lands, building trade networks and expanding French knowledge of the Pacific.

Equipped with two ships, L’Astrolabe and La Boussole, and a complement of 225 men, La Pérouse, a highly respected seaman, set sail on a mission deemed so important that King Louis XVI himself took a hand in drafting the plan and itinerary.

After exploring Samoa and Tonga in the South Pacific, La Pérouse and his men arrived in Australia in January 1788, where he established camp at a peninsula on the northern headland of Botany Bay – now a suburb of Sydney’s southeast named in his honour.While well received by the early British settlers, the voyagers’ time in Australia was brief.

Just weeks after arriving, the French explorer and his crew departed Australia on 10 March 1788, never to be seen again.In France there was increasing concern after the two frigates failed to arrive home as expected, by June 1789.