Author Tags: 1700-1800, Haida Gwaii
“The eye wandered with pain over masses of snow.”
“The fame of Admiral Jean-François Galaup, Comte de La Pérouse
has been unduly eclipsed by that of Captain James Cook.”
—TRANSLATOR JULIUS S. GASSNER
The first Frenchman to see British Columbia was Jean-François de Galaup de la Pérouse. He is responsible for the first French book that contains eyewitness reports of B.C., although he never made landfall.
Born on August 23, 1741 near Albi, France, he entered the navy at age fifteen and fought the British off the coast North America in the Seven Years’ War. He gained prestige after two successful raids on English trading posts in Hudson Bay in 1782. Despite the disapproval of his family, he married a Creole named Louise-Eléonore Broudou from present-day Mauritius. La Pérouse was a great admirer of James Cook, and he was well-liked by his crew. Seeking a Northwest Passage, Jean-François de Galaup de la Pérouse was sent by Louis XVI of France in 1785 with 114 men and two vessels, La Boussole and L’Astrolabe (commanded by Captain de Langle), to explore the Pacific Northwest by sailing from Brest via Cape Horn, Easter Island and Hawaii. Given that his expedition was ostensibly scientific, La Pérouse was able to send dispatches back to Paris via the Spanish. He prophetically wrote, “Though the Russians are established in the north and the Spaniards to the south, many centuries will unquestionably elapse before these two nations meet; and there will long remain between them intermediary points, which might be occupied by other nations.”
The French sighted Mount St. Elias at 59º north on June 23, 1786. La Pérouse wrote, “This sight of land, after a long voyage, usually excited feelings of delight; but on us it had not this effect. The eye wandered with pain over masses of snow, covering a barren soil, unembellished by a single tree.” They reached Yakutat in Alaska on June 24 and traded with the Tlingit. La Pérouse was disgusted by the huge lip-pieces worn by the women and noted the Tlingit were passionately fond of gambling. “This is the grand source of their quarrels; and I do not hesitate to pronounce that this tribe would be completely exterminated if the use of any intoxicating liquor were added to these destructive vices.” La Pérouse sailed south, sighting the Queen Charlotte Islands and naming Sartine Island, now an ecological reserve located WNW of Cape Scott, after French Minister of the Navy Gabriel de Sartine, Count of Albi (1729–1801). Unable to enter Nootka Sound on August 25, La Pérouse never went ashore in British Columbia but his voyage was significant for spurring the English and Spanish to attempt an agreement for exploration and commercial control.
The French proceeded as far south as Monterey, California before departing for Macao on September 24. They explored the Pacific for two more years, selling furs in the Orient. In December of 1787, the expedition lost eleven crew members and the commander of the Astrolobe, de Langle, when they were murdered by Samoan Islanders. Both ships, and all their men, were lost during a violent storm off Vanikoro Island in the Solomon Islands in 1788 or 1789. It was not until 1826 that an English captain, Peter Dillon, found evidence of the tragedy and later located the site of the sinkings. A French scholar who sailed with La Pérouse, M. de Lamanon, wrote, “...what will always distinguish this voyage, what will render the French nation truly glorious in the eyes of all philosophers, of our contemporaries and of posterity, will be our having frequented nations, reputed barbarous, without shedding a drop of blood.” Journals from the La Pérouse expedition were sent back to France via Siberia in 1787 and via Botany Bay in 1788.
In 1797, the French government issued an elaborate report, with an atlas, entitled Voyage de La Pérouse Autour du Monde. This formed the basis for A Voyage Round The World, Performed in the Years 1786, 1787 and 1788 (London, 1798).
Voyages and Adventures of La Pérouse (University of Hawaii Press, 1969). Translated by Julius S. Gassner
Allen, Edward Webber. The Vanishing Frenchman: The Mysterious Disappearance of Lapérouse (Rutland, Vermont: C.D. Tuttle, Co., 1959).
Rudkin, Charles N. The First French Expedition to California: La Pérouse in 1786 (Los Angeles: Glen Dawson, 1959).
Dunmore, John. Pacific Explorer, The Life of Jean Francois de la Pérouse 1741–1788 (Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1985).
Inglis, Robin. The Lost Voyage of Lapérouse (Vancouver Maritime Museum, 1986).
Dunmore, John (editor, translator). The Journal of Jean-François de Galaup de la Pérouse / 1785–1788 Volume I (Hakluyt Society, 1994). Volume II (Hakluyt Society, 1995). [Volume I covers the voyage to Australia, the Pacific coast of North America, and Macao. The main pagination of this and the following volume is continuous. Volume II concerns the voyage between the Philippines and Kamchatka, then to Australia. The appendices include related correspondence and the muster rolls of the ships.
[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2004] "French" "1700-1800" "QCI"