Monday, 25 February 2013

Cook and La Perouse

While working on a very large barkcloth this week (1886.21.29, a barkcloth from Tahiti collected on the first voyage by Joseph Banks) I was listening to a biography of Marie Antoinette.  In her final prison of the Conciergerie the ci-devant French Queen apparently liked to read tales of foreign adventures, her favourite being the Travels of Captain Cook.  This was translated into French for Louis XVI - a special edition was made for the edification of the Dauphin.

Posthumous portrait of Marie Antoinette, the Widow Capet, in her cell at the Conciergerie

Louise XVI and Marie Antoinette had admired Cook and followed his voyages - the Queen is said to have wept at the news of Cook's death.

In 1785, Jean Francois de Galaup, Comte de La Perouse was made Minister of the Marine in France, and charged with leading an expedition around the world to complete Cook's Pacific discoveries.

Louis XVI and La Perouse (1785, Edouard Nuel)

La Perouse left Brest on the 1st August 1785, and visited Chile, Easter Island and Hawaii before sailing to Alaska, California, East Asia, Japan, Russia and the Pacific.

Map of La Perouse's voyage

After visiting Australia, the expedition was lost, and its fate not confirmed until 1964.  Both of La Perouse's ships, L'Astrolabe and La Boussole, were wrecked on the reefs around Vanikoro, in the Santa Cruz islands.  However, documents were regularly sent back to France and an account of the voyage was published in 1787 by the French Government as Voyage de La Perouse autour du monde (La Perouse's Voyage Around the World).