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    Re: The lost expedition of La Perouse
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2005 Jun 8, 12:02 +0100

    Frank Reed quoted an interesting report as follows
    >The French once upon a time had a claim to Australia following the
    >explorations of Jean-Francois de Galaud, Comte de La Perouse in the 1780s,
    >but  his
    >expedition was lost near the Solomons in 1788 and for 200 years there was no
    >certainty what had become of his ships, although two wrecks were believed
    >to be
    >"probably" those of La Perouse's expedition. Last month, a team  of French
    >researchers found the "smoking gun" in the debris on the  seafloor.
    >The two frigates in the expedition of La Perouse were named 'The  Compass'
    >(La Boussole) and 'The Astrolabe' (L'Astrolabe) so it seems rather
    >fitting that
    >another navigational instrument, a sextant, was the key to  identifying the
    >Quoting cnn.com:
    >"Last week, a sextant -- an instrument used by navigators to measure the
    >angular distance of the sun from the horizon -- with the inscription "Mercier"
    >was found near "the fault" [a reef location].
    >The Solomons Association said  the recovery of the instrument had allowed
    >them to identify the ship, as  documents indicate that La Perouse had a sextant
    >aboard La Boussole that was  made by "Master Mercier"."
    That news item is unfortunately short of any useful detail: the only
    indication of what part of the World was referred to is in the mention of
    "The Solomons Association".
    Indeed, the fate of La Perouse's two ships had been a great mystery, for
    30-odd years, but was resolved, with considerable certainty, around 1827.
    An Irish island trader, Peter Dillon, had discovered the presence of many
    metal items, of obviously French manufacture, on the island of Vanikoro
    (which the French named Recherche Island), at roughly 11deg 40' S, 164deg
    20' E, southeast of Santa Cruz. The natives had told of two vessels which
    had been wrecked on the reefs many years before. One was on the NW of the
    island, and the survivors had all been killed. Sufficient had been saved
    from the wreck on the SW for its survivors to rebuild from it a smaller
    vessel, on which they had departed (never to be heard of again).
    Dillon then went to Paris with a collection of relics, which incuded four
    numbered brass guns.
    Clearly, that evidence was fully accepted in France, where King Charles X
    awarded Dillon a knighthood and a pension.
    Just before Dillon's discovery, Dumont D'Urville had departed from France
    on a voyage of exploration, and in Hobart learned about Dillon's story. He
    went straight to Tikopia and visited one of the wreck sites, "where cannon
    and cannon balls, and scattered lead plates, could clearly be seen on the
    bottom at a depth of 10 to 15 feet." D'Urville raised, to take back to
    Paris, a 600-pound anchor, a short cast-iron cannon and a brass swivel-gun,
    both numbered, and a brass blunderbuss. He erected a monument to La
    Perouse's expedition, on the island, in 1828.
    Surely little doubt has remained since about the identity of the vessels
    that left all that evidence behind. I presume (but have no reason to know)
    that the recent French expedition have been poking about at the same wreck
    site as did D'Urville in 1828. In which case the finding of a sextant from
    the wreck, though interesting in itself, is hardly a "smoking gun" in
    unravelling any mystery.
    It would be interesting to learn more.
    My information comes from the epilogue to "Looking for La Perouse", by
    Frank Horner, Melbourne University Press, 1995.
    contact George Huxtable by email at george@huxtable.u-net.com, by phone at
    01865 820222 (from outside UK, +44 1865 820222), or by mail at 1 Sandy
    Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK.

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