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Jean Francois Galoup Lapérouse: Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Jean Francois Galoup Lapérouse

(Edward W. Allen)


Jean Francois Galoup, Comte de Lap e é rouse (1741- ? ), was born on a sub–
stantial estate near Albi, province of Languedoc in the south of France, August
23, 1741, of parents belonging to the minor nobility. The date of his death is
uncertain. He sailed forth from Botany Bay, Australia, March 10, 1788, and for
38 years his fate was a complete mystery.
In 1836 one Peter Dillon discovered some relics in the possession of natives
which, in the light of the stories told him, he was convinced had come from the
ships of Lap e é rouse and that these ships had been wrecked on the island of Vani–
koro, of the Santa Cruz group in the South Pacific. He was further told that men
from only one ship reached shore, including an apparently important officer, that
the survivors built a boat in which they, or most of them, put to sea, whereupon
all trace of them ended. Late in the next year Dillon visited the island of
Vanikoro and verified the stories he had been told. He was followed by a French
expedition under Dumont d'Urville which recovered a considerable quantity of relics
to take back to France. The most famous tragedy of the South Seas had been solved.
Lap e é rouse, whose name is frequently but erroneously written La P e é rouse or
La P e yrouse, was one of the greatest French naval officers and explorers of all
time. He is less known to fame in English-speaking countries than Captain James
Cook, whose three Pacific Ocean expeditions preceded that of Lap e é rouse, and his
explorations were far less extensive, but they were important. He had a finer
personality than Cook and for daring, navigational skill, ability to command,

EA-Biography. Allen: Lap e é rouse

fighting ability, and success in his undertakings, Lap e é rouse justly enjoys in
French naval history a position analogous to that of Cook in British literature
of that character. In fact, Cook was to Lap e é rouse the great marine h ero whom
he constantly sought to emulate.
Lap e é rouse was perhaps rather a subarctic than an arctic explorer, for his
farthest north was Hudson Strait, but he did cruise in the northern parts of
both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
The family of Galoup for five centuries had been prominent in the valley
of the Tarn. Victor Joseph de Galoup, the father of Lap e é rouse, a prosperous
man in his community, married Marguerite de Resseguir who, as her correspondence
discloses, was a high spirited and competent woman. The Galoups, among other
tracts, owned the estate of Peyrouse from which their son took his name, though
he changed it to suit his fancy.
As a boy he was especially fond of books of voyages and as he grew up he
read Anson, Byron, Carteret, Wallis, Louis de Bougainville, and, favorite of all,
Cook. He was said to have been impetuous, affectionate, clever, and a bit stub–
His parents yielded to the desire of Lap e é rouse to go to sea and in 1756 —
he was then fifteen years old — he was appointed a midshipman. Thereafter his
life was devoted to the French navy. He served aboard the C e é l e è bre , the Pomona.
the Z e é phyr , and the Cerf . In 1759 he was on the Formidable in the squadron of
Marshal de Conflans when it was defeated by the British fleet of Admiral Hawke
off Belle Isle. His ship was captured and Lap e é rouse, severely wounded, taken
prisoner. Subsequently he was returned to France and served on the Robuste and
the Six-Corps . In 1764 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant ( enseigne de
vaisseau) and served on the Adour , the Gave , the Doroth e é e , the Turquoise , the

EA-Biography. Allen: Lap e é rouse

Bugalet , and the Belle-Poule .
From 1772 to 1777 Lap e é rouse was largely occupied in the Indian Ocean,
where his principal rendezvous was the I Î le de France (Mauritius), first in
command of the Belle-Poule and from 1773 the Seine and the Deux-Amis . He be–
came first lieutenant April 4, 1777. This was during the period of contest
between England and France for the control of India, at which epoch the I Î le
de France was an important outfitting post for the French fleet. It is a
common American concept, due largely to reading British versions of history,
that the British were always superior to the French at sea, but the fact is
that in this Indian Ocean warfare the French navy was as often on top as the
British. It was incompetence and corruption in Paris rather than inferiority
in the field that gave England the final victory.
It was during this period that Lap e é rouse fell in love with the daughter
of a minor French official on the I Î le de France, Louise Eleanore Broudon. She
must have been an attractive girl, for even though the family of Lap e é rouse
forced him to break off his engagement with this beautiful Creole and agree to
marry a lady of his station, he eventually rebelled and married the girl of his
In 1779 Lap e é rouse, as commander of the Amazone, was attached to the squadron
of Vice-Admiral d'Estaing. Later he took the sloop Ariel to New England and
contributed to the capture of the Exp e é riment .
April 4, 1780, Lap e é rouse was promoted to captain and placed in command
of the frigate Astrea. In conjunction with the Hermione he attacked six British
war vessels and captured two, the others escaping in the night.
Lap e é rouse had an enviable record as a part of the French fleet which assist–
ed the colonies during the Revolutionary War. His most notable exploit was the

EA-Biography. Allen: Lap e é rouse

capture of the British forts on Hudson Bay together with the Hudson's Bay
Company's Samuel Hearne, governor of the Company's Fort Prince of Wales.
It was in 1782 that Lap e é rouse was assigned the 74-gun ship Scepter as his
flagship, together with two frigates. One of them, the Astrea , was commanded
by Captain de Langle who was later to accompany Laperouse on his final expedi–
tion. The other was the Engagemente , commanded by Captain la Joille. On July
17 they made Resolution Island and shortly thereafter became entangled in the
ice. After great difficulty they reached Cape Walsingham on July 30. On
August 8 the expedition approached Fort Prince of Wales, which capitulated.
Lap e é rouse then proceeded to the Nelson River where he landed troops and cap–
tured Fort York.
It was in connection with this capture of Fort York that Lap e é rouse dis–
closed exceptional greatness of character for a conqueror. Some of the British
had fled to the woods. Lap e é rouse realized that one result of his obedience to
orders to destroy the settlement might be to expose the refugees to the danger
of starvation or capture by the natives. Accordingly he left them both pro–
visions and arms.
There is here an interesting connection with real arctic discovery. It
will be remembered that Hearne had discovered the Coppermine River, which
flows into the Arctic, in a notable expedition performed in the years 1769
to 1772.
Lap e é rouse, much to Hearne's distress, captured the manuscript account
of the journey. In response to Hearne's pleading, Lap e é rouse returned to him
the account upon Hearne's giving personal assurance that the account would be
promptly published. Whether the fault lay with Hearne, or, as has been sug–
gested, with the Hudson's Bay Company which was not at all anxious to spread

EA-Biography. Allen: Lap e é rouse

knowledge of its domain, the fact remains that the promise was not kept on
the "promptly" side and that the account was not published until 1795.
King Louis XVI of France, like the rest of the Bourbons after Louis XIV,
was not too bright, but he had at least one commendable quality — he was fond
of travel and geography, so much so that he even had a "History of the Explora–
tion of the South Seas" prepared for the education of the Dauphin. Louis es–
pecially admired Captain Cook. He wished that France might enter into maritime
glory like that which England enjoyed because of Cook.
Accordingly, Louis called in Charles Claret, Comte de Fleurieu, the great–
est geographer then in France, later Minister of Marine. Together they planned
a circumnavigation of the globe to the glory — and they also hoped to the profit —
of France. La Boussule and l'Astrolabe , splendid ships of the French navy, were
assigned for the purpose and, on recommendation of the Marquis de Castries, La–
p e é rouse was selected for the command.
Mos elaborate instructions were prepared in the name of the king (undoubted–
ly by Fleurieu) under date of June 26, 1785, and personally presented by him to
Lap e é rouse. Not only was the proposed voyage itself laid out in detail, but the
instructions cover almost every field of human knowledge and themselves consti–
tute a valuable summary of the knowledge of the day. For instance, they elabor–
ately include politics, commerce, astronomy, geography, navigation, physics, the
different branches of natural history, treatment of natives, health of the crews,
history, mechanics, chemistry, anatomy, zoology, mineralogy, botany, hygiene,
De Langle was selected by Lap e é rouse as his second in command. The expedition
was exceedingly well equipped physically and with an accomplished staff. It set
forth from Brest on August 1, 1785.

EA-Biography. Allen: Lap e é rouse

The expedition rounded the Horn, stopped at La Concepcion in Chile,
touched at Maui in the Hawaiian Islands, and proceeded to the northwest coast
of America, arriving in the neighborhood of Mount St. Elias in June 1776.
Coasting southeasterly, Lap e é rouse found a bay "never seen by any navigator."
He was so enthralled with this beautiful port, its narrow entrance between two
low points, its rising wooded hills — paps he called them — backed by the snow–
covered Fairweather Range, that he called it Port des Francçais.
Here, thought he, France could establish headquarters for a company to
rival the Hudson's Bay Company, and thus to share in the Northwest fur trade
and found a French empire in the Pacific. There was, however, one serious
handicap — the danger in getting in and out. Lap e é rouse almost lost his two
fine vessels in the terrific bore at the treacherous dog-leg entrance to this
otherwise enchanting bay. The bay is now called Lituya and is still but little
frequented, due largely to the bad reputation of its entrance.
The ships were surrounded with canoes of Indians (Tlingits) who, to the
surprise of Lap e é rouse, appeared to be keen traders. Copper seemed to be abundant,
iron more so. The French soon learned to their disgust that the natives were
skillful and persistent thieves.
Here occurred the first great tragedy of the expedition. Two of the three
small boats sent out to survey the bay were drawn out through the entrance by the
strong tidal run-out and were swamped in the breakers with the loss of all on
In sorrow, Lap e é rouse left Lituya Bay to steer southerly along the coast. In
September he touched at Monterey, California. There he encountered the Spaniards.
His account of the Spaniards and their missions in California is the first to be
given by anyone of a different race and is not as complimentary as the accounts

EA-Biography. Allen: Lap e é rouse

given by the Spaniards.
Lap e é rouse then sailed almost due west — a trifle south — passed through
the Ladrones (Marianas) and arrived at the Portuguese port of Macao near Canton
on the Chinese coast. From there he visited Manila, then started northerly
toward Korea.
In May 1787, he reached the island of Quelpart (Quelpoert, he spelled it;
now Saishu) known because of a Dutch ship, the Sparrowhawk, having been wrecked
there in 1635. He passed through Korea Strait and shortly there- after steered for
the Japanese coast, which he approached a little north of latitude 37°N.
Without landing, Lap e é rouse struck out northwest for the Tartary shore where
he entered a bay which he named Baie de Ternai, latitude 45° 15′ North. From
there he continued north and entered the Gulf of Tartary. He is believed to be
the first European to course these waters. He made landings on both sides of
the gulf, the mainland, and the island of Sakhalin. Lap e é rouse called the island
Tchoka and applied the name Saghaleen to the Amur region.
It is certain that Russians had seen the island, for as early as the winter
of 1644 Vasili Poyarkof had wintered at the mouth of the Amur, but it was long
the belief of the Russians that it was impossible to travel to the south by reason
of impassable obstructions. As early as 1689 a Russian map showed a queer little
almost square island offshore east of the Amur mouth but it also showed the
southerly bank of the river extending indefinitely eastward.
Maerten Gerritsen Vries is believed to have touched the eastern side of
Sakhalin in 1643. Three Jesuits who came near the mouth of the Amur in 1709
spoke of a large island. In 1785 Mogami Takunai, a Japanese, probably penetrated
the Gulf of Tartary. But Lap e é rouse appears to be the only European who definitely

EA-Biography. Allen Lap e é rouse

sailed up the bay, certainly the only one to make a survey of the region and
he penetrated to the 52nd parallel, where he was stopped by the shallowness
of the water and was unable to find any channel to the north. In fact, it was
not until 1849 that Sakhal [: ] i [: ] n was proved to be an island.
Lap e é rouse stated that the Japanese called their large northern island
(Hokkaido) Jesso and this other island (Sakhalin) Oku-Jesso. The south point
of Sakhalin he named Cape Carillon and sailed through the strait separating
these two islands, which now justly bears his name, though called Soya Strait
by the Japanese. He greatly rejoiced over having found a strait through which
one could proceed easterly besides that of Sangaar (Tsugaru) which separated
the two main Japanese islands. He comments that Vries had delineated a con–
tinuation of the coast "in the very place through which we had sailed."
The voyage was continued easterly, passing through the Kurile Islands
"south of the island of Mareekan, and north of the Four Brothers."
Turning northward the ships coasted up the west side of Kamchatka, enter–
ing Avacha Bay August 6, 1787, to visit the Russian outpost of Petropavlovsk,
thereby again tying in his voyage with that of Captain Cook.
It was typical of Lap e é rouse and his staff that hardly had they accepted
the hospitality with which the Russian officer in command received them, before
the astronomers had set up their establishment ashore and the naturalists were
off seeking the nearby volcano.
Fortunately for posterity, Lap e é rouse took advantage of opportunities to
send his reports to Paris. So at Petropavlovsk he arranged that J. B. B. de
Lesseps (uncle of Ferdinand de Lesseps, famous in connection with the construc–
tion of the Suez Canal) should take the artists' drawings, scientific and other
records of the expedition up to that point, across Siberia and to France.

EA-Biography. Allen: Lap e é rouse

Lap e é rouse left Kamchatka to look for the nonexistent island, hinted at
by the Spaniards as being rich in gold and searched for in vain by the Dutch.
After giving up this search he next steered for the "Navigator" Islands (Samoa)
where he arrived in early December. The expedition here experienced another
tragedy. De Langle, who had landed at Mauna Island (Tutuila) with four boats
to secure water, was set upon by the natives and with eleven of the crew massacred.
Lap e é rouse passed on to Oyolava (Upolu) on December 14, Cocoa on Traitor's
Island of Schouten on the 20th, then to the Friendly Islands December 27th. On
January 13, 1788, he reached Norfolk Island. From here Lap e é rouse headed for
Botany Bay, Australia.
Captain Arthur Phillip had been sent to Australia by the British Government
to found a penal colony at Botany Bay. He determined, however, to shi to a
much better location at Port Jackson to the north and was about to remove his
fleet from Botany Bay when two strange frigates appeared. They entered the bay
on January 26, 1788.
Friendly, though apparently not extended, intercourse ensued between the
French and English while Lap e é rouse made a shore camp at Botany Bay and Phillip
founded Sydney on Port Jackson. Again Lap e é rouse smartly took advantage of an
opportunity to send his reports and records to Paris, this time through the
courtesy of the British, so that the fascinating story of this great French
expedition up to this point was saved, despite the sad fate which followed.
On March 10, 1788, the Boussule and the Astrolabe sailed forth from Botany
Bay, never again to be seen by European eyes, but to become the inspiration for
numerous official and unofficial trips to the South Seas searching for the lost
explorers, and resulting in innumerable discoveries in this vast portionof the
globe. Even in death Lap e é rouse pe r formed a notable service to the world's geo-

EA-Biography. Allen: Lap e é rouse

graphical knowledge.

Bayly, George Sea-life sixty years ago . London, 1885.

Dillon, Capt. B. Narrative and successful result of a voyage in the South
Seas, performed by order of the government of British India
to ascertain the actual fate of la P e é rouse's expedition.

2 vols. London, 1829.

Golder, F. A. Russian expansion on the Pacific 1641-1850 . Cleveland, 1914.

Centenaire de la mort de Lap e é rouse . Societe de geographie,
Paris, 1888.

A voyage round the world performed in the years 1785, 1786,
1787, and 1788 by the Boussule and Astrolabe, under the
command of J. F. G. de la P e é rouse
. 2 vols. & atlas. London,

Voyage de la P e é rouse autour du Monde , public conformement au
decrit du 22 avril 1791. 4 vols. & atlas, Paris, 1797.

Edward W. Allen
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