First contact | State Library of New South Wales

First contact

The First Fleet's departure from Plymouth in 1787 sparked considerable interest in France.  Two French ships commanded by Jean-Francois de Galaup, Comte de la Perouse, arrived on 24 January 1788, as the First Fleet was setting sail for Port Jackson. Seven weeks later his ships, L' Astrolabe and La Boussole, sailed out of Botany Bay, and La Perouse was never heard from again.

 > Discover the fascinating story of the ill-fated La Perouse expedition

The search for the missing La Perouse led to several other French naval expeditions to Australia and the Pacific in the first half of the 19th century. As well as looking for the missing explorers, these expeditions undertook important scientific and cultural research on behalf of the French nation. The official publications recording these voyages were exceptionally comprehensive and exquisite in the quality of their artwork. Many of the names of these French naval and scientific men are still known to us today, including Joseph Antoine Bruni d'Entrecasteaux, Jacques Labillardiere, Nicolas Baudin, Louis de Freycinet and Dumont D'Urville.

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