Last contact in Botany Bay | State Library of New South Wales

Last contact in Botany Bay

The French expedition stayed in Botany Bay for six weeks, recuperating from an attack in Samoa.  The expedition's priest, Pere Receveur, was wounded in the attack and died in Botany Bay. Receveur's funeral was probably the first Catholic service conducted in Australia.

Detail from Botany Bay by Oswald Brierly

Detail from Botany Bay 30 Novr. 1842. [Landscape with grave. Inscription on tree "F.T. Larsen / Les Restes / Receveur / te Tars"], by Oswald Brierly
Pencil, ink & watercolour drawing, DGD 19 / 2a

A letter, written by French astronomer Joseph Lepaute Dagelet (1751-1788?) to his counterpart in Sydney, is a rare survival from this early cross-cultural encounter on Australian soil, and provides documentary evidence of French language skills in the colony.

 > Read the letter written by Dagelet to British astronomer William Dawes

Link to letter written by Dagelet to Dawes

The journal extract below describes the encounter with the French expedition as seen through the eyes of Philip Gidley King, Second Lieutenant with the First Fleet and third Governor of New South Wales from 1800. The extract below is from his private journal. The State Library also holds a 'fair copy' of the same journal which Gidley King later edited and rewrote.

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Page 84
…the 24 in the morning two Strange Ships were discover'd to ye Southward of Cape Solander & we soon after discover'd that they were French one of which wore a Chef d'escadres pennant from which we conclude them to be La Boussole & 1'Astrolabe under ye orders of Monsieur De la perouse on discoveries, but the Wind blowing strong from NNE prevented their getting in, or our going out at four in ye Afternoon they were out of sight & at day light on ye 25 we weighed in the Supply having received a Company of Marines & 40 Convicts onboard, The wind blew so strong from ye SSE that we were obliged to anchor & wait for the Ebb tide & at Noon we weighed & turned out of the harbour In running a long shore we observed a number of steep Rocky clifts & after having run about 3 Leagues we were abreast of some high sand Clifts at the Northern extremity of which the Land of ye Entrance of Port Jackson commences & the entrance is soon discoverd lying between two steep bluff heads, there is no danger in entering the harbour but what is vislble, & when within the heads a rock lies in the

Page 85
Mid channel ye shoal of which extends a cables length round, this rock is just covered at high Water, when in ye inside of the harbour ye Larboard arm leads to the place where the Settlement is formed which lies about 6 miles from ye entrance of the harbour, we anchored there, ye same evening at about 7 o'clock, being obliged to turn up — The next day at Day light the English colours were displayed on shore & possesion was taken for His Majety whose health, with the Queens, Prince of Wales & Success to the Colony was drank, a feu de joie was fired by the party of Marines & ye whole gave 3 Cheers which was returned by the Supply, at Sun sett The Sirius & all the Convoy anchored here. Capt. Hunter informed the Governor that the French Ships had entered the bay just before he left it, & that they were la Boussole & 1'Astrolabe commanded by Monsieur De La Perouse on discoveries The next Morning JanY 27th A great part of the Troops & Convicts were landed, & the latter was immediately sett to work clearing away the ground, ready for ye encampment

Page 88
…Feby 1st This day His Excellency Governor Phillip signified his intention of sending me to Norfolk Island with a few people & stock to settle it. Lieut Ball of ye Supply was ordered to receive the Stores onboard necessary for that purpose & the following day at 2 in ye Morning Lieut Dawes of ye Marines & myself sett off in a Cutter for Botany Bay, to visit Monsieur De La perouse on the part of Governor Phillip & to offer him whatever he might have occassion for, we got down to ye harbours mouth at day light, finding a light air from ye Southward, we were obliged to row all ye way & arrived onboard ye Boussole at 10 o'clock in ye Morning where we were received with the greatest politeness & attention by Monsieur de la perouse & his Officers, after delivering

Page 89
my Message to him, he returned his thanks to ye Governor for his attention to him, & made ye same offers which he had received, & added that as he should be in France in 15 Months & having Stores &c enough onboard for three Years he should be happy to oblige Mr Phillip with any that he might want — Monsieur De La perouse informed me that a number of ye Convicts had been to him & offered to enter but he had dismissed them with threats; & gave them a days provisions to carry them back to ye settlement. As ye Wind came on to blow fresh from ye Northward I yielded to the sollicitations of ye French Commodore & consented to dine with him & stay the remainder of ye day & return to Port Jackson next morning. In ye course of my conversation I found that he had touched at & been off ye following places viz. Madeira, Teneriffe, Sta Catherina, he had run down ye Coasts of Chili & California, been at Kamschatka, where he replaced the wooden Inscription near Capt. Clerke's Grave, with a Copper one for which I thanked him in ye name of the Corps, from Kamschatka he went to Macao

Page 90
ye Phillipines, Sandwich Islands, Isles des Navigateurs discovered by Bougainville, Friendly Islands & Norfolk Island from which last place he came on this coast. At the Island of Maouna (one of ye Isles des Navigateurs in Lattitude 14°.19' S° Longitude 173°.23'.20" East of Paris) he was so very unfortunate as to lose Monsieur De langle, Captain of L'Astrolabe 8 Officers, 4 Men & 1 Boy who were massaccred by the natives, besides a great number wounded — he relates the Story as follows. The two Ships had been some days at this Island, & had been on very good terms with the natives, who had furnished him with every article of Stock in ye greatest profusion, for barter, but he found it very necessary to be on his guard, against a treacherous disposition which he discovered in them, when every thing was ready for their departure, & ye Ships were under weigh, De Langle, requested Perouse Would permit him to get another turn of water, which he De La perouse, consented to with as much reluctance as De langle seemed sollicitous to obtain his request. As the Long boats were not hoisted in

Page 91
They were ordered on this service, with 2 other boats to attend them, under ye orders of ye un- fortunate De Langle. The Ships were lying too, & a strong Current sett them round a point out of sight of ye place where the boats landed, On landing they were surrounded as usual by the inhabitants who did not immediately discover any hostile intentions. The people in the Long boats had let them take the ground, & in using means to get them afloat again, the Natives were very troublesome & pressed close in upon them, De langle gave orders to the rowing boats to be ready to fire, but not to do it without his orders, some little altercation happening in consequence of their pressing so very close on ye French, which might have produced a blow from one of ye Natives, which was taken as a signal by the rest & ye Massacre began The natives were armed with short heavy Clubs by which means they rendered the Fire arms useless, orders were given to fire the Swivels but it was too late altho' the Natives fled the instant they were fired on dragging the bodies after them it was supposed that 30 of ye Natives were killed. Those belonging to the long boats, which

Page 92
had escaped, swam off to ye rowing boats & were carried onboard ye Ship, many of whom had received violent contusions on their heads as all their blows were aimed at that part, de La Perouse thought proper to quit the Islands immediately, after endeavoring to regain his long-boats which he found the Natives had destroyed. He represents the Inhabitants of these Islands as a very strong, & handsome race of Men scarce one among them less than 6 Feet high, & well sett, The Women have a certain delicacy of features not common among the inhabitants of the Islands in those Seas. Their Canoes houses &c are all well constructed, & they are much more advanced in internal order & policy than any of the Islands in the Pacific Ocean, but like the rest of them they are surrounded by a coral reef, but Boats may land with great ease. In a Letter to Mr Phillip, which he charged me with he recommends these Islands to his attention, for the great quantity of Stock with which they abound — Excepting the above unfortunate disastre, they have not lost a single man since they left France, when he leaves this place it is his intention to go round New Ireland [con’td after next 2 pages]

Page 93 / 1
The Astrolabe & Boussole were fitted out with the greatest llberality, Monsieur de la perouse told me, that ye King told him to get whatever he wanted & he added that if he was now at Brest & had to equip his Ships for ye remainder of his voyage, that he could not think of any article that he stood in need of. Besides ye Astronomer Monsieur Dagelet. he is provided with a very capital Botanist from ye Jardin du roi called de la Martinniere also a draughtsman, in every line, I saw his collection of Natural History which is very compleat. An Abbe who is also on the expedition as a collector of Natural Curiosities appears a Man of Letters & Geniality

Page 93 / 2
This Abbe + has under his care a great number of Philosophic instruments & the Astronomer has also every instrument necessary, each Ship has 3 Time keepers, which are hung on gimbals made by Berthand & goes with a short pendulum, they are rather complicated as an allowance is to be made for ye degree of heat, for which purpose a small Thermo- meter is kept in each of ye boxes. They have also a dipping needle which was with Capt. Cook, lent them by ye board of Longitude. They had not been more attentive to their Time keeper than we were to ours as they had been let down three times on bd both ships
+ He died at Botany Bay soon after we left port Jackson to go to Norfolk Island, & was buried near where the French had their observatory, an inscription carved in Wood was put near his grave which the Natives tore down on wh occasion Govr Phillip repaid the Kamschatka

Page 95
to ye Moluccas, & Batavia from thence to ye Isle of France, Cape of Good Hope, & Europe where he hopes to arrive in about 18 Months
After dinner I attended ye Commodore &c other Officers onshore where I found him quite established, having thrown round his Tents a Stoccade, guarded by two small guns in which he is setting up two Long boats which he had in frame, An observatory tent was also fixed here, in which was an Astronomical Quadrant. Clockes &c under the Manage- ment of Monsieur Dagelet Astronomer, & one of ye Acadamie des Sciences at Paris he has fixed the Lattitude to be 33°.59".1' & Longitude 1 East of Greenwich — Monsieur De La perouse informed me that at every place where he has touched at or been near that he has found all ye Astronomical & Nautical works' of Capt. Cook to be very exact & true & concluded by saying . . . "Enfin, Monsieur Cook a tout fait qu'il n'a me rien laisse a faire, que d'admirer ses oeuvres" In the evening I returned onboard ye Boussole & was shown all ye Drawings made on ye Voyage & ye next Morning at 5 I took leave of them…

 > View the complete private journal by Philip Gidley King Link to catalogue

 > Compare Philip Gidley King's fair copy of the above journal Link to catalogue