It is singular that the instructions contain no reference to Botany Bay. It was the visit paid by Laperouse to this port that brought him into touch with Australian history. Yet his call there was made purely in the exercise of his discretion. He was not directed to pay any attention to eastern Australia. When he sailed the French Government knew nothing of the contemplated settlement of New South Wales by the British; and he only heard of it in the course of his voyage. Indeed, it is amazing how little was known of Australia at the time. “We have nothing authentic or sufficiently minute respecting this part of the largest island on the globe,” said the instructions concerning the northern and western coasts; but there was not a word about the eastern shores.
The reader who reflects upon the facts set forth in this chapter will realise that the French Revolution, surprising as the statement may seem, affected Australian history in a remarkable way. If Louis XVI had not been dethroned and beheaded, but had remained King of France, there cannot be any doubt that he would have persisted in the investigation of the South Seas. He was deeply interested in the subject, very well informed about it, and ambitious that his country should be a great maritime and colonising Power. But the Revolution slew Louis, plunged France in long and disastrous wars, and brought Napoleon to the front. The whole course of history was diverted. It was as if a great river had been turned into a fresh channel.
If the navigator of the French King had discovered southern Australia, and settlement had followed, it is not to be supposed that Great Britain would have opposed the plans of France; for Australia then was not the Australia that we know, and England had very little use even for the bit she secured. Unthinking people might suppose that the French Revolution meant very little to us. Indeed, unthinking people are very apt to suppose that we can go our own way without regarding what takes place elsewhere. They do not realise that the world is one, and that the policies of nations interact upon each other. In point of fact, the Revolution meant a great deal to Australia. This country is, indeed, an island far from Europe, but the threads of her history are entwined with those of European history in a very curious and often intricate fashion. The French Revolution and the era of Napoleon, if we understand their consequences, really concern us quite as much as, say, the gold discoveries and the accomplishment of Federation.
THE EARLY PART OF THE VOYAGE.
The expedition sailed from Brest rather sooner than had at first been contemplated, on August 1, 1785, and doubled Cape Horn in January of the following year. Some weeks were spent on the coast of Chili; and the remarks of Laperouse concerning the manners of the Spanish rulers of the country cover some of his most entertaining pages. He has an eye for the picturesque, a kindly feeling for all well-disposed people, a pleasant touch in describing customs, and shrewd judgment in estimating character. These qualities make him an agreeable writer of travels. They are fairly illustrated by the passages in which he describes the people of the city of Concepcion. Take his account of the ladies: