“It would be difficult for me to find words to express to you the fatigue attending this part of my voyage, during which I did not once undress myself, nor did a single night pass without my being obliged to spend several hours upon deck. Imagine to yourself six days of fog with only two or three hours of clear weather, in seas extremely confined, absolutely unknown, and where fancy, in consequence of the information we had received, pictured to us shoals and currents that did not always exist. From the place where we made the land on the eastern coast of Tartary, to the strait which we discovered between Tchoka (Saghalien) and Chicha, we did not fail to take the bearing of every point, and you may rest assured that neither creek, port, nor river escaped our attention, and that many charts, even of the coasts of Europe, are less exact than those which we shall bring with us on our return.”
“The strait which we discovered” is still called Laperouse Strait on most modern maps, though the Japanese usually call it Soya Strait. It runs between Yezo, the large northerly island of Japan, and Saghalien. Current maps also show the name Boussole Strait, after Laperouse’s ship, between Urup and Simusir, two of the Kurile chain of small islands curving from Yezo to the thumblike extremity of Kamchatka.
At Petropavlovsk in Kamchatka the drawings of the artists and the journals of the commander up to date were packed up, and sent to France overland across Asiatic Russia, in charge of a young member of the staff, J. B. B. de Lesseps. He was the only one of the expedition who ever returned to Europe. By not coming to Australia he saved his life. He published a book about his journey, a remarkable feat of land travel in those days. He was the uncle of a man whose remarkable engineering work has made Australia’s relations with Europe much easier and more speedy than they were in earlier years: that Ferdinand de Lesseps who (1859-69) planned and carried out the construction of the Suez Canal. The ships, after replenishing, sailed for the south Pacific, where we shall follow the proceedings of Laperouse in rather closer detail than has been considered necessary in regard to the American and Asiatic phases of the voyage.
LAPEROUSE IN THE PACIFIC.
On the 6th December, 1787, the expedition made the eastern end of the Navigator Islands, that is, the Samoan Group. As the ships approached, a party of natives were observed squatting under cocoanut trees. Presently sixteen canoes put off from the land, and their occupants, after paddling round the vessels distrustfully, ventured to approach and proffer cocoanuts in exchange for strings of beads and strips of red cloth. The natives got the better of the bargain, for, when they had received their price, they hurried off without delivering their own goods. Further on, an old chief delivered an harangue from the shore,