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Wednesday
Sep172008

New French La Pérouse Expedition

The French have sent a navy ship to conduct more dives (this is the 8th) on the sites of La Perouse's ships "La Boussole" and "L'Astrolabe" that were wrecked off the island of Vanikoro in the Solomons in 1788. Australians will remember these ships as having sailed in to Botany Bay in Sydney when the English First Fleet arrived.

Previous dives have already recovered some 3,000 objects - including cannon. Unfortunately the website Operation La Pérouse is only in French.

Wikipedia has this to say on early salvage attempts -

On 25 September 1791 Rear Admiral Joseph Antoine Bruni d'Entrecasteaux departed Brest in search of La Pérouse. His expedition followed La Pérouse's proposed path through the islands northwest of Australia while at the same time making scientific and geographic discoveries.

In May 1793, he arrived at the island of Vanikoro, which is part of the Santa Cruz group of islands. D'Entrecasteaux thought he saw smoke signals from several elevated areas on the island, but was unable to investigate due to the dangerous reefs surrounding the island and had to leave. He died two months later.

It was not until 1826 that an Irish captain, Peter Dillon, found enough evidence to piece together the events of the tragedy. In Tikopia (one of the islands of Santa Cruz), he bought some swords he had reason to believe had belonged to La Pérouse. He made enquiries, and found that they came from nearby Vanikoro, where two big ships had broken up. Dillon managed to obtain a ship in Bengal, and sailed for Vanikoro where he found cannon balls, anchors and other evidence of the remains of ships in water between coral reefs. He brought several of these artifacts back to Europe, as did Dumont d'Urville in 1828. De Lesseps, the only member of the expedition still alive at the time, identified them as all belonging to the Astrolabe. From the information Dillon received from the people on Vanikoro, a rough reconstruction could be made of the disaster that struck La Pérouse, which was confirmed by the find and search of the shipwreck of the Boussole in 1964. In May 2005, the wreck was formally identified as that of the Boussole.

Both ships had been wrecked on the reefs, the Boussole first. The Astrolabe was unloaded and taken apart. A group of men, probably the survivors of the Boussole, were massacred by the local inhabitants. According to natives, surviving sailors built a two-masted craft from the wreckage of the Astrolabe, and left westward about 9 months later, but what happened to them is unknown. Also, two men, one a "chief" and the other his servant, had remained behind, surviving until 1823, three years before Dillon arrived.

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