Saturday, 30 June 2018

Le Puy du Fou - La Pérouse sails again...

The new La Pérouse attraction opened at Le Puy du Fou theme park in April.  The most impressive and widely cited fact about it is the tremendous cost of construction - a cool 10 million euros.  This has mostly gone into recreating a state-of-the-art computer-controlled mock-up of La Boussole, tossing to destruction on the stormy seas of the South Pacific.

Fork with Monti arms, Coll. La Pérouse
The back-story for the new attraction is provided by the presence near the Park of the château du Fief-Milon at Boupère, the birthplace of another forgotten member of the expedition, the captain of the Boussole, Anne-Georges-Augustin de Monti.  In 2002 Alan Conan visited Monti's decendants to show them a silver fork recovered from the wreck off Vanikoro which featured the Monti coat-of-arms. Aymar de Monti, a member of the Association du Puy du Fou, recounted the circumstances to Philippe and Nicolas de Villiers, who were taken with the shipwreck theme. An emblazoned plate forms the fils rouge running through the presentation.

Visitors are taken through the various phases of the voyage [see the press release for details].  The attraction occupies about 15-20 minutes.  There are now several videos on Youtube, though the experience is quite hard to film due to the semi-darkness and the simulated rolling of the ship.  I must admit I have been spoilt by Disneyland and was expecting a ride or even a little boat to go on: at Le Puy du Fou you have to walk.  That said,  the effects are impressive and the visit is enlivened by the fact there are live actors to take the parts of the crew.

This post probably ought to end with some suitably disparaging comments on the limits of re-enactment or the distortion of the past represented by history as mass entertainment.  It is certainly a shame that so much money was lavished on this extravaganza when the little La Pérouse museum in Albi  has such a financial struggle.  However, I am not going to complain too much.  At least La Pérouse is remembered and people are encouraged to imagine life on an 18th-century ship; Le Puy du Fou will turn a huge profit and everyone will have great fun!


Puy du Foi 2018 Press release in English

Making-of "Le Mystère de La Pérouse", Official video from Le Puy de Fou, 24.05.2018.

"Le Puy du Fou - Le Mystère de La Pérouse",  Youtube video from Le Reporter sablais. Published 01.04.2018
Nicolas de Villiers, President of Le Puy du Fou and Laurent Albert,  Director General of the Park, present the project in its final stages. 

Laurent Albert  and Nicolas de Villiers inside the attraction
"Reconstitution d'une histoire vraie"  La Nouvelle Republique, 03/04/2018

Nice set of photos of the interiors: 
 "Nouveauté 2018 au PUY DU FOU " Le Mystère de La Pérouse" Le Coeur vendéen, post of 08.04.2018

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

A unique survivor? La Pérouse's Banksia

In 2012 modern science attempted to bring back to life a unique survivor from the La Pérouse expedition, when the Conservatoire botanique national  - a specialist botanical conservation facility located in Brest - sought to germinate six seeds salvaged from the wreck of the Boussole.  

The seeds in question - from the Banksia tree, discovered on Cook's first voyage and named for Joseph Banks - were collected by La Pérouse's naturalists in Botany Bay in 1788. In December 2010, they finally completed the journey  home to France, 222 years after they set sail.  

The seeds serve as a reminder of the prominence given in the expedition to botanical research, collection, and propagation. André Thouin, the chief gardener of the jardin du Roi, prepared minute instructions for the voyage, and received regular letters from the gardener on the expedition Nicolas Collignon, from  the botanist Joseph de La Martinière  and from the illustrator Guillaume Prevost.  The goals were commercial as well as scientific.  La Pérouse was required to monitor the success of the plants and animals which Cook had transplanted on his voyages, and to look out  for new species of potential value: 

The navigators cannot be too making copious and diversified collection of the seeds of exotic plants and trees,...which, naturalising themselves in our soil, may hereafter adorn our plantations, or augment the number of our artificial meadows by their productions.

Containers for the transport of plants -
Watercolours accompanying the Bibl. Mazarine copy of the Instructions to La Pérouse 

Sadly the experiment with the Banksia seeds was a failure. After two hundred years at the bottom of the ocean, the seeds  "did not contain any presence of life to permit their regeneration".

What was the point, one might ask?

 There is no scientific interest at all in the Banksia specimen itself.  Banksia is a common and highly invasive species throughout Australasia, South Africa and Hawai'i , indeed the iconic plant of the Australian bush.  Moreover, Banksia trees can live as long as 100 years, so La Pérouse's seeds are hardly likely to exhibit significant genetic variation from modern plants.

The project dossier points to the advancement of "scientific protocols" but admits that the objective was mainly symbolic, to "offer to the people of Brest a Banksia collected by La Pérouse." Adriana  Cracuin underlines the importance of the expedition in French national consciousness and comments that the attempt to germinate the seeds, like the interment of the Vanikoro skeleton, offered a sort of closure:  "This experiment was designed effectively to locate (botanical) survivors of France’s most famous shipwreck, allowing the expedition to complete its circumnavigation." (Cracuin, 2016 p.52)


CBN Brest, Dossier de Presse, 04/07/2012:  200 ans après le naufrage de La Boussole le Banksia de La Pérousenous livre ses secrets...

"Banksia ericifolia collected by Lamartinière or Collignon"  Article by Henri Colombié, translated from the "Journal de bord" of the Association Lapérouse Albi France, No 53, Autumn 2012,
La Perouse Museum & Headland website,

Andriana Cracuin "The seeds of disaster: relics of La Perouse" in The Material cultures of Enlightenment arts and sciences (2016), p.47-50

Monday, 25 June 2018

Massacre Bay - conflicting visions

To a large extent, what happened at Massacre Bay is riddle without a key;  We have La Pérouse's account, but the viewpoint of the Samoans is lost.  It can only be guessed at from a mixture of oral tradition, anthropological insights and and oblique references in later accounts of Samoan culture. Among modern studies, the crucial research is that of the French anthropologist Serge Tcherkézoff, Professor Emeritus at the Australian National University in Canberra .  His book First Contacts in Polynesia (2008) is freely available on JStor.  What follows is mostly summarised from his conclusions.

La Pérouse's view of events: 

The Instructions drawn up for La Pérouse set out carefully the expected conduct of the expedition towards indigenous peoples. In the spirit of the late Enlightenment, he was expected to pursue a policy of minimum intervention, confining himself to careful observation of native societies and the collection of artefacts.  Part four gave explicit orders regarding the trade for the supplies, which was crucial to the success of the mission.  Strategies on how to win the confidence of the people and their chiefs, were mixed uneasily with advice on how to defend the expedition's interests and maintain security.  Nonetheless, the main thrust is clear: the visit of the French "far from being a misfortune to these people..should on the contrary confer on them advantages of which they are destitute" (Voyage, vol.1 p.42)

The context is clearly Enlightenment debates about the "noble savage", which had been given new currency in the later 18th century by Rousseau and by Diderot in  his Supplement to the Voyage of  Bougainville.  La Pérouse himself, even before the events in Samoa, gave the armchair philosophers short shrift.  He comments that thirty years of "melancholy experience" had taught him that the "man of nature" is "savage, deceitful and malicious" (vol. 1, p.397-8)  His assessment was often more negative than that of  his officers. He had given way Langle on the day of the massacre,  despite the "turbulence" of the islanders and his "secret presentiment" of disaster.  In one of his last letters, from Botany Bay, he observed bitterly to Fleurieu, that the naturalist Lamanon, on the evening before he was killed, had told him that the savages "were better than ourselves" (vol. 2, p.505-6) . He concludes that, even in the benign natural conditions of the South Pacific, "man, scarcely emerged from the savage state, and living in anarchy, is a more malignant being than the wildest beast" (vol. 2, p.130-31)

Bougainville arrives in Tahiti - an image  from 1846

La Pérouse  would, of course,  have been well aware of Bougainville's  positive assessment of the inhabitants of Tahiti. In 1772 he had visited Mauritius where he had met several of Bougainville's companions, including Philippe Commerson, whose article in the Mercure in 1769 had done much to establish the vision of Tahiti as the "New Cythera". However,   Bougainville, though he had not landed, had bartered for provisions off Samoa in 1768 and had judged the natives negatively.  The men were not "so gentle as those of Tahiti", their features "more savage".  The woman he saw was "ugly", the barkcloth "much coarser", the fish hooks "badly made":  "We were always obliged to be upon our guard against their cunning tricks to cheat us by their barter" (see Linnekin, p.5).

The La Pérouse expedition's first encounters took place at sea, in the Manu'a group, before the ships reached Tutuila. Canoes rowed out to trade. These exchanges prompted La Pérouse to observe that the Samoans, "like all South Sea islanders", were "not over-honest in their dealing". They would row off with the French exchange goods like thieves without delivering the items that they had promised in return - but, as La Pérouse commented , "a few beads and strips of red cloth" were scarcely worth worrying about.  Like Bougainville, he expressed surprise that the islanders were not interested in iron tools but preferred useless beads: he thought this must be the result of having natural plenty: "abundantly supplied with articles of real utility, they desired nothing but superfluities."  He admired the design and workmanship of their houses and canoes.  Nonetheless, the element of moral condemnation in his general assessment is strong.  He finds the physical appearance of the men intimidating - tatooed,  wearing skirts of cordyline leaves, they resemble the river gods of mythology.  Their scars suggests insubordination and hint at "private quarrels".  He is also disturbed rather than enchanted by the promiscuity of the women: there were "not above one or two" that he found attractive:  "...the grossly impudent air of the rest, the indecency of their actions, and the disgusting offer they made of their favours, rendered them worthy of being the wives and mothers of the ferocious beings by whom they were surrounded". (vol. 2, p.154-5)

La Pérouse, who was not himself an eye-witness, did not give a detailed explanation for the massacre itself beyond the violent, perfidious and "turbulent" character of the people.  However, Captain John Hunter who met him in  Botany Bay, gives an account in his journal, which probably reflects La Pérouse's view.  He depicts a sudden, contingent explosion of violence:
Some altercation consequence of their pressing so close upon the French, probably occasioned a blow with a club from one of the natives, which was instantly taken as a signal by the rest, and the massacre began. (Historical journal, 1793 p.261, quoted, Linnekin, p.8-9.)

In his letter to Fleurieu, La Pérouse dwelt bitterly on the contrast between the forebearance of the French and the ungrateful behaviour of the islanders.  Even though the unthinking violence of ignorant savages was not really their fault, if he ever made another voyage, he would want Instructions which allowed him greater room for reprisals.

Native perspectives

 Although armed with Cook's vocabulary, the Frenchmen's linguistic skills were rudimentary and they made no real attempt to decode the ceremonial and ritual context of their encounters.

 According to Professor Tcherkézoff, the crucial determining factor is that Samoans did not regarded  Europeans as ordinary men, but as supernatural beings sent by the gods. The term they used was "Pāpālagi", a word of uncertain origin, which  still denotes Europeans in modern Samoan. This idea is corroborated by testimony from later missionaries; for example, the Marist priest Father Padel was told in the 1840s that the French ships had been considered a piece of "the land of the spirits" ("terre des génies")

Professor Tcherkézoff's discussion begins with a refuttal of the longstanding Enlightenment myth of the sexual freedom enjoyed by the women of the South Pacific.   La  Pérouse accepted this idea uncritically.  He diverged from Bougainville only in his disapproval of the islanders' promiscuity and his tendency to equate it with savagery rather than  primitive innocence. Reluctantly he admits that some of his crew had accepted the advances of  "young and pretty females" and, in a much cited passage, concludes that unmarried girls in Samoa "are mistresses of their favours, and are not dishonoured by their complaisance" (p.155). Both men thought in terms of "sexual hospitality" or a "selling of favours" in a setting where "it can be observed" that there are no restrictions on pre-marital sexual activities.

In fact La Pérouse's account of what took place - together with evidence from the journals and logs of Bougainville's companions - suggests a very different interpretation. A ritual is clearly being enacted.The girls, who are always "very young",  are forced to participate  against their will . They are weeping and reluctant, and have to be forcibly held in the arms of an elder. In La Pérouse's version the "ceremony" takes place in a hut with closed blinds, in the presence of howling matrons and an old man who "served as both priest and altar".  To Professor Tcherkézoff these proceedings recall Samoan marriage rituals.  Furthermore the lowering of blinds traditionally accompanied a  "meeting with the spirits".  Far from this being a free act of sexual hospitality, it would seem that the young girls were being presented "in marriage" to the Pāpālagi, perhaps with the idea of creating sacred progeny.

The reading of the Europeans as manifestations of spiritual beings also  makes a lot more sense of other scenes that La Pérouse describes.  The exchange of goods, regarded by the French as a simple bartering for supplies, was see by the islanders in terms of the presentation of offerings and receipt of gifts from sacred beings.  La Pérouse mentions a number of tell-tale items given to the French.  On one occasion they received "the most charming turtle dove we had ever seen" - from La Pérouse's detailed description clearly a Samoan Manumā [many-coloured fruit dove], whichwas  regarded as a sacred pet.  On another occasion he mentions a "wooden vase filled with coconut oil";  again a valued offering.  (The oil belonging to the category of items used to wrap the body and make it shine, which were thought of as gifts for gods, ancestors and sacred chiefs.).

Large numbers of blue glass beads, intended for exchange, were recovered from the wreck sites off Vanikoro.
Perhaps through their previous encounters with Europeans, the islanders expected to receive gifts.  Items such as beads and red cloth, were prized as signs of life and fertility. .  According to pre-Christian Polynesian cosmology such gifts had to be snatched away since the gods always had to be forced to surrender part of their powers to human beings.  Here, clearly, is the rationale behind those occasions when the Islanders rushed off with the goods, without handing over the agreed compensation. Their behaviour, writes Professor Tcherkézoff was "in line with the mythological and ritual structure of the annual raid that the people perpetrated on the first fruits and on all signs of life sent by the gods".(Tcherkézoff,p.52)

At various points in La Pérouse's narrative the Samoans are described in what are obviously ceremonial situations.   A group of islanders is seen "sitting in a circle under some cocoa trees"(p.122).  The ships are haranged from the shore by an "elderly Indian" holding a branch of Kava, a ceremonial offering to sacred chiefs. The French interprete the gesture as a sign of peace, and throw him "a few pieces of cloth" (p.123).  When the ships anchored in Tutuila Bay, they were approached by large numbers of canoes, laden with coconuts, pigs and fruit, which the French "bought" with beads.  Langle's preliminary reconnaissance found an assembly of natives on the shore around a "great fire";  by the next morning, still more canoes had appeared.  The first mission to collect water (on 10th December) was watched by two hundred natives, all jostling to offer them livestock and fruit.  They were again offered "charming turtledoves and parakeets as tame as pigeons" - further confirmation of ceremonial nature of these gifts. The women, "some of whom were very pretty" caused disorder, "offering their favours to all, who had beads to give them".

At this point, came the first "real act of hostility" when a man suddenly clambered into the longboat  and set about the sailors with a mallet.  According to Professor Tcherkézoff this behaviour can be interpreted as as act of bravado, a challenge to Pāpālagi powers -  the idea was to board their boat, to touch them, to see if they would bleed.  La Pérouse reports other similar incidents; the surgeon Rollin had stones thrown at him, and an attempt was made to snatch the chief engineer Monneron's sword.  When La Pérouse returned to the Boussole he found that seven or eight Indians had forced their way on board, "the eldest of whom was presented to me as being a chief".  Fortunately he was able to placate them with the desired gift of beads.

On the 11th December came the final eruption into violence. According to Lieutenant Vaujas, the landing party was at first welcomed by the Samoans who threw Kava branches into the sea. They were again approached by "a number of women and very young girls".  The trouble began when the boats, laden with barrels, became stranded by the low tide. Samoans waded in after them from the shore and they found themselves surrounded by large numbers of canoes returning from the ships.  The islanders at this point felt emboldened to set upon upon them with stones and clubs.
Vaujas adds the crucial detail that he believed "the primary cause of our misfortune" was Langle's gift of "a few beads" to five or six individuals that he thought might be chiefs holding the crowd in check. In doing this, he incurred the displeasure of the rest. According to  Professor Tcherkézoff (p.59) in all probability these were the taule'ale'a of the village - ordinary unmarried men who took on collective work for the community.  Perhaps Langle's gesture was interpreted as a signal that supernatural gifts were available to all who dared to take them.

Certainly the Samoans did not think they had killed ordinary men. A few days later five or six canoes again came out expecting to barter with the ships; the incredulous La Pérouse had to restrain himself from murdering the occupants on the spot.(p.139) The incident recalls Hawaii in 1778 when the islanders who had killed Captain Cook, rowed out to the ships and asked when he would come back to visit them. (Tcherkézoff, p.59).


Serge Tcherkézoff, First Contacts in Polynesia - the Samoan Case (1722-1848), 2008.
ANU e-text, available freely on JStor.
Chapter 3 December 1787, Lapérouse: first incursion on land (pp. 29-50)
Chapter 4 Lapérouse, the Ignoble Savage, and the Europeans as ‘spirits’ (pp. 51-68)

Linnekin, "Ignoble savages and other European visions: the La Perouse affair in Samoan history" Journal of Pacific History 26(1) 1991, p.3-26.


From the Instructions


p.37-38: During the stay he shall make in any harbour, he will observe the genius, character, manners, customs, bodily constitution, language, government, and number of the inhabitants.

He will  order the garments, arms, ornaments, utensils, tools, musical instruments, and every thing used by the different people he shall visit to be collected and classed; and each article to be ticketed, and marked with a number corresponding to that assigned it in the catalogue."

The narratives of the several voyagers, who have preceded the sieur de la Perouse, in the seas which he is to traverse, will have acquainted him before hand with the character and manners of some of the different people with whom he may have to deal, both in the islands of the great ocean, and on the north-western coast of America. 
His Majesty is persuaded, that, improved by this reading, he will strive to imitate the good conduct of some of these navigators, and avoid the faults of others. 

At his arrival in each country, he will endeavour to conciliate the friendship of the principal chiefs, both by tokens of goodwill and by presents, will inform himself what resources the place affords, to supply the wants of his vessels, and will employ all honourable means of forming connexions with the natives. 

He will endeavour to learn what wares and commodities of Europe they prize the most highly, and he will make such an assortment of these as will be acceptable to them, and induce them to commence a traffic. 

He will feel the necessity of taking every precaution, that prudence can suggest, for preserving his superiority over the multitude, without employing force and, however kind the reception he may meet from the savages, will consider it as of importance always to show himself in a state of defence; because it is to be apprehended, that security on his part might tempt them to endeavour a surprise...

He will enjoin every one of the crew to live amicably with the natives, to endeavour to conciliate their friendship by civility and good behaviour and he will forbid them, under pain of the severest punishment, ever to employ force to procure from the inhabitants what they may refuse to part with voluntarily. 

On all occasions the sieur de la Perouse will behave with great gentleness and humanity to the different people he may visit in the course of his voyage. 

He will zealously exert himself in every thing that can improve their condition, by bestowing on their country the pulse, fruits, and useful trees of Europe; by teaching them the manner of sowing and cultivating them; and by enabling them to understand the use they are to make of these presents, the object of which is to multiply on their soil productions necessary to a people who derive almost the whole of their subsistence from the. earth. 

If imperious circumstances, for which, in a long expedition, it is the part of prudence to be provided, should ever compel the sieur de la Perouse to employ the superiority of his arms over those of savage nations, in order to procure himself, in spite of their opposition, the necessaries of life, such as provision, wood and water, he will use his strength with the greatest moderation, and punish with extreme severity any of his people who shall exceed his orders. In all other cases, if he cannot obtain the friendship of the savages by good treatment, he will endeavour to keep them in awe by threats ; but he will have recourse to arms only in the last extremity, for his own defence alone, and on occasions when forbearance would decidedly endanger the safety of the vessels, and the lives of the French  subjects, with whose preservation he is entrusted : and His Majesty will consider it as ons of the happiest events of the expedition, if it should terminate without costing  the life of a single individual. 
Jean-François de Galaup, comte de la Pérouse
A Voyage Round the World Performed in the Years 1785, 1786, 1787 and 1788 (Robinson, 1799), vol. 1, p. 39-42.

 La Pérouse on the "noble savage"

Philosophers may exclaim against this picture if they please.  They may write books by their fire-sides, while I have been voyaging for thirty years.  I have been witness to the knavery and injustice of these people, whom they depict as good, because they are so little removed from a state of nature;  but this nature is sublime only in the great, in the minutiae of things it is negligent.  It is impossible to penetrate woods not thinned by the hand of civilized man; to traverse plains filled with stones and rocks and deluged with impassable morasses; and to associate with the man of nature, because he is savage, deceitful and malicious.  Confirmed in this opinion by melancholy experience, I have not thought it my duty, however, to employ the force with which I was entrusted, to repel the injustices of these savages, and teach them, that there is a law of nations, which is never to be violated with impunity.

...I will admit, if you please, that it is impossible for a society to exist without some virtues;  but I am forced to confess, that here I could not perceive any.
Voyages, vol. 1, p.397-8 [following the expedition's encounter with the native Americans in Lituya Bay]

My opinion concerning barbarous natives was long since fixed; and my voyage has served only to confirm that opinion.

I am, however, a thousand times more angry with the philosophers, who so enthusiastically extol savage nations, than with the savages themselves.  The unfortunate Lamanon, whom they massacred, told me, the evening before his death, that these men were better than ourselves. Adhering strictly to the orders prescribed in my instructions, I have always behaved to them with the utmost mildness;  but I confess to you, if another voyage of the same kind were intrusted to me. I would request different injunctions.  A navigator, on leaving Europe, ought to consider the savages as enemies, weak indeed, and whom, without sufficient reason,  it would be ungenerous to attack and barbarous to destroy; but whose hostile attempts he has a right to prevent when authorised by well founded suspicions to believe in such attempts.
Letter written by La Pérouse to Fleurieu from Botany Bay , 7 February 1788 (vol. 2, p.505-6)

La Pérouse's descriptions of  the Samoan people

This first passage occurs in the context of the expedition's first  explorations of Tutuila.  La Pérouse contrasts the idyllic surroundings of the inhabitants with their appearance of ferocity.

This charming country unites the advantages of a soil fruitful without cultivation, and a climate requiring no clothes. The cocoa, plantain, guava, orange, and bread-fruit tree, bestow on these fortunate people abundance of wholesome nourishment ; and fowls, hogs, and dogs, which live on the surplus of their produce, afford them an agreeable change. They were so wealthy, and had so few wants, that they despised our cloths and instruments of iron, and would accept only beads : abundantly supplied with articles of real utility, they desired nothing but superfluities.

....What imagination would not conceive this delightful place the abode of felicity!  These islanders, we were continually saying, must be the happiest people upon earth: surrounded with their wives and children, they pass their days serene and tranquil in the bosom of repose: they have no other care, but that of bringing up birds, and, like the first man, of gathering without labour the fruits that hang over their heads.  But we were mistaken: this charming abode was not that of innocence. We saw no weapons, it is true: but the bodies of these Indians, covered with scars, proved, that they were often at war, or quarrelling with one another ; and their features announced a ferociousness not perceptible in the countenances of the women.   Nature, no doubt, left this impression on the persons of these Indians, as a warning, that man, scarcely emerged from the savage state, and living in anarchy, is a more malignant being than the wildest beast.
(vol. 2, p.130-31)

After his account of the massacre, he adds a further summary in similar vein:

These islanders are the stoutest and best-made we had yet seen.  Their ordinary height is five feet nine, ten or eleven inches.  But their tallness is still less astonishing than the colossal proportions of the different parts of their bodies...Their countenances often appeared to me, to express a sentiment of distain...

The men's bodies are painted or tattooed, so that you would think them dressed, though they are almost naked.  They wear nothing but a girdle of sea-weed round their loins, which reaches to their knees and gives them a resemblance to the river-gods of mythology, that are represented enveloped with reeds.  Their hair is very long, and frequently turned up all round the head, so as to heighten the ferociousness of their countenances, which always express astonishment or choler.  The least dispute between them is followed by blows from clubs, sticks or paddles; and often, no doutb, costs the combatants their lives.  Almost all of them are covered with scars, which must have been the consequence of these private quarrels. (p.154).

[The women] are tall, slender and not ungraceful; but before their spring-time is past, they lose that gentleness of expression, and elegance of form... Among a great number of women, whom I had an opportunity of seeing, I could distinguish but three that deserved to be called pretty: the grossly impudent air of the rest, the indecency of their actions, and the disgusting offer they made of their favours, rendered them worthy of being the wives and mothers of the ferocious beings by whom they were surrounded. (p.154-5)

The Massacre - Described by John Hunt

In his journal John Hunter, captain of the Sirius, recounts his meeting with La Pérouse in Botany Bay. La Pérouse went out of his way to present the Samoans in a positive light to his English acquaintance

... I accepted Monsieur Peyrouse's invitation to pass the day with him [on the Boussole], and to return to Port Jackson in the morning...At the Island Macuna (one of the Isles des Navigateurs) ....he had been so very unfortunate as to lose Monsieur De Langle, captain of the L'Astrolabe, together with eight other officers, four sailors and one body;  all of whom were killed by natives, besides a number who were wounded.  This melancholy affair happened in the following manner:  The two ships had been at the island just mentioned some days, and were on very good terms with the natives, who had furnished them with every article of stock in the greatest profusion, for barter:  Monsieur De la Peyrouse, however, had found it very necessary to be on his guard against a treacherous disposition which he discovered in them.  When everything was ready to for their departure, and the ships were under weight, De Langle requested M. Peyrouse to permit him to get another turn of water; this M. Peyriyse consented to, but with as much reluctance as De Langle seemed solicitious to obtain his request....When the boats landed, the men were, as usual surrounded by the inhabitants, who did not immediately discover any hostile intention: unfortunately the sailors in the long-boats had suffered them to take the ground, and whilst they were endeavouring to get them afloat again, the natives were very troublesome, and pressed close in upon the sailors; on this De Langle ordered the men in the rowing-boats to be ready to fire on the natives, but not to do it until he ordered them.  Some altercation happened at this juncture, in consequence of their pressing so close upon the French, probably occasioned by a blow with a club from one of the natives, which was instantly taken as a signal by the rest, and the 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, etc. in the rowing-boats, but it ws too late, although the natives fled the moment they were fired, dragging the dead bodies after them.  It was supposed that thirty of the natives were killed in this unfortunate affray.  Those belonging to the ships, who escaped the massacre, swam to the rowing-boats, and were carried on board the ships:  many of them had received violent contusions on the head, as all the blows were aimed at that part.

.......he describes the inhabitants of these islands as a very strong and handsome race of men;  scarcely one was to be seen amongst them less than six feet high, and well proportioned;  the women are delicately beautiful; their canoes, houses, etc. are well constructed, and they are much more advanced in internal policy and order than any of the islands in the Pacific Ocean (p.262)
John Hunter, An historical journal... (1793) p.259-62

La Pérouse and Bougainville on the offering of young girls

The crucial passage from La Pérouse is presented as part of his general description of the Samoan people, so the occasion cannot be pinpointed.

From La Pérouse's Voyage

As the narrative of our voyage may serve to add a few pages to the history of man, I must not omit pictures that might be deemed indecent in another work; and I must relate, that the small number of young and pretty females, of whom I have already spoken, soon fixed the attention of some of their visitors, who, notwithstanding my prohibition, sought to form connexions with them.  The looks of our Frenchmen expressed desires which were soon divined.   Some old women took upon themselves to negotiate the affair.   The altar was prepared in the best looking house in the village; all the blinds were let down; and the curious were sent away.   The victim was placed in the arms of an old man, who, during the ceremony, exhorted her to moderate her expressions of pain: the matrons howled and sung; and the sacrifice was consummated in their presence, and under the auspices of the old man, who served both as priest and altar.  All the women and children of the village were round the house, gently lifting up the blinds, and searching for the smallest openings in the mats to obtain a sight of the spectacle.  Whatever may have been said by travellers that have preceded us, I am convinced that, in the Navigators' Islands at least, the young women, before they are married, are mistresses of their favours, and are not dishonoured by their complaisance.  It is even more than probable, that, when they marry, they have no account to give for their past conduct; but I have no doubt, that they are obliged to be more reserved as soon as they have taken a husband.  (vol. 2, p.155)

The account of Bougainville and his companions

In Tahiti, on the third day of Bougainville’s tacking off the coast (before he even attempted a landing), a group of Tahitians brought an adolescent girl out with them and had her climb on board; once there, she took off her barkcloth (obeying the adults who accompanied her, as we learn from the journals)  and appeared to the French on the deck "such as Venus shewed herself to the Phrygian shepherd" . This sentence, which became the most famous of Bougainville’s book of 1771, together with the Post-Scriptum from Commerson, sparked the myth about the ‘lascivious’ customary education of Tahitian—and later all Polynesian—adolescent girls that spread throughout Europe. It gave the idea that the girls were offering themselves quite willingly.  Then, when the French landed, they were conducted into a chief’s house where, with complete ceremonial decorum, they were asked to take a young girl sexually.

The journals provide some crucial details that were never published.  We learn that the girl was presented to the visitors in the middle of a circle of adults who chanted (prayers?) and held a green bough in their hands (as a sign of fecundity and as an offering to the superior entities?). We learn too that the girl was crying. The significance of the green bough (a branch of plantain) can be inferred from the Tahitians’ behaviour in front of their own sacred chiefs, as observed a few years later by James Morrison, the first European visitor to stay a long time in Tahiti.  The presentation of a green bough paved the way for making offerings to a superior....The presence of the green bough indicates the formal and indeed ritual (sacrificial) character of the whole scene which, contrary to what Bougainville wrote in his book, cannot thus be reduced to any kind of sexual ‘hospitality’.

These details are supplied in the journals and logs of the companions and officers who accompanied Bougainville. But the captain did not include this information in his published account and only mentioned that in ‘every house’of this island where the French entered those favours were ‘offered’. He thus led the European reader to believe that all of this was purely sexual hospitality, from a people who had made sexuality their main value and thus their main offering. The French made no attempt at all to decode the ceremonial and ritual context in which the sexual offering occurred and concluded for the most part that they had found in Tahiti a people who had remained ‘as Eve before her Falling’: a place in which the sexual act was ‘naturally’ done, constantly practised and ‘staged in public’ (en public).
Serge Tcherkézoff, First Contacts in Polynesia, p.35-36.
Louis-Antoine, comte de Bougainville, A voyage round the world.  Performed by order of his most Christian Majesty, in the years 1766,1767, 1768 and 1769.  Trans. John Reinhold Forster, London 1772, p.217ff.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Massacre Bay - the death of Fleuriot de Langle

Nicolas Marie Ozanne, Massacre of MM de Langle, Lamanon and ten others,
plate 68 of Atlas du Voyage de La Pérouse (1797) [detail]

Anonymous miniature of Langle, his only 
known portrait

The discoveries in Vanikoro encouraged renewed interest in other members of the expedition, notably, La Pérouse's second-in-command, and friend ("mon vicaire"), the commander of the Astrolabe, Paul-Antoine-Marie Fleuriot de Langle. 

Jean Claude Thomas, a local historian in Langle's birthplace, Quemper-Guezennec in Brittany, recounts how in September 2003, he was telephoned from distant Nomea by Jean Gillou of the Association Salomon, with a request for information.  This sparked off a campaign to secure recognition for Langle, an "oublié de l'histoire", which culminated on 3rd July 2004 in the inauguration of a memorial stele.

 Langle's death at the hands of natives in Samoa in December 1787 cast a sombre shadow over the final months of the voyage, eclipsed only by the final catastrophe that engulfed the whole expedition.


Here is the account as it appears in La Pérouse's journal:

On 6th December 1787 La Pérouse came with sight of easternmost of the Samoan Islands, which Bougainville had sailed past nineteen years earlier and call the "Îles des Navigateurs".  The two ships skirted the northern coast of "Opoun"(T'au) and passed through the channel between it an Olosega to the northwest on 7th December. Canoes came out to barter and La Pérouse also observed natives on the west coast of T'au who appeared well-disposed.  Having sailed round the south coast of Olosega, they then headed west, to where the island of Tutuila (La Pérouse's "Maouna") was known to lie. The ships approached the island's northern point, Matalia Point, late on 8th December and on the following day anchored off Fagasa Bay on a coral bank in the open sea about a mile from the shore.

They had been continuously at sea for twenty-four days, and were seriously fatigued due to the heat and lack of wind which they had struggled against since the Siberia. The shore appeared inviting, with its promise of fresh supplies.  At nightfall Langle went out with three armed boats to investigate a creek where he thought they might be able to replenish the water supplies of the two ships. He was unable to make an assessment as it was high tide, but the party was greeted with friendly gestures from the natives and returned to the ship in good spirits.

Fagasa Bay, American Samoa
The next day, at dawn, a large number of native canoes appeared around the frigates and offered to trade fruit in exchange for glass beads and cloth.  The goods were lowered in baskets; as a measure of security,  the natives were not allowed on board.  Since the ships were still becalmed La Pérouse decided to go ahead with procuring water.  De Clonard and de Monti were ordered to take boats into Fagasa Bay and there were plenty of volunteers eagar to join the "corvée d'eau".   La Pérouse himself followed in his pinnacle.

Since the tide was  low, the boats were able to manoeuvre alongside the freshwater stream which ran into the bay whilst still afloat.  The natives, who gathered in large numbers, were prevailed upon to sit under the coconut trees which grew along the bank. There was a lively trading in fowl, pigs, pigeons and fruit,  accompanied by much shouting and agitation.  The marines established a cordon between the natives and the shore, but some young women slipped provocatively between them, causing confusion:  as La Pérouse later wrote,"Their manners were gentle, sprightly, and engaging: against such attacks, a European who has sailed round the globe, a Frenchman in particular, has no weapons of defence"(p.129)

Order was restored but, as the sailors finished filling their barrels, an ominous incident occurred. Some of the natives began to act aggressively.  One of their number climbed into the longboat and set about a sailor with a mallet.  La Pérouse acted quickly and had four of the strongest sailors throw the man into the sea. He also had three pigeons shot in flight to demonstrate the power of their firearms, but this show seemed only to make the natives more agitated. Finally at midday, despite the numerous canoes which blocked their way, the boats made their way back safely to the ship.  La Pérouse himself remained behind and was reassured by his reception at the nearby village, where he was  invited him into houses, idyllically surrounded by trees laden with fresh fruit.  He mused on the beauty of the place.  On his return to the Boussole, he found a Chief and seven other men on board to whom he gave gifts.

In the afternoon, Fleuriot de Langle joined La Pérouse on the Boussole. He urged  a second expedition to fill the remaining water barrels in a clear, cool spring he had discovered in  A'asu Bay.  The ships were not urgently in need of water, but de Langle insisted on the importance of fresh water to avoid scurvy; "He could not be induced to give up his point; for he had embraced the system of Cook, and thought fresh water a hundred times preferable to what had been some time in the hold. As some of his crew had slight symptoms of scurvy, he thought, with justice, that we owed them every means of alleviation in our power. Besides, no island could be compared with this for abundance of provision: the two ships had already procured upwards of 500 hogs, with a large quantity of fowls, pigeons and fruits; and all these had cost us only a few beads."(p.133)

La Pérouse later noted that "a secret presentiment" made him doubt the prudence of sending a party inland, due to the turbulent spirit he had observed among the islanders. But de Langle insisted on that. that he would hold  La Pérouse personally responsible for the spread of scurvy on board. " Mr de Langle was a man of such judgment and understanding, that this consideration, more than anything else, prevailed on me to consent" (p.133)

The expedition's plans of the Island of Maouna and Massacre Bay

The expedition was delayed by a storm and it was not until the morning of  11th December that the new corvée d'eau got under way.
Death of Langle, illustration from Léon Guérin, Belin-Leprieur & Morizot Les Navigateurs français, 1846.

Both ships sent their longboat and barge. "Every person who had any symptoms of scurvy" was sent as part of the party.  Among the contingent from the Bousolle were Lamanon, the geologist and Colinet, the gardener, who was ill at the time. The Astrolabe's longboat,  under the command of midshipman Gobien, had on board the botanist La Martinière, Lavaux,  the ship's surgeon and  the chaplain père Receveur. Lieutenant de Vaujuas, a convalescent, recounted  that he was endused to go in Langle's barge."by way of taking the air on shore"  The boats were armed with muskets and six swivel guns mounted on the longboats. Sixty-one men in all, "the best of our hands".

They arrived about half-past-one.  They found that the low tide made access more difficult. Cove now filled with  coral leaving only a narrow channel to manoeuvre through. Left the barges beyond the reef.  To the concern of La Pérouse, the creek was out of view of the frigates at anchor. The marines and sailors had to unload the barrels in shallow water; primers of several muskets got wet and were rendered unusable.  Meanwhile hundreds of natives gathered on the bank. Converged from other parts of the island..  According to lieutenant Vaujuas, several young girls offered themselves "in a most indecent manner" and were "not universally rejected"

The crowd was now joined by a group of more agressive individuals. Canoes who had been trading with the ships had filled the bay, taking the number of natives to well over a thousand.  Langle judged the situation to be potentially dangerous and, to appease the crowd, had beads distributed to those he thought were the leaders;  Vaujuas thought it possible he had excited jealousies by this act. Finally, at about three o'clock, with the casks filled, he gave the signal to return, but  the low tide made it impossible for them to embark; the natives grabbed the cables and tried to prevent them hauling in their anchors.  Started to throw stones.  De Langle, stationed in the bow of his longboat,  had several warning shots fired into the air. "If the fear of commencing hostilities and being accused of barbarity had not checked M. de Langle, he would unquestionably have ordered a general discharge of his swivels and musketry, which no doubt would have dispersed the mob, but he flattered himself that he could check them without shedding blood, and he fell a victim to his humanity" (p.136). Langle  hit by stones and set upon;  others received severe wounds; able to swim between the longboats and make for the barges. Forty-nine men out of sixty-one were saved; among the dead also was Lamanon, the famous physician.

On board the ships, there was an explosion of anger; many wanted to sink the canoes which still surrounded them, but La Pérouse mastered himself sufficiently to prevent the massacre of innocent individuals. The officers from the landing party advised strongly against attempting to land.  In the end he contented himself with firing a cannon into the water which put up a great splash and scattered the canoes which congregated around the frigates.

It was not without difficulty that I could tear myself away from this fatal place, and leave behind the bodies of our murdered companions. I had lost an old friend; a man of great understanding, judgment, and knowledge; and one of the best officers in the French navy. His humanity had occasioned his death. Had he but allowed himself to fire on the first natives who entered into the water to surround the boats, he would have prevented his own death as well as those of eleven other victims of savage ferocity. Twenty persons more were severely wounded; and this event deprived us for the time of thirty men, and the only two boats we had large enough to carry a sufficient number of men, armed, to attempt a descent. These considerations determined my subsequent conduct. The slightest loss would have compelled me to burn one of my ships in order to man the other. If my anger had required only the death of a few natives, I had had an opportunity after the massacre of sinking and destroying a hundred canoes containing upwards of five hundred persons, but I was afraid of being mistaken in my victims, and the voice of my conscience saved their lives.(p.140)

In a letter to Fleuriau, written from Botany Bay on 7th Febuary1788, La Pérouse estimated that the incident had also cost the lives of thirty Samoans. 

China porcelain plate with the arms of Fleuriot  de Langle and his wife Georgette de Kerouartz, Musée National de la Marine.  Part of a service commissioned in the course of the voyage and set back directly to France.

The discovery of the remains

In 1882 a Marist missionary on the island, Father Julien Vidal, was told by an old man that the victims had been buried at the site of the massacre.  Vidal eventually discovered the exact location, under a "red oak", and had a wooden cross erected on the spot.  In July 1884 a plaque was ceremonially erected with the names of the victims. The monument  has subsequently been added to and repaired on a number of occasions, the latest in 2006.

 In 1887 the  remains of "the white chief"  (a few fragments of skull and leg bones) were relinquished  to a local missionary and shipped back to France, where they were interred with full military honours in the church of St. Louis in Brest. This church was destroyed during the Second World War, but the urn containing the remains was rescued.  It is not quite clear where they now are - the commemorative plaque has been replaced in the rebuilt church, but, according to John Dunmore, the cask containing the relics was relocated to the chapel of the École navale in Brest.

Here is a picture of the inauguration of the memorial in Quemper Guézennec in July 2004.  At the same time the public gardens next to the church was renamed Jardin Fleuriot de Langle.  The commemoration was organised by the Association Racines et Patrimoine, president Jean Claude Thomas and financed by the local municipality.  Alain Conan and Jean Gillou of the Association Salomon were among those who attended.


Fleuriot de Langle

Jean Guillou, "Fleuriot de Langle, un oublié de l'histoire", p.23- La Pérouse...Et après: Dernières nouvelles du mystère de l'Astrobale (2011),
[Much of the relevant chapter is accessible on Google preview]

A book devoted to Langle has also recently been published: 
Pisano & Deville Paul Antoine Fleuriot de Langle : second de l'expédition La Pérouse, commandant de l'Astrolabe, l'oublié de l'histoire (2012)

Philippe Henwood, "Fleuriot de Langle et l'expédition de Lapérouse", Dix-huitième Siècle, no.19, 1987, p. 245-262.  [Unpublished letters by Langle]

Massacre Bay and its monument

"1787 Massacre at Tutuila", La Perouse Museum & Headland website, post dated 01.01.2013

Texas A&M University,  A'asu Valley Project : the archaeology of Massacre Bay

NCPTT Case study of the restoration of the Monument at Massacre Bay, A’asu, Tutuila (2009)
The present monument dates from about 1900.

Splendidly decorated "Massacre Bay Tour" bus.


The account by La Pérouse

M Boutin and Mouton were sent with my long-boat and barge to the Astrolabe, to put themselves under the command of M de Langle.  Every person that had any symptoms of scurvy, was sent in the boats, with six marines armed, having the master at arms at their head.  In the two boats were eight and twenty men, and about twenty empty casks, intended to be filled with water. MM. de Lamanon and Colinet, though ill, were of the number. M. de Vaujuas, a convalescent, accompanied M. de Langle in his barge. M Gobien, a midshipman, had the command of the Astrolabe's long-boat; and M. de la Martinière and Lavaux, with father Receveur, made part of the thirty-three persons who went from that ship.  The best of our hands were among the sixty-one persons who went on shore on this occasion.  M de Langle armed all his people with muskets and cutlasses, and six swivels were mounted on the long-boats. I had left it entirely to himself to provide as he might think necessary for his safety.  Our certainty that we had had no dispute with these people, for which they could retain any resentment, the vast number of canoes that surrounded us in the offing, and the air of gaiety and confidence that reigned in our market, tended to augment his security; and mine, I confess, could not have been greater; but it was contrary to my principles to send boats ashore, that could neither be supported nor even seen from our vessels, without extreme necessity, more particularly among a numerous people.

The boats left the Astrolabe at half after twelve, and reached the watering-place in less than three quarters of an hour.  But what was the surprise of all the officers, as well as of M. de Langle himself, to find, instead of a large and commodious bay, a cove filled with coral, into which there was no penetrating but by means of a winding channel not five and twenty feet wide, and where the surf broke as on a bar ! When they got in, they had not three feet of water. The long-boats grounded, and the barges remained afloat, only because they were hauled to the entrance of the pass, at some distance from the shore.  Unfortunately M de Langle had reconnoitred this bay at high-water.  He had not imagined that the tide rose five or six feet at these islands; and he thought his eyes deceived him. His first thought was, to quit the bay, in order to repair to that where we had already taken in water, and which had every convenience: but the air of gentleness and tranquillity that appeared among the people, who waited for him on the shore, with a vast quantity of fruits and hogs; the women and children, whom he observed among the islanders, and who are cautiously kept aloof when they have any hostile intentions, all tended to divert him from his first prudent design, which an inconceivable fatality prevented him from following.

The casks from the four boats were landed with the utmost tranquillity.  Excellent order was preserved on the shore by the marines, who formed a line, so as to leave a free space for the working party.  But this calm was of short duration. Several canoes, after having sold their ladings of provision on board our ships, had returned ashore, and all landed in this bay, so that it was gradually filled.  Instead of two hundred persons, including women and children, whom M. de Langle found when he arrived at half after one, there were ten or twelve hundred by three o'clock. The number of canoes trading with us in the morning was so great, that we scarcely noticed its diminution in the afternoon; and I congratulated myself for retaining them at the ships, hoping that our boats would be the more quiet. In this, however, I was greatly mistaken. The situation of M de Langle became every moment more embarrassing. Seconded by M. de Vaujuas, Boutin, Colinet, and Gobien, he succeeded in embarking his water: but the bay was nearly dry, and he could not hope to get his boats afloat before four o'clock. He stepped into them, however, with his detachment, and posted himself in the bow, with his musket, and his marines, forbidding them to fire till he should give orders.

This, he began to be sensible, he should soon be forced to do: stones flew about, and the Indians, only up to their knees in water, surrounded the boats within less than two yards. The marines, who were in the boats, attempted in vain to keep them off. If the fear of commencing hostilities, and being accused of barbarity, had not checked M. de Langle, he would unquestionably have ordered a general discharge of his swivels and musketry on the Indians, which no doubt would have dispersed the mob: but he flattered himself that he could check them without shedding blood, and he fell a victim to his humanity. Presently a shower of stones, thrown from a very short distance with as much force as if they had come from a sling, struck almost every person in the long-boat.  M. de Langle had only time to discharge the two barrels of his piece before he was knocked down; and unfortunately he fell over the larboard bow of the boat, where upwards of two hundred Indians instantly massacred him with clubs and stones.  When he was dead, they made him fast by the arm to one of the tholes of the longboat, no doubt to secure his spoil.  The Boussole's longboat, commanded by M.Boutin, was aground within four yards of the Astrolabe's, and parallel with her, so as to leave a little channel between them, which was unoccupied by the Indians. Through this all the wounded men, who were so fortunate as not to fall on the other side of the boats, escaped by swimming to the barges,
which happily remaining afloat, were enabled to save forty-nine men out of the sixty-one.

M. Boutin had imitated all the movements, and followed all the steps of M. de Langle.  His water, his people, his detachment, had been embarked at the same time, and placed in the same manner; and he occupied the same place in the bow of his long-boat.  Though he dreaded the consequences of M. de Langle's moderation, he would not allow himself to fire, or to give orders to his party to do so, till his commanding officer had set him the example.  It is obvious that every shot must have killed an Indian at the distance of four or five paces; but they had no time to re load.  M. Boutin was likewise knocked down by a stone; fortunately, however, he fell between the two boats.  In less than five minutes there was not a single man left in either of the long-boats.  Each of those, who saved themselves by swimming to the barges, had several wounds, and almost all in the head; while those who had the misfortune to fall on the side next the Indians were instantly dispatched with clubs. But the islanders were so eager for plunder, that they hastened to seize on the longboats, three or four hundred getting into them, tearing up the thwarts, and stripping the inside to pieces, to search for our supposed wealth. While thus engaged, they gave themselves little concern about our barges, which afforded MM. de Vaujuas and Mouton time to save the rest of the crew, and to satisfy themselves that there were no more left in the hands of the Indians, besides those who had been massacred, and killed in the water by their patows.

The people on board our barges, who had hitherto continued firing on the islanders, and had killed several, now thought of nothing but throwing their casks overboard, that the boats might be able to hold all the persons that remained.  Beside, they had nearly expended their ammunition; and it was not very easy for them to make good their retreat, with so many men dangerously wounded, who, stretched on the thwarts, impeded the working of the oars.  Forty-nine persons of the two ships' crews were indebted for their safety to the prudence of M Vaujuas, the good order he established, and the punctuality with which it was observed by M. Mouton, who commanded the Boussole's barge. M. Boutin, who had five wounds in the head, and one in the stomach, was saved from sinking by the cockswain of our longboat, who was himself wounded.  M. Colinet was found lying senseless on the grapnel-rope of the barge, with one arm fractured, a finger broken, and two wounds in the head.  M. Lavaux, surgeon of the Astrolabe, was wounded so severely, as to require trepanning; yet he had swam to the boats, as well as M. de la Martiniere, and Father Receveur, who had received a violent contusion in the eye.  MM. de Lamanon and de Langle were massacred with unexampled barbarity; as were Talin, the master at arms of the Boussole, and nine other persons of the two crews.  The ferocious Indians, after having killed them, sought to satiate their rage on their dead bodies, and continued to beat them with clubs.  M. Gobien, who commanded the Astrolabe's long-boat under M. de Langle, did not quit her till he found himself alone.  After having expended all his ammunition, he leaped into the water in the little channel between the two boats, and escaped to one of them, notwithstanding his wounds. The barge of the Astrolabe was so deeply laden, that she grounded. This induced the islanders to endeavour to assail the wounded men in their retreat ; and they ran in great numbers towards the reefs at the entrance, within ten feet of which the boats must necessarily pass. On this infuriate crowd the little ammunition they had left was exhausted ; and at length the boats escaped from this den, more fearful from it's treacherous situation, and the cruelty of it's inhabitants, than the lair of a lion or a tiger.....

Narrative of M. de Vaujuas.

[Freton de Vaujuas was Master's Mate on the Astrolabe]

On Tuesday, the 11th December, at eleven in the morning, M. de la Pérouse sent his long-boat and barge, laden with empty casks, and a party of marines armed, to accompany an expedition under the command of M. de Langle. M. Boutin had already received instructions respecting the means of preserving order and providing for our security when the boats should land. At the same time our captain hoisted out his boats, and in like manner loaded them with casks, and armed them. At half after twelve, the ships being within three-quarters of a league of the shore, with their larboard tacks aboard, the four boats set off to take in water in a cove that had been reconnoitred by M. de Langle. This watering place was to leeward of that where we had been before, to which M. de Langle thought it preferable, because it appeared to him less inhabited, and equally commodious. The former, however, had the advantage of a more easy entrance, and sufficient depth of water for our long-boats to be in no danger of grounding.

M. de Langle asked me, though I was a convalescent and weak, to accompany him, by way of taking the air on shore. He took upon himself the command of the barge, and gave that of the longboat to M. Gobien. M. Boutin commanded the long-boat, and M. Mouton the barge of the Boussole. M. Colinet and Father Receveur, both invalids, with Messrs. de Lemanon, La Martinière, and Lavaux, and several persons from both ships, were of the party; making in all, with the crews of the two barges, sixty-one in number.

While on our way, we perceived with regret that a large part of the canoes which were alongside of the ships followed us, and came to the same cove: we likewise saw several of the natives from other villages going to it along the rocks which separate it from the adjacent bays. When we came to the reef which forms the cove, and which leaves only a narrow passage of a little depth for boats, we found that it was low water, and that the long-boats could not proceed into the cove without getting aground. In fact, they touched when within half a musket-shot from the shore, and we could only get them nearer by pushing them on by setting our oars to the bottom. This bay had appeared much more favourably to the captain, because when he visited it the tide was not so low.

At our arrival the savages, who stood by the water-side to the number of seven or eight hundred, threw into the sea, in token of peace, several branches of the tree from which the islanders of the South Seas obtain their inebriating liquor. On landing M. de Langle gave orders that an armed marine and a seaman should be left to guard each of the boats, while the crews of the long-boats were employed in getting in the water, under the protection of a double line of fusileers, reaching from the long-boats to the watering place. The casks were filled and taken into the boats very peaceably, the islanders suffering themselves to be kept sufficiently within bounds by the armed marines. Among them were a certain number of women, and very young girls, who offered themselves to us in the most indecent manner, and their advances were not universally rejected. We saw but few children.

When our business was nearly ended, the number of natives had still increased, and they became more troublesome. This circumstance induced M. de Langle to give up the design he had before entertained, of bartering for a little provision, and he gave orders to reimbark immediately; but previously (and this, I believe, was the first cause of our misfortune) he made presents of a few beads to a sort of chiefs, who had assisted in keeping the islanders a little at a distance. We were certain, however, that this kind of police was mere mockery; and if these pretended chiefs had any authority, it extended to a very small number of persons. These presents, distributed among five or six individuals, excited the discontent of all the rest; a general clamour then arose, and we were no longer able to check it. They suffered us, however, to get into our boats; but a party of the islanders followed us into the water, while the rest picked up stones on the beach.

As the long-boats were aground a little from the shore, we were obliged to wade up to the middle in water to reach them, and in doing this several of the marines wetted their muskets. In this situation began the horrible scene which I am about to relate. We had scarcely gotten into the long-boats, when M. de Langle gave orders to get in the grapnel and push them off. Several of the most robust of the islanders opposed this, by holding the grapnel rope. The captain seeing this, and perceiving the tumult increase, and a few stones reach him, endeavoured to intimidate them by firing over their heads. This, far from inspiring them with fear, was the signal of a general attack. A shower of stones, thrown with equal force and quickness, poured on us. The battle commenced on both sides, and became general. Those whose muskets were in a condition to go off brought down several of these furies; but the rest were no way disturbed at it, and seemed to act with more vigour. One party approached the boats; while another, to the number of five or six hundred, kept up a terrible and fatal discharge of stones.

On the first act of hostility I had leaped into the water to get to the Astrolabe's barge, which was without officers. Circumstances gave me strength for the short passage I had to make; and notwithstanding my weakness, and a few blows I received from stones at the time, I got into the barge without assistance. I saw with grief that there was scarcely a musket in it unwetted, and that all I could do was to endeavour to get her afloat on the outside of the reef as quickly as possible. The battle however continued, and the large stones thrown by the savages wounded some of us. As soon as any one that was struck fell into the sea on the side next the savages, he was immediately despatched with their clubs or paddles.

M. de Langle was the first victim of the ferociousness of these barbarians, who had experienced from him nothing but benefactions. At the commencement of the attack he was knocked down bleeding from the bow of the long-boat, where he had posted himself, and fell into the water, with the master at arms and the carpenter, who were at his side. The rage with which the islanders fell upon the captain saved the two latter, who contrived to reach the barge. Those who remained in the long-boat soon shared the fate of their unfortunate commander, except a few, who were able to escape and gain the reef, whence they swam to the barges. In less than four minutes the islanders made themselves masters of both the long-boats, and I had the affliction to see our unhappy companions massacred, without being able to assist them. The Astrolabe's barge was still within the reef, and I expected every moment to see her experience the same fate as the long-boats; but the eagerness of the islanders saved her, the greater part fell upon the long-boat, the rest contented themselves with throwing stones at us. Several, however, came to wait for us in the passage, and on the reefs.

Though there was a heavy swell, and the wind blew right in, we succeeded in getting out of this fatal place, in spite of their stones, and the dangerous wounds which some of us had received; and joined M. Mouton, who was out of the cove in the Boussole's barge, and who had lightened his boat by throwing overboard his water, to make room for those who could reach him. I had taken into the Astrolabe's barge Messrs. Boutin and Colinet, with several other persons. All those who escaped to the barges were more or less wounded, so that we were in a defenceless state, and it was impossible to think of re-entering into a bay from which we were extremely happy to have escaped, to make head against a thousand enraged barbarians, as this would have been to expose ourselves to inevitable death, without the least advantage.

Accordingly we steered our course to return on board the two ships, which had tacked towards the offing at three o'clock, the very moment of the massacre, not even suspecting that we were in the least danger. There was a fresh breeze, and the ships were far to windward, which was an unpleasant circumstance for us, and particularly for those whose wounds required speedy dressing. At four they put about again, and stood towards the land.

When we had cleared the reefs, I set the sails and hauled close to the wind in order to get off shore, throwing overboard every thing that could impede the progress of the boat, which was full of people. Happily the islanders, busied in plundering the long-boats, thought not of pursuing us. We had nothing for our defence but four or five cutlasses and a charge for two or three muskets, which were little to protect us against two or three hundred barbarians, armed with stones and clubs, and provided with light canoes, in which they might keep themselves at what distance they pleased. Some of these canoes left the bay soon after us, but they sailed along the shore, whence one of them departed to inform those which had remained alongside the ship. The people in this canoe, as they passed, had the insolence to make threatening signs to us; but my situation obliged me to suspend my vengeance, and reserve our feeble means for our own defence.

When we had gained the offing, we pulled away right to windward towards the ships, hoisted a red handkerchief at the mast-head, and as we drew near fired our last three musket-shots. M. Mouton likewise made a signal for assistance with two handkerchiefs; but we were not observed till we were almost on board. The Astrolabe, the nearest of the two ships, then bore away for us, and at half-past four I put on board her those who were most severely wounded. M. Mouton did the same; and then we repaired immediately on board the Boussole, where I related to the commodore our melancholy tale. His astonishment was extreme, after the precautions his prudence had induced him to take, and the just confidence he reposed in M. de Langle, and I can compare his sorrow only to my own. This disaster recalled to our minds a lively remembrance of that of the 13th July 1786, and threw a complete gloom over our voyage. Still, however, we thought ourselves happy, that the greater part of those who went on shore were saved; since, if eagerness for plunder had not stopped, or for a moment called off the rage of the savages, not one of us could have escaped.

It is impossible, to express the feelings excited by this fatal event on board the two ships. The death of M. de Langle, who enjoyed the confidence and friendship of his crew, threw every person belonging to the Astrolabe into the utmost consternation. Those islanders who were alongside when I arrived, and knew, nothing of the affair, were on the point of being sacrificed to the vengeance of our seamen, which we had the utmost difficulty to restrain. The general affliction that prevailed on board was the noblest funeral panegyric that could be made of the captain. For my part, I lost in him a friend, rather than a commanding officer; and the concern he expressed for my welfare will lead me to regret him as long as I have breath: too happy, could I have testified my attachment and gratitude by sacrificing my life for his! But this brave officer, more exposed than the rest, was the first that fell a prey to the ferocious beasts by whom we were attacked. In the state of weakness in which I was left by my convalescence, I had gone ashore without arms, and under the protection of others; and when I reached the barge all our ammunition was expended or wetted, so that unhappily I could only give orders of too little efficacy.

I should not do justice to those, who were so fortunate as to save themselves like me, did I neglect to add, that they behaved with all the coolness and bravery possible. Messrs. Boutin and Colinet, whose force of mind was unimpaired notwithstanding their severe wounds, assisted me with their counsel, which was of no small advantage; and I was ably seconded by M. Gobien, who was the last to quit the long-boat, and whose example, words, and intrepidity, contributed not a little to encourage such of the seamen as might have felt apprehension. The inferior officers, seamen, and marines, executed the orders given them with equal zeal and punctuality. M. Mouton had equal reason to be satisfied with the crew of the Boussole's barge.

Every person who went ashore can testify with me, that no violence, no imprudence on our part, preceded the attack of the savages. Our Captain had issued the strictest orders to this effect, and no one had infringed them.

List of the persons massacred by the savages of the Island of Maouna, the 11th December 1787.

The Astrolabe.

M. de Langle, post-captain, commander.
Yves Humon, Seamen.
John Redellec,
Francis Feret,
Laurence Robin,
A Chinese,
Lewis David, one of the gunner's crew.
John Geraud, a servant.

The Boussole.

M. Lamanon, natural philosopher and naturalist.
Peter Talin, gunner.
Andrew Roth, of the gunner's crew.
Joseph Rayes,
All the rest of the party were more or less wounded.

Jean-François de Galaup, comte de la Pérouse
A Voyage Round the World Performed in the Years 1785, 1786, 1787 and 1788 (1799), vol.2, p.134ff.