At daylight on January 26, 1788, as the first men from Captain Arthur Phillip’s fleet waded ashore in Sydney Cove and the balance of the First Fleet prepared to leave Botany Bay for Sydney, two French exploration ships sailed into Botany Bay.
The French ships – La Boussole and L’Astrolabe – commanded by Jean Francois Galaup, Comte de la Perouse – had sailed from Brest in 1785 on a four-year voyage of discovery at the direction of King Louis XIV.
Two Catholic priests, Abbé Jean-Andre Monges and Fr Claude-Francois Joseph Louis Receveur, a Franciscan monk, were with the expedition.
Fr Receveur served as naturalist and astronomer as well as chaplain. He was also a skilled botanist, geologist, chemist, meteorologist, and philologist.
When the French ships put into Tutuila in the Samoan Islands, the Franciscan monk was wounded by local warriors. His injury was described as a “violent contusion of the eye”.
On arrival at Botany Bay, La Perouse erected a camp on shore and established friendly relations with the British, who sailed around from Sydney to visit his camp.
Fr Receveur died on February 17 and was buried at the camp.
He was the first Catholic priest and the second white man to be buried in Australian soil. His obsequies were the first Catholic religious ceremony held in Australia.
Abbé Monges, and possibly Fr Receveur, if he had been well enough, would have celebrated Mass on board the ships anchored in Botany Bay.
This is the first occasion, of which there is reasonable evidence, of a Mass being celebrated in Australian territory.
On March 10, 1788, the La Perouse expedition left Botany Bay. It was wrecked soon afterwards in the New Hebrides.