On Friday 10th March 2017 exactly 229 years to the day that French Naval Officer Real Admiral Jean-François de Galaup le Comte de Lapérouse left Australia never to be seen of again, Councillor Noel D’Souza Mayor of Randwick City on behalf of the La Perouse Museum and Headland Trust hosted close to 100 guests for an evening of remembrance and celebration at the Lapérouse Museum of Sydney.
His Worship the Mayor was accompanied by his partner Mme. Annick Antoine; in conjunction with Nicole Forrest Green, President of the Friends of the Lapérouse Museum, they received the Hon. Matt Thistlethwaite Federal Member for Kingsford Smith, the Deputy Leader of the NSW Opposition the Hon. Michael Daley Member for Maroubra, Councillor Geoff Stevenson Randwick City Council, Consul General of France, Sydney Mr. Nicolas Croizer, French Defence Attaché, Captain Yann Marboeuf (French Navy) Canberra and Captain Brian Schlegel representing the Fleet Commander of Garden Island Sydney, Rear Admiral Stuart Mayer AO CSC and Bar RAN.
Famous Australian sports champion, former Rugby Union XV Wallabies player, and proud local member of La Perouse’s Biidjigal people, Mr. Gary Ella performed the Welcome to Country complementing a diverse guest list with a distinctly French flavour.
In particular the surprise presence of a young French girl Alexia du Peloux, enhanced the occasion. Aged 22 years, from Brittany in North-Western France, Alexia is a descendent of the Astrolabe’s Commander Paul Antoine Fleuriot de Langle. She was welcomed by all in the context of closer relations with France and the importance of the Museum’s strong French heritage.
Lapérouse sailed into Botany Bay on January 26th 1788, set up camp on its northern headland where he and his crew remained for approximately 6 weeks. A scientific expedition, under the orders of the last King of France Louis XVI, he and his men took advantage of the opportunity to discover this strange southern land far from France with its unique vegetation, flora and fauna, as well as its aquatic life and original animal species, namely marsupials. Samples of ‘Hawkesbury’ sandstone were collected and his men met not only the site’s local indigenous people, but officers and crew of Captain Philip’s First Fleet anchored across at Sydney Cove, which had also just arrived.
En route to Australia tragedy had befallen Lapérouse. He lost his right hand man, close friend and naval technician Fleuriot de Langle in Command of the Astrolabe when an encounter with the people of Samoa at Maouna (today Tutuila Bay) went badly wrong and 11 of Laperouse’s men were killed as they attempted to retrieve drinking water for the next leg of their voyage from a remote inland location in small boats. Father Louis Receveur, a Franciscan aboard the Astrolabe, but also a naturalist and man of science – not uncommon at the time of the French Enlightenment – was gravely injured and died at Botany Bay in February 1788 where a catholic mass was conducted in his memory whilst he was buried. The esteemed philosopher-naturalist Robert-Paul de Lamanon also perished in the attacks of Maouna. Lapérouse was a man known for his humanity and insisted that no reprisals be taken against the people of the Island, despite France’s significant strength and technological advantage in weaponry.
French Defence Attaché, Canberra Captain Yann Marboeuf, French Navy, in his speech reminded the audience (LINK) that ……
Lapérouse was a great sailor open to the great discoveries of the 18th century, a century that we like to call in French le siècle des lumières (The Age of Enlightenment). He was always, and above all, a humanist, who never denied the values he believed in, when dealing with his enemies or facing populations he came across during his expedition in the South Pacific region and kept in mind what he had written before leaving France: “I shall make every effort to ensure that the inhabitants of the Islands we might visit will never be sorry for having welcomed us”.
Nicole Forrest Green as master of ceremony read a message received from her counterpart in Albi France, Lapérouse’s birthplace – from the President of the Association-Musée Lapérouse d’Albi France, Mr. Jean-Marie Pestel.
Jean-Marie is a descendant of the Lapérouse family. He paid homage to Alain Conan.
Alain was a giant in the context of the Lapérouse story and had just been reported missing at sea by the authorities in New Caledonia. Alain dedicated much of his life to unravelling the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Lapérouse and that of the expedition’s two frigates, the Astrolabe and the Boussole, which were found eventually wrecked on reefs off the Island of Vanikoro, part of the Santa Cruz archipelago in the Salomon Islands.
Alain, an experienced sailor and underwater diver, founded the Salomon Association in 1981. He was instrumental in working with France’s Navy and the Maritime Museum of New Caledonia to recover and collate a remarkable inventory of objects from the wrecked ships of Laperouse’s expedition now known to have met with a massive cyclone off the coast of the Salomon Islands for which the Pacific Ocean, above the Tropic of Capricorn, is famous for.
Alain had just finished a remarkable website – http://www.collection-laperouse.fr – a testimony to his dedication and life’s work that the Lapérouse Museum in Sydney will be joining. He is an irreplaceable loss and in many respects his disappearance is not dissimilar to that of Lapérouse himself.
Alain had taken his boat out alone in still waters one morning off Amédée Island with the aim of diving off one of Noumea’s many reefs – it would be a dive from which he never returned as currents on these reefs are notorious and can change rapidly.
Lost to the great vastness of the southern Pacific Ocean for all eternity, both Lapérouse and Alain Conan will be remembered with distinction and pride.
Photo 1: the Consul General of France, in Sydney Nicolas Croizer, Nicole Forrest Green President of the FOLM, Annick Antoine with RCC Mayor Noel D’Souza, Federal Member for Kingsford Smith, the Hon. Matt Thistlethwaite MP, French Defence Attaché, Canberra Captain Yann Marboeuf, French Navy
Photo 2: the late Alain Conan with Jean-Marie Pestel (descendent of the Lapérouse Family) Albi France