Ladies en gentleman,
I am commander Jean-René Degans, the commanding officer of the French frigate Vendémiaire.
I am truly delighted to be here today amongst such a gallant and colorful company to honor the memory of one of the finest naval officer that served under the French flag: the comte Jean-François de Galaup de La Pérouse.
First of all, I would like to say that I have been profoundly moved when I discovered this monument. First of all to discover that this monument is next to Botany Bay which is really famous in my Navy. Secondly to discover so many plaques from very known French Navy warships that I came in the last century to pay a tribute to La Pérouse. I can read in front of me the name of the cruiser Montcalm, which is still a name of our frigate today and one of the most decorated vessel in France. I see also the name of Triomphant which, even during the war, found a time to honour La Pérouse.
All of you are perfectly aware of the tragic odyssey of the comte de La Pérouse and why this monument has been erected here in Australia near Botany Bay. What I want to tell you is why La Pérouse is so famous and honoured in the French Navy.
La Pérouse in fact represents the most accomplished type of XVIII century sailor: he was an excellent navigator, no doubt about this, but also a fearsome and brave combatant as can testified the number of battles he took part (Quiberon bay, the capture of Saint-Christophe in the West Indies, the Saintes straight) and his successful raids in the Hudson bay during the America independence war, raid during which he destroyed several British vessels and forts without losing not a single of his men and capturing numerous British soldiers. He was also well-known for his kindness as regards his prisoners and the gentle way he was treating his own sailors.
Today the world recognizes this gentleman through many geographic places named after him:
– this exact locality where we are gathered today,
– a small island in Hawaii archipelago,
My Navy also keeps his memory alive and gave his name to four different vessels :
– a heavy cruiser at the end of the XIX century,
– a light frigate between the two world wars,
– a light frigate after the second war,
– today an hydrographical vessel.
The merchant navy recognizes also his valor as the French company CMA-CGM gave recently his name to one of its latest and largest container transport ship. Last, when the French Navy decided to create a sailor day, the date of 23rd May has been chosen : this day is the exact day when more than 200 years ago, La Pérouse discovered the straight between the islands of Hokkaido and Sakhalin.
I thank you very much for your attention.