Reece Discombe 100 years and 231 years of the Receveur Mass


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Sunday, 17th February 2019, marked 100 years since the birth of Reece Discombe, diver on the Laperouse Wrecks.  It was also the 231st anniversary of the death of Claude-Francois Joseph Louis Receveur.  There were two masses held for Receveur – the first at 8am and the second at 11am (details below)



Reece Discombe was born in Cambridge, New Zealand, on the 17th February 1919. The Cambridge Historical Society has provided more details in their February 2019 Newsletter. Russell Shelton, the author of “From Hudson Bay to Botany Bay” described Reece as the perfect man to be involved in diving the Laperouse Wrecks as he had “an affinity for salt water, his physical power and swimming ability, coupled with a natural mechanical aptitude with motors and metals …prepared him well for his involvement in the saga of Laperouse.  His interest in salvage diving led Reece to the New Hebrides in 1947.  The largest island “Espiritu Santo” had an enormous war surplus dump which he astutely realised could be used to supply the marketplace that had been starved for six years of newly manufactured machinery.  For fourteen years, he carried out salvage dives on wrecks around the New Hebrides.  He jokingly described himself “as having spent half of his life underwater”.  Reece had read much of the material available about Laperouse.  His curiosity resulted in the establishment of an expedition party in 1958.  The party left Vila for Vanikoro on the sixty foot launch, the “Don Quixote”.  From this trip, which was to be the first of many made between 1958 and 1964, Reece and his companions found many treasures including cast iron ballast blocks, lead ingots, brass wheels, cannons, iron rods, kegs of nails, buttons, hundreds of glass pieces, fragments of white porcelain and a number of anchors. He returned with teams of divers to the “Astrolabe” site many times. (Photos: top – Reece diving; above left: taken by Peter Stone, Oceans Enterprises; above right – Reece in Port Vila with map of Vanikoro, 2002)

In 1964, he discovered and explored the “Boussole”.  This resulted in the launch of three French sponsored expeditions to confirm the existence of the second wreck.  Reece’s perseverance in confirming the site of the “Astrolabe” and determining the location of the “Boussole” has contributed greatly to a fascinating part of maritime history. (Notes compiled by Reece Discombe and Diana New, 1993)

In addition to being a famous diver Reece was also New Zealand’s midget racing car champion of 1949. Pictured here in a Ford V860.

From the Waikato Independent 1963.

From Southern Courier 1999

Reece donated a number of items to the Laperouse Museum, including the Altar Stone(photo left), Mill Stone, Brass Pulley Wheel, Lead ingots, Roll of Brass Wire, Brass Trumpet, Fragment of Astrolabe, Brass Shackle, Anchor, Flanged Brass Pipes, Brass Stanchion, Cannon

Reece died 2nd June 2007.


It was perfect weather for celebrations with early morning cyclists around the loop and sailors in Frenchman’s Bay.

The Receveur Mass organised by Lee Leo of St Andrews, Malabar, was held at 11am with about 210 followers in attendance. Father David Blowey OFM CONV was the Principal Celebrant. Father Blowey is the Provincial Delegate Order of Friars Minor Conventual, Greyfriars Australia.  Co-celebrating were Fr Laurie Cauchi from St Andrews, Fr Willis Melderea, Chaplain to the Francophone Catholic Community, Father Martin Mai OFM Conv and Fr. Leonard Testa OFM Conv.  Special guests in attendance included Mr Nicolas Croizer, French Consul-General, Federal MP, Hon. Matt Thistlethwaite, and Councillors Danny Said, Carlos da Rocha and Noel Da Souza.  The Sydney Seaside Lions provided the sausage sizzle and Friends of the Laperouse Museum refreshments.


As advertised this continuous annual event occurred  on 17th February, the actual anniversary of the Conventual Franciscan friar’s death in 1788. Mass was celebrated AT 8AM in the ancient traditional Latin rite used by the two priests of the Laperouse Expedition at Botany Bay in early 1788.

Father Eric Ladner SSPX said the Mass on the verandah of the Laperouse Museum and preached the occasional sermon on the inception of the Mass in Australia by the priests of the Laperouse Expedition.. The Mass was followed by a procession of priest and congregation chanting the In Paradisum to the grave for final prayers for the dead and the chanting of the Salve Regina. The grave on which a wreath had been placed was aspersed with holy water by Father Ladner. The congregation of some 130 people included 6 Sisters of St. Pius X.




Receveur Mass 17 February 2019


This annually continuous event since its 1988 foundation will occur on the actual anniversary of this Conventual Franciscan friar’s death: 

Sunday, 17th February, 2019 at 8am. 

                                                                                                                                                                      VENUE: verandah of the Laperouse Museum      

Mass in the traditional Latin rite of the Catholic Church that was used at Botany by the two priests of the Laperouse Expedition at Botany in early 1788.

The only Mass rite known to St. Francis of Assisi  (ca.1181-1265) and to the two French priests of the Laperouse Expedition and to all the Catholic clergy of the Roman Rite in 1788. The first two Masses were celebrated either on the day of the expedition’s arrival, Saturday 26th January, 1788 ,the feast of St. Polycarp or  the next day which was Sexagesima. .Under the 1765 royal Ordonnance de la Marine,  which specified the duties of all types of French naval personnel,,chaplains in the royal navy were obliged to say Mass on Sundays and feast days without exception unless bad weather prevented it and on other days as often as possible. Here was the mandate for the introduction of the Mass to Australia in early 1788 which continued what had occurred throughout the Laperouse voyage aboard the two French frigates.

The two priests did not  concelebrate as concelebration of Mass by two or more priests did not exist in the 18th century on land or at sea.

The Mass was introduced to Australia by two French scientific savants,  a Conventual friar, whose death occasioned a Requiem Mass by his brother priest ,a canon of Ste. Genevieve in Paris and the Latin Office of the Dead which was mandatory at the funerals of naval personnel.



In the current issue of The Great Circle:Journal of the Australian Association for Maritime History (volume 41 no.1 2019) appears my article ‘The First Masses  in Australia at Botany Bay in early 1788’ (pp. 81-95). The article details and corrects egregious errors about the type and incidence of  Masses during the Botany Bay tenure of the Laperouse Expedition.

2018 Annual Pierre Roussel Lecture – Professor Robert Clancy


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The Contribution of Two Exceptional Frenchmen to the Success of Australian Rural Industry in the Nineteenth Century”

Professor Robert Clancy AM provided an authoritative and entertaining presentation on scientists Adrien Loir and Eugene Nicolle, situating their contributions within the  Enlightenment tradition and the innovation culture unique to a newly established and remote country.   Robert is a  life member and past president of the Friends of the Laperouse Museum.  He was the foundation Professor of Pathology at the University of Newcastle, developed the vaccine Broncostat there in 1985, has researched and lectured extensively in cartography and recently completed a thesis on the history of science in Australia. Link to recent ABC Interview.

photos clockwise: Pierre and Carole Roussel at the opening of the Laperouse Museum in 1988; Robert Clancy and Carole Roussel; Robert  presenting on Loir and Nicolle; Robert presenting an encore – an account of the Australian influence on engineers Wolseley and Austin


Lest we forget: 11th November 2018 La Perouse


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Today in La Perouse: Monument, Receveur Tomb & millstone from L’astrolabe.


Such was the camaraderie forged on the battlefields of the Western Front that on Bastille Day, 1917, the Hon. David Storey, M.L.A. (Randwick), a member of the Holman Government, announced that the New South Wales Government intended to dedicate a portion of land, approximately 1 acre, permanently to the French nation and the French people, so that it might be kept sacred to their memory for ever. At a separate public meeting on the same day, Mr J. Garland, M.L.C., Minister for Justice and Solicitor General, announced that the Government of New South Wales had decided to make a gift to the French people, in perpetuity, of the piece of land at Botany Bay, where Laperouse landed. [Sydney Morning Herald, 16 July, 1917].  (Pictured above: Australian Diggers at the unveiling of the
First Division Memorial at Pozières, July 1917)

Since the Laperouse Monument and Receveur Tombs were constructed in 1828 the headland has been a focus for commemoration of the relationship with France.

(Pictured: left –  French sailors pay their respects on Bastille Day 1944; below – presentation of French street signs for Soldiers Settlement Matraville at the 2008 commemoration.






(Left: Street sign in Villers-Bretonneux for Victoria School named for Victoria, Australia).