The phenomenon of lightning, with its accompanying fire which sometimes brings destruction and death in its wake, has always strongly impressed itself upon the imagination of observers who have tried to find explanations for it. From ancient times, the wrath of the gods has often been evoked. “When in the 17th century, the healthy light of philosophy cleared away the thick shadows in which minds had for so long lost their way, men, less credulous and a little more observant, dared contemplate this fearful meteor more closely.” One generally attributes to Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), American politician, Minister Continue reading
The watch at sea on a King’s ship in the 18th century
- Organization: Under the authority of the captain, the lieutenant of the watch (for four hours) is responsible for the course traveled, sail setting depending on the wind at the time, look out for obstacles (other ships and proximity to land), and general discipline.
For navigation, strictly speaking, he is assisted by a pilot, trained in a Hydrographic School, who is specifically responsible for keeping the hourly dead-reckoning (course and speed), certain checks (variation, latitude) and the preservation of articles useful for navigation (telescope). He liaises with the helmsman who often cannot see the bow, but holds his course via his compass. In addition, some pilots are qualified for navigation in coastal waters, for example from Brest to Lorient, and advise the lieutenant (course, currents, and identification of underwater dangers). There is also in the remit of the first pilot the oversight of some instruments linked to the steering of the sailing ship: helm, rudderstock, poop-lantern, bells, weathercock. The mercury barometer, graduated in inches (28 inches is the average pressure) and divided into 12 lines, was introduced late into the Navy (about 1780); it is rather delicate for use at sea and is under the direct supervision of the officers.
The main measuring instruments used:
- The compass (or steering compass) for giving the course with respect to the “lubber line” (axis of the ship),
- Its complement, the bearing compass, with the bearing sight.
- Sounding lead, when it can be used for accessible depths.
- Boat log, its hourglass, and knotted cord, on a reel, the spacing of the knots being verified against known speeds.
- Recording information by the pilot:
- The traverse board, with 32 points of the compass, for the estimation (distance covered on a set heading).
- Charts, dividers, parallel rulers
- Pilot’s own logbook, another being kept by the officer of the watch.
(This article appeared in the Journal de bord, the journal of the members of the Association Lapérouse Albi-France, No 67, Spring 2016, p.2.) It appears by kind permission of the Editor. No author is noted; the translation is by Dr William Land AM.
 Rudderstock: that part of a rudder which acts as a vertical shaft through which the turning force of the steering gear is transmitted to the rudder body. (René de Kerchove, International Maritime Dictionary, New York, van Nostrand, 1961, p.667)
 Lubber line: a vertical black line drawn on the forward inner side of the compass bowl. The point of the compass which is directly against the line indicates the direction the ship’s head and the course steered. (de Kerchove, p.476.)
 Bearing: the direction or point of the compass in which an object is seen, or the direction of one object from another, with reference to (1) the nearest cardinal point of the compass, or (2) true north, measuring clockwise. (de Kerchove, p.52)
 Traverse board: a board formerly used for recording a ship’s course during a watch. It consists of a disc or board marked with all the points of the compass, and having eight holes bored upon each point. The course for each half‑hour was noted by placing a peg in one of the holes corresponding to the ship’s course. (de Kerchove, p.856)
 Parallel rulers: an instrument for laying down courses and bearings on a chart. It consists of two rulers connected by crosspieces of equal length, moveable about joints, so that while the distance between the two rulers may be increased or diminished, their edges remain parallel. (de Kerchove, p.568)
Officers (naval) (10): 1 captain (capitaine de vaisseau) (250 £) ; lieutenant (lieutenant de vaisseau) (135£) ; 3 or 4 sub-lieutenants (enseignes de vaisseau) (65£) ; 3 or 4 midshipmen (gardes de la marine)(30£)
Scientists, artists, experts (7): scientists (200£); artists and experts (100£); chaplain (150£)
Senior naval ratings (3): chief petty officer (premier-maître) (60£); sergeant gunner (40£); assistant surgeon (50£).
Landing party (8): in uniform when carrying out armed protection of shore parties: gunners, musketeers, drummers (40£).
Civilian senior ratings (27): with a contract to serve on board a King’s ship.
–navigation: boatswain (65£) and his assistants, pilots (being able to read and write and having received navigation training) (70£); assistant pilots (45£), boat captains (45£): in total, about a dozen people.
–maintenance: carpenter (55£); cooper (40£); caulkers (40£); sailmakers (55£); armourer and blacksmith (50£): in total, about ten men.
–victualling: purser (commis) (50£); cook (40£); butcher and baker (35£): four men.
Civilian crewmen (56): under contract on different rates of pay (20 to 30£)
Sailors: helmsmen, topmen, and [ordinary] sailors (about 38 men).
Gun crews, normally serving as sailors, except in action.
Generally about 111 men, of whom 21 were military [= naval].
Illustrations by Pierre BÉRARD
Naval officers of all ranks were dressed in red, over a white shirt (with a buttoned jacket, breeches covering the knee, and stockings). But the indication of their status and rank was worn on an outer blue coat (hence their name ‘officer of the blue’) which extended to the knee, and the end of whose sleeves were red and upon which their rank stripes were sewn, with a tricorn hat and white cockade. There were two versions for commissioned officers (captains, lieutenants and sub-lieutenants): a ceremonial uniform and a working dress, for routine duties on board ship, which had a red border on the upper part of the blue tunic. The rank was displayed on the sleeves and by gold lace on the edge of the tunic, on the edge of the side pockets and by epaulettes depending on the rank.
Sub-lieutenants had only one epaulette, bearing a lozenge-shaped device, worn on the left shoulder. The Volunteers, officers of a certain social standing but without official naval training, wore a completely blue uniform without facings or stripes. The midshipman (garde) wore a blue long coat, the end of whose sleeves were red, with a single aiguillette worn on the right shoulder.
The engineer (specialist in fortifications of the Vauban-type) was trained at Mézières (Ardennes) in a high-level school (the future École Polytechnique) and wore a predominantly red uniform.
The surgeon (grey jacket) was an officer on board, but not the assistant surgeons who did not enjoy the status of officer. The naval hospitals were run by physicians who were better educated than them.
Senior sailors and naval fighting personnel (gunners, marines) wore uniform during military operations and parades, especially carrying out armed protection of boats going ashore.
Civilian officers were dressed as gentlemen, the chaplains in a soutane and the technicians more simply.
Civilian senior sailors wore functional non-regulation clothes, but customarily according to their specialty and depending on the weather (shirt, waistcoat, trousers, socks, shoes or boots) generally with a hat or a cap, with a need for relative comfort.
The civilian workers wore, in the main, shirt, jacket, trousers (often made of striped cloth), a hat or cap, most often bare-foot on deck. They had very little spare clothing, which was kept in a bag or sea-chest, often to the point of risking minimal hygiene standards. The principal officers and scientists had their own servants on board, who were at the bottom of the pay scale.
 Store ship. Also a frigate, with reduced armament and crew, fitted out to carry cargo. (Pâris et Bonnefoux, Dictionnaire de Marine à voiles, Paris, Éditions du Layeur, 1999, p.328.
 Livre tournois (Tours pound) (£) was a unit of French currency which eventually became the French franc.
 These have no real equivalent in the British Royal Navy, the closest being ‘midshipman’. They were young men, destined to become naval officers. Before becoming a garde de la marine, one had to be previously an aspirant garde (an applicant), which required fulfilling a number of requirements, including being of noble birth, with documentary proof of this on the paternal side. These documents were examined by the genealogist of the royal Orders who drew up the appropriate certificate. The selection of the gardes was made by the King; the minimum age was 14 years and the maximum 18 years, and they had to be without physical deformity. Their family had to provide them with an annual allowance of 600 livres. They received instruction in mathematics, hydrography, English, Spanish, drawing, shipbuilding, fencing and dancing. They also received instruction in ship-handling and gunnery. (Jean Boudriot, Le vaisseau de 74 canons, Grenoble, Collection archéologie navale française, 1977, vol.4, pp.8-9)
 In the text, the title given is ‘ingénieur du génie interarmes’ which can be translated as ‘officer of the joint engineering corps’.
 Sébastien Vauban (1633-1707) was a Marshal of France who built a great many fortifications, as well as ports, canals and other civil engineering projects throughout France.
 Probably the most prestigious seat of higher learning in France; most of its graduates are engineers.
 In the text, the title is given as ‘chirurgien entretenu’ which can be translated as ‘supported surgeon’ or ‘navy‑appointed surgeon.’ This is a specifically French arrangement. In port, there was a certain number of experts, recognised for their skills, who received a special salary, and possibly other benefits. They were restricted to treating naval personnel, except by paying a fee. Apart from surgeons, there were other types of specialists ‘entretenus’ including engineers, teachers, and chaplains.
This article appeared in the ‘Journal de bord’, magazine of the Association Lapérouse Albi-France, No 66, Winter 2015; no author is noted). This article appears thanks to the courtesy of the Editor of the ‘Journal de bord.’ Translated by Dr W A Land AM.
The author also acknowledges the assistance with the translation of some of the technical terms by his cousin, Amiral (2S) Benoît Chomel de Jarnieu
Landfalls by Naomi Williams is an historical novel about the Laperouse Expedition told from a number of perspectives. It explores the outfitting of the two ships featuring the voice of engineer, Monneron, through to the battle to use the Laperouse name. This bureaucratic saga is recounted by Jacquette, Laperouse’s younger sister. The final encounter is between Barthelemy de Lesseps who departed the expedition at Kamchatka and Peter Dillon who discovered relics from the wrecks in 1826:
The last item was a small millstone, broken in two, lying on a heavy floor-cloth. Dillon explained, trying not to sound too shamefaced, that it had split in half when they rolled it over in Vanikroro. “We found it in the same village as the post with the fleur-de-lis”, he added………..And now here was Lesseps, crouched in judgemental silence before the millstone that had cost Dillon so much trouble. His mood darkened by memories of Rathea, Dillon now wondered wretchedly if he’d brought back a native tool. Had he taken some island woman’s grinding stone for no reason? But then Lesseps put one hand over his mouth and said in a hoardse whisper, “This is the best thing you have”…………………”We had two millstones on the Astrolabe,” Lesseps said. He explained that the stone had been connected to an ingenious windmill Captain de Langle had set up on the decks of both frigates to provide fresh flour.
(pictured above one of the millstones believed to be from the Astrolabe which is on display in the Laperouse Museum)
On 9 April 1787, La Boussole and L’Astrolabe set sail from Cavite (Philippines). A month and a half later, having risked their all near the coast of Formosa (today Taiwan), the two frigates reached a position off the coast of Quelpaert, the largest island of the Kingdom of Choson (the name under which Korea was known in the 18th century), about 80 km south of the peninsula. This island guarded the entry to the Strait of Korea and, by this fact, access to the Eastern Sea (or Sea of Japan). This coast had already been mentioned with more or less precision on the maps and portolans drawn up by the Chinese and circulated by the Jesuit missionaries, but no Western ship had yet ventured into these waters…
Lapérouse now began one of the most innovative parts of his voyage, as was pointed out to him in the Mémoire du Roi pour servir d’instruction particulière au sieur de La Pérouse : “Taking care, he will visit the western coast of Korea and the Gulf of Haon-Hay (Yellow Sea) without penetrating too far into it, and always retaining the ability to easily round the southern coast of Korea by using the south-westerly and southerly winds. He will then explore the eastern coast of this peninsula, the Tartary coast, where there is a pearl-fishing industry, and the coast of Japan opposite. All these coasts are absolutely unknown to Europeans.” [Note formation of volcanic rock on this World Heritage Listed site similar to the ‘miniature Giants Causeway’ at La Perouse]
Quelpaert Island (today’s Jeju-do link to photos)
When in sight of Quelpaert Island, Lapérouse was careful. He knew that, for centuries, Korea was a closed country, where all contact with the inhabitants was forbidden. In the books brought on board in Brest, he read the story of the unfortunate Dutchman, Hendrick Hamel, and his companions, shipwrecked in 1653 and kept captive for more than 13 years.
“This island is known to Europeans only from the shipwreck of the Dutch vessel ‘Sparrowhawk’ in 1635  and was at the time under the rule of the King of Korea; we sighted it on 21st May with the best possible weather and the most favourable conditions for observations of distances. We determined the latitude of the southern tip to be 33o14’ [north], with longitude 124o15’ [east]. I sailed along the south‑east part of the coast, two leagues offshore, and we noted with the greatest care a feature measuring 12 leagues which M. Bernizet mapped. It was hardly possible to see a finer sight, a peak of about a thousand toises, which could be seen from a distance of 18 to 20 leagues, rising in the middle of the island where water doubtless collects; and the land slopes gently down to the sea, where the houses are arranged in a semicircular fashion on rising slopes. All the ground appeared to us to be cultivated for a long way up the slopes. We could see, with the aid of our telescopes, the divisions between the fields. They seemed to be divided into many plots which proves a large population. The different crops produced very varied colours which made the appearance of this island even pleasanter. It belongs unfortunately to a population to whom all communication with foreigners is forbidden and which however keeps in slavery those who have the misfortune to be shipwrecked on its shores. Some of the Dutchmen from the ship ‘Sparrowhawk’ found the means, after 18  years’ captivity during which they received several beatings, of taking possession of a ship and getting to Japan, from which they went to Batavia and finally to Amsterdam. This story, which we had under our noses, was not conducive to us sending a boat to the shore from which we could see two canoes stand out. But they came no closer than a league away, and it is probable that they had no other object than to observe us and perhaps raise the alarm all along the coast of Korea.”
The Dutch named this island “Quelpaert” (today Cheju-do or Jeju-do) as they found that it had the shape of a galiote (a type of Dutch trading vessel) and “Quelpaert” is the slang word for these ships. Bernizet drew the coast, limited to the west by the peninsula marked ‘A’ on the map, a circular volcanic crater (Mount Ilchilbong, 180 metres high) linked to the coast by a narrow strip of land.
Having rounded Quelpaert Island to the east, Lapérouse stood into the Strait of Korea and preferred to sail along the Korean shore, less well known than the Japanese coast. “The channel that separates the coast of the continent from that of Japan may be 15 leagues wide; but it narrows to ten leagues because of rocks which, from Quelpaert Island, continue to line the western shore of Korea and which finally ended only when we had rounded the south-east tip of this peninsula; so that we were able to follow the continent very closely, [and] see houses and towns which are on the seaside, and to reconnoitre the entrance to the bays […] We counted a dozen champans [sampans] which sail along the coast. They did not seem to me to differ in any way from Chinese ones, their sails were similarly made from matting and the sight of our vessels seemed to cause them only very little dread; it is true that they were very close to shore and they would have had time to reach it before we should close with them, if our maneuvering had raised some suspicions. I would very much have liked them to have dared to come alongside us but they continued on their course without bothering with us. The sight that we provided to them, although very new, did not seem to excite their attention. I saw however at 11 o’clock two ships set sail to look us over, come as close as a league away, to follow us for two hours, and then return to the harbour from which they had set out in the morning. Thus it is probable that we had caused alarm along the coast of Korea, all the more so as in the afternoon, [signal] fires were seen on all the headlands.”
These coastal signals (smoke by day, fires at night) gave the alert and, if necessary, they were relayed from mountain to mountain as far as Seoul where there was a central station. The aim was to rapidly inform the capital of the arrival of a possible invader.
The “day of the 26th was one of the most beautiful of our journey and one of the most interesting from the plots that we had carried out of a coastal settlement of more than thirty leagues.“ Lapérouse named the eastern tip of Korea ‘Cap Clonard’, from the name of his second-in-command of La Boussole. The former Cape Janggi of the Japanese is, since 2001, Cape Homi, famous for its octagonal brick lighthouse, built in 1908 by a French architect. Taking advantage of this fame, the Koreans have set up a national museum there, devoted to lighthouses, and have developed a broad esplanade, the “Park of the Rising Sun” where, on the evening of 31st December, a big festival takes place to celebrate the first sunrise of the new year. Satisfied with his navigation, Lapérouse noted in his journal: “we had sailed past the most easterly part and had determined the most interesting stretch of the coast of Korea.” It was now time to turn east in the direction of Japan.
Dagelet Island (today Ulleung-do – read further)
On 27th May, approximately 20 leagues from the Korean coast, the French sighted a small wooded island which did not appear on any map. They baptized it ‘Dagelet Island’, for “our astronomer saw it first.’
This island, today named ‘Ulleung-do’, is the furthest outlying possession of South Korea. “It is scarcely more than three leagues in circumference: its north-east tip lies at 37o2’ north latitude, and 129o2’ east longitude. It has very steep slopes, [which are] covered from the summit to the water’s edge, with the most beautiful trees. A stretch of solid rock, almost as steep as a large wall, surrounds it completely, with the exception of seven small sandy coves in which it is possible to get ashore; it was in these coves that we saw, in a shipbuilding yard, boats of quite Chinese shape. The sight of our vessels, which passed with short cannon-shot, had doubtless frightened the workers, and they had fled into the woods which was no more than fifty paces from their yard. We saw, moreover, only a few huts without a village or any cultivation. Thus it is very likely that the Korean carpenters, who were only about twenty leagues from Dagelet Island, spend the summer on the island with provisions, to build boats there that they sell on the mainland. This opinion is almost a certainty as, after we had rounded the western tip, the workers in another shipyard who had not been able to see the ship, hidden by this headland, were surprised by us at work with their timber, building their boats; and we saw them flee into the forest, with the exception of two or three in whom we did not seem to inspire any fear. I wanted to find an anchorage to persuade these people by good deeds that we were not their enemy, but rather strong currents pushed us away from land. Night was starting to fall and I was forced to order my cutter, by signal, to return just as M. Boutin was going ashore, for fear that I would be borne to leeward and not be able to fetch him.” It was out of the question to take risks and Boutin returned on board. The exploration of Korean waters was finished. The expedition now made its way towards other unknown lands, in the Tartary Channel [Strait of Tartary].
The shipwreck of the Sperwer (1653)
The Sparrowhawk cited by Lapérouse was the Dutch vessel Sperwer, en route for Nagasaki, which was driven ashore by a storm on 16th August 1653, on the south-west of the island of Jeju-do. Forty metres long by 7.5 metres wide, this ship belonged to the Dutch East India Company (VOC; Vereenigde Oost‑Indische Compagnie). The 36 survivors, out of a crew of 64 men, were captured, sent to Seoul and forced to serve at the King’s court. In 1667, eight men escaped and reached Japan from which they reached Batavia. Upon his return to Amsterdam, the supercargo of the Sperwer, Hendrick Hamel, published his journal which, for more than a century, was the only description of the “Hermit Kingdom.”
Today, at Sanbangsan, a path goes down to the spectacular Yongmeori shore where a replica of the Sperwer has been built. Inside the ship, a permanent exhibition tells the story of 17th century Korea and Hamel’s adventure. The story of Hendrick Hamel, Relation du naufrage d’un vaisseau hollandais sur la côte de l’île de Quelpaert et description du royaume de Corée, was published in Dutch in 1668 and in French in 1670. It was republished by L’Harmattan in 1985.
Dagelet Island, by Dagelet
“You will see upon our return that, in spite of many annoyances, we have done many good things in the Seas of China and Japan. I can tell you that I own, without however wishing to live there, a small piece of land called Dagelet Island. Certainly, if I could exploit the fine timber that covers all parts of it, it would be an inexhaustible source of wealth; probably there are also gold mines there, that circumstances did not allow us to explore. Industry there is pushed to a rather high degree of perfection, it is there that Korean vessels are built and we saw several on the slips whose shape seemed to us to be very well designed and a long way from the beginning of such a wonderful art.”
Letter from Dagelet to Prévost, dated 21 June 1787, and sent from Kamchatka. Centenaire de la mort de Lapérouse, Paris, Société de Géographie, 1888.
This article, by Bernard Jimenez, appears by kind permission of the Editor, ‘Journal de bord’, journal of the members of the Association Lapérouse Albi-France. It appears in issue No65, Autumn 2015. Translated by Dr. William Land AM.
 The name ‘Straight of Korea’ appears for the first time on one of the maps (plate No 43) in the ‘Atlas du Voyage de Lapérouse’, Paris, Imprimerie nationale, 1797. All the British geographers of the 19th and 20th centuries have kept it as ‘Korea Strait’
 Charts based on compass readings and estimated distances drawn up by navigators at sea.
 Bibliothèque Mazarine, Ms 1546.
 In the inventory of the library on board, we find Découvertes dans les voyages de la mer du Nord, which must be Recueil de voyages au Nord [‘Collection of Voyages to the North (Sea), by Jean-Frédéric Bernard (1720) and Histoire générale des voyages [‘General History of Voyages’] by Abbé Prévost (1746). Both books include Hamel’s story.
 It was Hallasan, [Mount Halla] (1950 m), a volcanic cone that towers above the island.
 An old French measure equivalent to 6 feet approximately.
 A flat-bottom, seagoing sailing barge, with good sheer used in the small coasting trade of Germany, the Scandinavian countries and northern waters of Holland. It was keel-built with an overhanging clipper stem, and a round stern with vertical sternpost and outboard rudder. (René de Kerchove, International Maritime Dictionary, New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1983, pp.321-322.)
 On the « Carte des découvertes faites en 1787 dans les mers de Chine et de Tartarie […] 1ère feuille », plate No 43 in the Atlas, it is shown to the south of Cap Clonard as “ville et fort de Tso-Choui.” This is the Chinese name of the city of Ulsan, as it appears on the Jesuits’ map. The fort was built in the 16th century by the Japanese. A point of history (economic): it is at Ulsan that the tanker “Lapérouse” was built by Hyundai Heavy Industries. It belongs to the Géogaz Company and transports liquefied petroleum gas.
 The island was still named ‘Dagelet Island’ in the San Francisco Peace Treaty between the Allied Forces and Japan on 8 September 1951.
 It is reached by ferry from Pohang (3 hours).
 A person appointed by the owners of the cargo on a merchant ship whose business is to manage the sales or purchases of goods and to superintend all the commercial aspects of the voyage. (René de Kerchove, op.cit.,p.807)