The history of the French in Australia dates from the arrival of the La Perouse expedition at Botany Bay in January 1788, just days after the landing of the First Fleet, and French people have been living in Australia almost ever since.

The French who came to Australia after 1788, generally came in search of opportunity or new horizons.

The State Library of New South Wales' collections are rich in the records of early French explorers of Australia and the Pacific region. But these well known tales of imperial adventure and competition are only a small part of the more extensive and enduring story of French association with, and contribution to, Australia.

First contact

The First Fleet's departure from Plymouth in 1787 sparked considerable interest in France.  Two French ships commanded by Jean-Francois de Galaup, Comte de la Perouse, arrived on 24 January 1788, as the First Fleet was setting sail for Port Jackson. Seven weeks later his ships, L' Astrolabe and La Boussole, sailed out of Botany Bay, and La Perouse was never heard from again.

The search for the missing La Perouse led to several other French naval expeditions to Australia and the Pacific in the first half of the 19th century. As well as looking for the missing explorers, these expeditions undertook important scientific and cultural research on behalf of the French nation. The official publications recording these voyages were exceptionally comprehensive and exquisite in the quality of their artwork. Many of the names of these French naval and scientific men are still known to us today, including Joseph Antoine Bruni d'Entrecasteaux, Jacques Labillardiere, Nicolas Baudin, Louis de Freycinet and Dumont D'Urville.

Louis XVI giving final instructions to the Comte de la Perouse, 1785, 1911 / painted by Edouard Nuel
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French in Australia is made possible through a partnership with Sofitel.