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French in Australia

Discover the history of French in Australia dating from the arrival of the La Perouse expedition at Botany Bay in January 1788.

A sighting in Manila

A letter from Jean Baptiste Mongez to the Baron de Servieres reported an apparent sighting of the La Perouse expedition at Manila. Confusingly, one of the naturalists in La Perouse's crew was called Jean-Andre Mongez. It is not clear whether these men were related.

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The search

When nothing further was heard from La Perouse after the expedition had left Botany Bay, the French government issued orders to overseas ambassadors and officials to find the missing frigates. 

The following decrees were issued from Paris by the National Assembly and enacted by King Louis XVI in 1791. The first, which came into force on February 25, commands all overseas French consuls and ambassadors to use their contacts to seek information about the missing ships. The National Assembly even offers a reward for any information leading to news about La Perouse.

The second decree was enacted on May 4. It states that the maps and information reported by the La Perouse expedition will be published at the government's expense. Any profits will be returned to La Perouse's wife as a token of the nation's gratitude to the esteemed explorer.

Loi relative a M. de la Peyrouse : et a l'impression des cartes, lui envoyees, donnee a Paris, le 4 Mai, 1791.

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D'Entrecasteaux's expedition

A search party commanded by Rear Admiral Joseph Antoine Bruni d'Entrecasteaux was commissioned by the French government to search for the lost ships of La Perouse. D'Entrecasteaux followed the proposed path of La Perouse through the Pacific islands north west of Australia. Although d'Entrecasteaux failed to find any trace of La Perouse, he and his crew carried out important scientific research and exploration in the Pacific, south western Australia and Tasmania.

An account of the voyage was published in about 1799 by Jacques Labillardiere, botanist on the d'Entrecasteaux expedition. Selected plates appear below.

> View the entire published volume via the Library's online catalogue

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Popular culture

The French public had already been fascinated by the explorations of La Perouse and his crew, but their complete disappearance added to the romance and intrigue of the story. The sensational tale was popularised both in France and in Britain, by several fictionalised books and plays, which explored the possible fate of the expedition.

An example from the collections of the State Library of NSW is the 1801 book below, The life of La Perouse which was later adapted for the stage.

The broadside at the bottom of the page advertises an 1827 performance of this play called The desolate island.

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French in Australia is made possible through a partnership with Sofitel.

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