Monsieur de la Perouse
FRANCE becoming jealous of the renown acquired by the English circumnavigators, determined to send out an expedition, which, in its scientific equipments, should vie with them in every respect. Two ships were appointed to this service, the Boussole and Astrolabe, the former commanded by La Perouse, the latter by M. de Langle, both captains in the navy, and men of considerable attainments, besides being assisted by men of science and artists. The voyage is interesting as far as it goes; but, unfortunately, the ships, after quitting Botany Bay, in 1788, have never since been heard of, to the regret of all lovers of science and humanity, on account not only of the acquirements but amiable character of the commanders.
On the first of August, 1785, they quitted Brest, and, on the 13th, reached Madeira; they saw Teneriffe on the 19th, and on the 16th of October, the island of Trinidada, barren, rocky, and with a violent surf breaking on the shores, where refreshments not being obtainable, the commander steered for St. Catharine's on the Brazil coast.
This island is extremely fertile, producing all sorts of fruit, vegetables, and corn, almost spontaneously. It is covered with trees of everlasting green, but they are so curiously interwoven with plants and briars, that it is impossible to pass through the forests without opening a path with a hatchet; to add to the difficulty, danger is also to be apprehended from snakes whose bite is mortal. The habitations are bordering on the sea. The woods are delightfully fragrant, occasioned by the orange-trees, and other odoriferous plants and shrubs, which form a part of them.
On the 14th of January the navigators struck ground on the coast of Patagonia. On the 25th, La Perouse took bearings a league to the southward of Cape San Diego forming the west point of the straits of Lemaire. On the 9th of February, he was abreast of the straits of Magellan. Examining the quantity of provisions he had on board, La Perouse discovered he had very little flour and bread left in store; having been obliged to leave a hundred barrels at Brest. The worms had also taken possession of the biscuits, and consumed or rendered useless a fifth part of them. Under these circumstances, La Perouse preferred Conception to the island of Juan Fernandez. The Bay of Conception in Chili is a most excellent harbor; the water is smooth, and almost without any current, though the tide rises six feet three inches.
At daybreak, on the 15th of March, La Perouse made the signal to prepare to sail. On the 17th, about noon, a light breeze sprung up, with which he got under way. On the 8th of April, about noon, they saw Easter Island. The Indians were alarmed, except a few who had a kind of slight wooden club. Some of them assumed an apparent superiority over the others, which induced La Perouse to consider the former as chiefs, but he soon discovered that these selected persons were the most notorious offenders. Having but a few hours to remain upon the island, and wishing to employ his time to the best advantage, La Perouse left the care of the tent, and other particulars, to his first lieutenant M. d'Escures. A division was then made of the persons engaged in the Adventure; one part, under the command of M. de Langle, was to penetrate into the interior of the island to encourage and promote vegetation, by disseminating seed, etc., in a proper soil; and the other division undertook to visit the monuments, plantations, and habitations, within the compass of a league of the establishment. The largest of the rude busts upon one of the terraces is fourteen feet six inches in height, and the breadth and other particulars appeared to be proportionate.
Returning about noon to the tent, La Perouse found almost every man. without hat or handkerchief; so much had forbearance encouraged the audacity of the thieves, that he also experienced a similar depredation. An Indian, who had assisted him in descending from a terrace, rewarded himself for his trouble by taking away his hat. Some of them had dived under water, cut the small cable of the Astrolabe's boat, and taken away her grapnel. A sort of chief, to whom M. de Langle made a present of a male and female goat, received, the animals with one hand, and robbed him of his handkerchief with the other.
On the 28th of May, they saw the mountains of Owhyhee, covered with snow, and afterwards those of Mowee, which are less elevated. About one hundred and fifty canoes were seen putting off from the shore, laden with fruit and hogs, which the Indians proposed to exchange for pieces of iron of the French navigators. Most of them came on board of one or the other of the vessels, but they proceeded so fast through the water that they filled along-side. The Indians were obliged to quit the ropes thrown them, and leaping into the sea, swam after their hogs, when taking them in their arms, they emptied their canoes of the water, and resumed their seats.