1785 – August, Brest: ‘In 1785 Louis XVI quietly sent the Comte de la Perouse with two ships La Boussole & L’Astrolabe to survey likely spots for French settlements. Aboard were copper plates engraved with the royal arms to be used as permanent notification of French ownership’. Australian Discovery and Exploration, Michael Cannon, 1987  

Jean-Francois Galaup de La Perouse took with him a well thumbed copy of geographer Charles de Brosses’s Historie de Navigations aux Terra Australes. The scholarly two (2) volume work published in 1756 summarized Pacific voyages of exploration to that date.

1787 – 13 May, Portsmouth: Captain Arthur Phillip RN, in command of a large squadron of eleven (11) ships known in Britain and Australia as the ‘First Fleet’, sailed from England to invade and occupy the island continent of New Holland, now Australia.

Phillip had a well thumbed copy of Terra Australis Cognita, History of Navigation to the Southern Oceans. An English translation of Charles Brosses’s work plagariazed by John Callender that hit London’s streets in 1766.

1788 – 18/20 January, Botany Bay: The ‘First Fleet’, after a voyage of eight (8) months traversing 13,000 (21,000 km) of ‘imperfectly explored oceans’, made landfall in Botany Bay. An elated Arthur Phillip had succeeded in what he knew to be his primary objective – occupying New Holland before the French. But it was a close thing.

‘When leaving Botany Bay Phillip noted two French ships in the offing’. British Colonial Policy, Hugh E. Egerton, Methuen, 1928

1788 – 23 January, Botany Bay: L’Astrolabe and La Boussole, arrived off the entrance to Botany Bay. Phillip knew of the two (2) ships and Jean-Francois La Perouse their commander. In all probability Phillip had shadowed their departure  from Brest Harbour in August 1785.

Wild winds and a ‘prodigious swell’ forced La Perouse sail south to seek shelter at Sutherland.

‘Phillip was alarmed…he ordered a party to be sent to Point Sutherland to hoist English colours. He also stipulated that the [proposed] move to Port Jackson be kept secret, and that no one was to go on board the French  ships’. John Moore, The First Fleet Marines 1786-1792, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1987 

1788 – 24 January, Port Jackson: At dawn Phillip, anxious to put distance between himself and the French, boarded HMS Supply. Shrouded by mist and rain Supply made a dash for Sydney Cove sheltered deep within Port Jackson nine (9) miles (18 km) north of Botany Bay.

There Phillip, in order to stymie any possible challenge by the French raised ‘English Colours’ the Union Jack – from a hastily erected flag-staff.

1788 – 26 January, Botany Bay: Foul weather held up the English  fleet’s departure until the 26th January when they made a somewhat chaotic, dangerous exit that very nearly cost them at least two (2) ships and many lives.

‘The Prince of Wales and the Friendship collided heavily and carried away the Friendship’s jib boom; then the Charlotte ran into the Friendship and both ships nearly ended up on the rocks’. John Moore. ibid.

Captain John Hunter RN commander of HMS Sirius was last to leave Botany Bay. Hunter remained to assist the French ships negotiate the bay’s treacherous cross-currents to a secure anchorage off Bare Island at a spot known now as Frenchmens Bay.

1788 – 26 January, Sydney Cove:  ‘In such a way Australia was founded’. John Moore in setting the scene quotes from the journal of marine Lieutenant Ralph Clark of the Sydney Garrison.

‘A firing party of marines formed up and fired a feu de joie, in between the volleys of which, toasts were drunk to His Majesty George III, the royal family, and success to the new colony’.

Captain Arthur Phillip RN and Commander Jean-Francois La Perouse, on opposing sides in peace and war never met. Phillip  knew a great deal about La Perouse while the Frenchman probably had little if any knowledge of Phillip.

‘…his [Phillip’s] failure to invite the French commander there [Port Jackson] may reflect some fear that the might be known as a spy’. Alan Frost, Arthur Phillip 1738 -1814, His Voyaging, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1987

How was it that Phillip  knew so much about La Perouse? Arthur Phillip, son of an English mother and a German language teacher, joined Britain’s Secret Service in 1770. Fluent in French German, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese he was a particularly effective spy.

‘There would seem to be ‘some justification for the saying that England won Australia by six days’. Edward Jenks, History of the Australian Colonies, cited in British Colonial Policy, Hugh E. Egerton. ibid

1788 – 10 March, Botany Bay: The French ships and their gallant commander sailed for France but sadly they were never seen again.


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