CAPTAIN ARTHUR PHILLIP & COMTE JEAN-FRANCOIS A BAND OF BROTHERS AND MORTAL ENEMIES

‘All was set in the mid-eighteenth century scene, the contest between Great Britain and the Bourbon powers…different branches of the family of Louis XVI…for sea supremacy and oceanic empire, which was the background of the life of every sailor of Cook’s Age’. J.A Williamson, Cook and the Opening of the Pacific, Hodder & Stoughton , London 1946

The race for New Holland was on and Britain missed the jump

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

A Band of Brothers: Captain Arthur Phillip RN and Comte Jean-Francois La Pèrouse never met. On opposing sides in war and peace yet as men of the sea they shared a strong bond. Phillip knew a great deal about La Pèrouse and it is impossible to believe he did not admire the gallant Frenchman who had a deserved reputation for compassion.

1787 – 13 May, England: A large armed convoy of eleven (11) ships with a complement of upwards of 1500 souls, commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip RN sailed from Portsmouth, England on 13th May 1787 to invade the island continent of New Holland.

Fully funded by government the ‘First Fleet’ was an invasion fleet; ‘but not a hint of it shall ever transpire’. Historical Records of Australia. Anon.

1788 – 18/20 January, Botany Bay: After eight (8) months voyaging across 13,000 miles (21,000 km) of ‘imperfectly explored oceans’ the English ships found safe anchorage in Botany Bay between 18 to 20 January 1788.

1788 – 23 January, Botany Bay: Three (3) days later – 23 January – La Perouse’s ships La Boussole and L’Astrolabe,  stood off the entrance to Botany Bay but strong winds and churning seas forced them south to seek shelter at Point Sutherland.

1788 – 24 January, Port Jackson: Captain Phillip aboard HMS Supply quit Botany Bay and sailed north nine (9) miles (14 km) north to Sydney Cove; situated deep – he estimated ‘four (4) miles – within Port Jackson where ‘a Thousand Sail of the Line may ride in the most perfect Security’.

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

1788 – 26 January, Sydney Cove: Treacherous weather held up the fleet’s departure until 26 January when, despite sudden wind shifts that could have cost three (3) ships – Charlotte, Friendship, Prince of Wales – and many lives, the fleet managed a dramatic exit from Botany Bay.

1788 – 26 January, Botany Bay: By late afternoon, seas having abated somewhat, John Hunter RN captain of HMS Sirius the last English ship to leave, guided L’Astrolabe and La Boussole to safe anchorage in Botany Bay at a spot known now as Frenchmens Bay.

‘They [English] offered…every assistance he [Hunter] could give, adding however that circumstances allowed them to give us neither food nor ammunition nor sail. And since they were on the point of weighing anchor to go further to [Sydney Cove] their kind remarks amounted merely to good wishes for the ultimate success of our voyage’. John Dunmore, The Life of Jean-Francois de La Perouse, Where Fate Beckons, 2006

1788 – 26 January, Sydney Cove: Just on sun-set, with the English fleet assembled, Captain, now Governor Arthur Phillip, raised the Union Jack of Queen Anne and, without consent, claimed British sovereignty over New Holland and its Peoples.

The supply position of the ‘First Fleet’ was dire almost immediately on disembarkation Phillip was forced to reduce the ration issue. His responsibility – survival of 1500 Englishmen – was absolute, leaving no room for generosity. But who could doubt Phillip’s deep concern for La Pèrouse and his men?

1788 – 1 February, Botany Bay: Governor Phillip sent Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN his trusted friend together with Marine Lieutenant William Dawes, the fleet’s chief scientific officer, across to Botany Bay with a wish-list of support for the  Frenchmen.

‘After delivering my message to him, he [La Pèrouse] returned his thanks to Governor Phillip, and made similar offers to those he had received’. Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN, First Fleet Journal, February 1788.

La Perouse, via Captain Hunter, was well aware of Phillip’s parlous supply position and reciprocated in like manner.

King’s journal records a touching charade; ‘he [La Perouse] returned his thanks to Governor Phillip and made similar offers to those he had received’. Cited, Alan Frost, Arthur Phillip 1738-1814 His Voyaging, Melbourne University Press

French and English honour satisfied Lieutenants King and Dawes stayed on Boussole; over dinner and long into the night, La Perouse related the highs and lows of a wide-ranging, exciting but difficult voyage.

THE BACK STORY

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. Cannon. ibid.

1785 – 1 August, France: Come Jean-Francois La Perouse in La Boussole and Paul-Antoine Fleuriot, Viscount de Langle at the helm of L’Astrolabe worked a difficult exit from Brest Harbour.

1786 – June, Alaska:  While engaged in hunting fur-seal at Lituya Bay La Perouse lost twenty-one (21) crew to hypothermia when, two (2) long boats caught in a strong current, rolled tipping the men into freezing waters.

1787 – 6 September, Siberia: After criss-crossing the world’s oceans the Frenchmen fetched up at Petropavlovsk – St Peter and St Paul ‘edged onto the empty wastes of Siberia. The main town indeed only town of Kamchatka on the edge of Asia…was the furthest possession of the Russian Empire;

[its people] were extremely hospitable, even overwhelming in their welcome, but distressed to find no mail awaited them; luckily their bitterness was short-lived [for] a courier rode in from Okhosk with the missing mail packets’. John Dunmore, The Life of Jean-Francois de La Perouse, Where Fate Beckons, 2006 

Kamchatka – the courier delivered La Perouse instructions to make for Botany Bay with all possible speed.

‘Among the dispatches was an important letter from the Minister of Marine [Castries]…The British were apparently planning a settlement in New South Wales in eastern Australia…He [La Perouse] advised Castries on the 28 [September 1787] he would make for Botany Bay without delay…All being well he should be there within three months’. Dumore. op. cit.

1787 – October: La Boussole and L’Astrolabe put to sea in October but all did not go well. La Perouse was able to explain to King and Dawes why he ordered a defensive stockade be erected at Botany Bay and why the French were so very wary of local Bidjigal Aborigines.

1787 – 11 December, Samoa:  In need of fresh water, some sixty (60) French crew went ashore at Tutuila, Samoa part of the Navigator group  of islands.

But all went wrong, they clashed with local tribesmen. Heavy clubs and large stones caused havoc; smashing heads injuring many and leaving eleven (11) Frenchmen dead on the sand, among them de Langle L’Astrolabe’s captain. As for French retaliation accounts vary.

1788 – 23 January, Botany Bay: Lieutenant Clonard was given command of Astrolabe the survivors made their escape and sailed south arriving at Botany Bay on 23 January 1788.

1788 – 10 March: The French departed for France and were never heard of again.

Although Governor Phillip could not give La Pèrouse supplies or ammunition he was able to render the French nation an invaluable service. See: Asleep In the Deep – Merchant Men of the First Fleet

‘By Alexander…Lieutenant Shortland is likewise charged with a box of letters from Monsieur La Perouse for the French Ambassador’. Governor Phillip to Under-Secretary Nepean, July 10th 1788, Historical Records of New South Wales.

1789 – 26 June, France: Despite tensions and difficulties existing between Britain and France, La Pèrouse’s ‘box of letters’ was faithfully delivered. A report of the ‘tragic events…[appeared] in the Journal de Paris on 26 June 1789′.

EPILOGUE

‘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, Metheun, 1928

1788 – 3 February, Sydney Cove: On returning from their visit to La Perouse Lieutenants King and Dawes reported immediately to Governor Phillip with astounding news. After leaving Samoa and setting a southerly course La Perouse made a big mistake –  two (2) unsuccessful attempts to land on Norfolk Island.

Mortal Enemies: This story would have been different ending if, when the ‘First Fleet’ reached Botany Bay, they found the French flag flying and ‘copper plates engraved with the royal arms [as] permanent notification of French ownership’ nailed to a tree.

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THE BACK STORY

‘Under Louis XIV [1643-1715] France emerged as the most formidable kingdom in Europe’. C.J. Bartlett, Professor International History, University of Dundee. Cited in Oxford Companion to British History.

The 1700s were a time of intense international  rivalry between England, France, Spain and the Dutch. In the 1760s for example Captain Wallis raised the English flag over Tahiti only to have the claim challenged by Spain and that claim usurped by France.

1770 – 22 August, Possession Island: In 1770 Lieutenant James Cook RN, at the Gulf of Carpentaria in New Holland’s far north, claimed ‘discovery’ of the entire eastern coast-line; ‘from Cape York to….South Cape’ in the name King George III of England.

1772 – West Australia: ‘In 1772 Francois de St Allouran…landed on an island in Shark Bay, raised a flag and took possession of Western Australia’. Michael Cannon. ibid. 

1775 – April, Lexington: Britain went to war with her American colonists – War of American Independence (1775-1783)  and lost to rebel Patriots led by General George Washington.

1783 – September, Paris: Under terms of the Treaty of Versailles – 3 September 1783 – Britain lost her ‘thirteen middle colonies’ and off-shore prison.

1783 – England: Britain, stung by loss of Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia her ’empire in the west’, was disturbed by France’s resurgent influence in Europe and India

France who supported America’s rebels and, on the back of that success, revived interest in the southern Oceans and New Holland in particular.

1783 – France, January: Louis XVI (1774-1791) established a committee in 1783 under Marine Minister Castries charged with organising an ambitious scientific and exploratory maritime expedition to include both Pacific and Arctic Oceans.

The committee’s chief advisor was Louis-Antoine de Bougainville a noted mathematician and, in 1769, the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the globe. During that voyage he mapped New Holland’s north-east coastline and Great Barrier Reef but unlike Captain Cook did not land.

If in 1783 Bougainville had pressed interest in the southern oceans France would have occupied the east coat of Australia well before the Englishmen of the ‘First Fleet’. See: A Tale of Two Cities Quebec 1759 – Sydney 1788

An overly ambitious French king hoped the voyage modelled on those of James Cook and, projected similarly to take three (3) years, would advance the glory of France by succeeding in Arctic waters where Cook had hoped but failed to find the fabled North-West Passage.

‘In 1785 Louis XVI quietly sent the Come 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 

1785 – January, Toulon: Arthur Phillip arrived in France in January 1785 just as Jean-Francois La Perouse was selected to lead the French expedition. Phillip spent most of 1785 ‘on holiday…surveying, making observations of French ports’ reporting his findings to the Admiralty.

1785 – 1 August, France: Phillip no doubt hidden in shadow watched as La Perouse, in La Boussole and L’Astrolabe with Paul-Antoine Fleuriot, Viscount de Langle at the helm, work a difficult exit from Brest Harbour on a voyage projected to take three (3) years.

Phillip an exceptionally effective spy returned to England fully informed of King Louis’ ambition and La Perouse’s plans.

1786 – Brazil: Phillip was in Rio keeping track of La Perouse when informed the race for New Holland was on and he was to lead an expeditionary force into the Southern Oceans.

1786 – 12 October, London:We, reposing especial trust and confidence in your loyalty, courage, and experience in military affairs, do, by these presents constitute and appoint you to be Governor of our territory called New South Wales’. King George III to Arthur Phillip, 12 October 1786

1787 – 13 May, England: The ‘First Fleet’, an expeditionary force of eleven (11) ships under command of Captain Arthur Phillip RN, sailed from Portsmouth to invade the island continent of New Holland.

1788 – 18/20 January, Botany Bay:  After a voyage of eight (8) months voyaging across 13,000 miles (21,000 km) of ‘imperfectly explored oceans’ the Britain’ armed convoy arrived at Botany Bay in  mid- January 1788.

1788 – 23 January: After what proved to be a long difficult voyage La Boussole and L’Astrolable arrived off the entrance to Botany Bay on 23 January 1788.

‘It is much to the credit of those in office that an empire has been founded in the south, which time will render much superior that which their predecessors have lost in the west [America]’. Historical Records of New South Wales. Anon.

Britain by the smallest of margins won the race for New Holland thereby establishing ‘sea-supremacy’ over alternate strategic and trade routes to and from India and Asia via the Southern Oceans – an ‘oceanic empire’.

1788 – 10 March, Botany Bay: The French ships departed for France on 10 March 1788 and were never seen again.

EPILOGUE

 

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

1788: 1 February, Botany Bay: Governor Phillip sent his trusted friend, Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN and Marine Lieutenant William Dawes, the fleet’s senior scientific officer, to Botany Bay with a wish-list of support for the French..

La Perouse well aware of Phillip’s parlous supply position reciprocated in like manner. King’s journal records a touching charade; ‘he returned his thanks to Governor Phillip, and made similar offers to those he had received’. Frost. ibid.

English and French honour satisfied, Lieutenants King and Dawes accepted ‘Monsieiur La Peyrouse’s invitation to pass the day with him’. As they dined aboard La Boussole La Perouse related the highs and lows of his voyage’s troubled history.

1786 – June, Alaska: At Lituya Bay Alaska, while engaged in hunting fur-seal, La Pèrouse lost twenty-one (21) crew to hypothermia when two (2) long boats caught in strong currents rolled tipping the men into freezing waters.

After criss-crossing the world’s oceans La Boussole and L’Astrolabe fetched up at the edge of Siberia.

1787  – 6 September, Kamchatka: The French reached Petropavlovsk  – St Peter and St Paul – early in September 1787; ‘[it] edged onto the empty wastes of Siberia….the main indeed only town of Kamchatka ‘on the edge of Asia…was the furthest possessions of the Russian Empire’.

[Its people] ‘were extremely hospitable, even overwhelming in their welcome’, but distressed to find no mail awaited them; luckily their bitterness was short-lived [for] a courier rode in from Okhosk with the missing mail packets’. Dumore. ibid.

The courier delivered La Pèrouse instruction to make for Botany Bay will all possible speed.

‘Among the dispatches was an important letter from [Castries] the Minister of Marine…The British were apparently planning a settlement in New South Wales in eastern Australia…He [La Perouse] advised Castries on the 28th [September 1787] he would make for Botany Bay without delay…All being well he should be there within three months’. Dunmore. ibid.

But all did not go well and La Perouse was able to explain to King and Dawes why he had ordered a defensive stockade built at Botany Bay and why the French were so very wary of local Bidjigal Aborigines.

1787 – 11 December, Samoa: Six (6) week earlier – 11 December 1787 – at Samoa, part of the Navigator Islands, a large number some sixty (60)  Frenchmen went ashore at Tutuila to fill barrels with fresh water.

They clashed with local tribesmen whose clubs and large stones caused havoc smashing heads, injuring many and leaving eleven  (11) Frenchmen dead on the sand, among them L’Astrolabe’s captain Viscount de Langle. As for French retaliation accounts vary.

Lieutenant Clonard was given command of L’Astrolabe. The survivors made their escape sailing south making at least two (2) unsuccessful attempts to land on Norfolk Island but pounding surf’ kept them at bay, so they continued south arriving at Botany Bay on 23 January 1788.

EPILOGUE

1788 – 31 July, Sydney Cove: Lieutenant Shortland in the returning transport Alexander in company with Friendship departed Sydney at the end of July 1788 taking with him Governor Phillip’s despatches and La Pèrouse’s documentation. See: An Evacuation – Saving Lieutenant William Collins  

1789 -3 June, England: Shortland delivered the French papers to the Admiralty in June 1789..

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1763 – England: Phillip married Charlotte Denison in 1763 and settled down as a gentleman-farmer on his wife’s estate at Lyndhurst in Hampshire’s New Forest.

1769 – England: The pair divorced in 1769 about that time Phillip, son of a German language teacher and, fluent in French German Dutch Spanish and Portuguese, was recruited into Britain’s Secret Service, most probably by the Admiralty’s Lord Sandwich a fellow linguist.

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