Friday, May 30, 2014

Jean François de Galaup, comte de LaPérouse

“… the island of Mowhee (Maui) looked delightful …. We could see waterfalls tumbling down the mountainside into the sea …  the trees crowning the mountains, the greenery, the banana trees we could see around the houses, all this gave rise to a feeling of inexpressible delight.”

“… the waves were breaking wildly against the rocks and, like new Tantaluses, we were reduced to yearning, devouring with our eyes what was beyond our reach.”  (The first sight of Maui, as described by LaPérouse, May 30, 1786)

What LaPérouse saw, sailing down the coast from Hāna, and where he eventually landed, was known to the ancients as Keoneʻōʻio (“bonefish sand.”)

In this area, permanent Hawaiian occupation was based on use of marine resources and dryland crops (primarily ʻuala (sweet potato)) in mauka areas. Fish and other marine resources were important staples – as the name suggests, ʻōʻio (bonefish) were once abundant.  (DLNR)

In 1786, La Perouse noted as many as five villages in the area, each with 10 to 12 thatched houses. Those living at the shore focused primarily on fishing and had comparatively easy access to potable water at shoreline springs. The residents traveled between the uplands and the coast to trade products.

By the mid-1840s land use in Honuaʻula transitioned from primarily traditional subsistence to agricultural business activities.  An estimated 150-people were living at Keoneʻōʻio in 1853.  (DLNR)

The Bay is now more commonly called LaPérouse Bay, named after the first foreign visitor to the island of Maui.

Jean François de Galaup, comte de LaPérouse was born August 22, 1741, the eldest son of a well-to-do middle-class family of landowners from Albi in Southern France (Lapérouse was the name of a family property that he added to his name.)  (Dunmore)

After an early education at the Jesuit College in Albi, at the age of 15, he joined the French Navy.  Almost immediately, he was engaged in the struggle between France and England in Canada and was taken prisoner by the British at the disastrous naval battle of Quiberon Bay; he spent two-years in captivity.

Repatriated from England, he was posted again to sea duties; for five years he was engaged in defense of the French possessions in the Indian Ocean – again, in the rivalry between France and England.

Then, the American Revolutionary War began (1775–1783.)  In 1778, the French, through Treaty of Alliance, entered on the side of the Americans and provided military support to the Colonies.

As part of this support, in 1782, LaPérouse was given a commission to destroy British installations in the Hudson Bay compounds in Canada.  He captured three ships and conquered the forts.  However, in doing so, as a sign of his benevolent intentions, he did not destroy their food supply (providing the means for the conquered British to survive the Canadian winter.)

After the signing of the Treaty of Versailles (ending the American Revolutionary War for the foreign allies,) France’s King Louis XVI supported a French expedition around the world.  Interested in geography, and eagerly following the voyages of Captain Cook, he decided to send an exhibition on a voyage of discovery that would rival the achievements of Cook.  (LaPerouse Museum)

LaPérouse left the French port of Brest in August 1785 and headed south.  In the next 2 ½-years, his ships L’Astrolabe and La Boussole would sail many thousands of miles and cross the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans several times.

Two of the King’s personal instruction read as follows:
“On all occasions, Sieur de LaPérouse will act with great gentleness and humanity towards the different peoples whom he will visit during the course of the voyage.”

“His majesty will consider it as one of the happiest events of the expedition if it should end without costing the life of a single man.”

LaPerouse’s journal while at Maui notes he honored the first instruction: “Although the French are the first to have stepped onto the island of Mowee (Maui) in recent times, I did not take possession of it in the King’s name.”

“This European practice is too utterly ridiculous, and philosophers must reflect with some sadness that, because one has muskets and canons, one looks upon 60,000 inhabitants as worth northing, ignoring their rights over a land where for centuries their ancestors have been buried, which they have watered with their sweat, and whose fruits they pick to bring them as offerings to the so-called new landlords.”

“Modern navigators have no other purpose when they describe the customs of newly discovered people than to complete the story of mankind. Their navigation must round off our knowledge of the globe, and the enlightenment which they try to spread has no other aim than to increase the happiness of the islanders they meet”.  (LaPérouse)

LaPérouse stayed at Maui for only two days. He then sailed westward passing between Kahoʻolawe and Lānaʻi and into the channel between Molokaʻi and Oʻahu.

The places the expedition visited between 1785 and 1788 included Alaska, California, Hawaiʻi, Korea, Japan, Russia, Tahiti, Samoa and finally the east coast of Australia.

Unfortunately, the King Louis XVI’s second instruction was not met.

The last official sighting of the LaPérouse expedition was in March 1788 when British lookouts stationed at the South Head of Port Jackson saw the expedition sail from Botany Bay. The expedition was wrecked on the reefs of Vanikoro in the Solomon Islands during a cyclone sometime during April or May 1788.

A monument to LaPérouse stands at Keoneʻōʻio that reads:
On May 30th, 1786
French Admiral Jean-Francois Galaup Comte De LaPérouse,
Commanding The Two Frigates La Boussole And L'astrolabe,
Was The First Known European Navigator To Land
At Keoneʻoʻio Also Called LaPérouse Bay On The Island Of Maui.
Donated By The Friends Of LaPérouse On May 30th 1994

Other memorials in other parts of the Pacific also honor LaPérouse; in addition, there are many places named for LaPérouse, including LaPérouse Bay, Maui, and two other LaPérouse Bays in Canada and the Easter Islands - and, even a crater on the moon.

The area near Keoneʻōʻio is now the ʻAhihi-Kinaʻu Natural Area Reserve, the first designated Natural Area Reserve in Hawaiʻi in 1973. The 1,238 acres contain marine ecosystems (807-submerged acres – the only NAR that includes the ocean,) anchialine ponds and lava fields from the last eruption of Haleakala 200-500-years ago.

The image shows L’Astrolabe and La Boussole at anchor at Maui, 1786.  In addition, I have included other related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.

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