Jean-François de Galaup comte de La Pérouse

1741 - c1788

By Samuel Stephenson

(Edited by Douglas Fix)


Jean-François La Pérouse was born in Albi, France in 1871. He attended naval academy at an early age and developed an intense interest in past navigators.(1)

La Pérouse was appointed midshipman on 19 November 1756 at the age of 15 or 16. He participated in eight campaigns in the following eight years, gaining the attention of his superiors by his exemplary service.(2)

La Pérouse was commissioned a captain on 11 April 1780 and was put in command of the frigate Astrée. In 1781, he led an assault on British forces in Hudson Bay, distinguishing himself as an exceptional tactician, leader, and navigator.(3) In 1782, he further captured and destroyed Fort Prince of Wales and York Factory. Samuel Hearne, who was then governor of Fort Prince of Wales, had saved his private journals from the destruction of the battle, and La Pérouse allowed him to keep the journals on the condition that they be published.(4)

After returning from these expeditions, La Pérouse began to make plans for a trip around the world. The expedition was organized by King Louis XVI, Charles-Pierre Claret, Comte de Fleurieu, and La Pérouse himself. Ostensibly, it was intended as a scientific expedition, displaying the glory of France. However, it was also aimed at discovering new lands, assessing their military significance, and establishing commercial relations overseas. La Pérouse was assisted by Captain de Langle; he was supplied with two ships, the Boussole and the Astrolabe, sufficient supplies, and a host of scientific specialists.(5)

The expedition set sail from Frest on 1 August 1785, traveling across the Atlantic, around the tip of South America, and up the west coast of the Americas, eventually making its way to modern day Alaska, where La Pérouse founded Port-des-Francais (Litya Bay, Alaska).(6)

From there, the expedition traveled further west and down the eastern coast of China, eventually arriving in Anping, Formosa and dropping anchor outside of Taiwanfoo on 27 April 1787. Here La Pérouse took note of the old Dutch Fort Zelandia and wrote briefly about the strategic importance of the island and the military force necessary to capture it.(7)

After departing from Formosa, the two ships under La Pérouse' command sailed to Botany Bay, Australia, where they arrived on 21 January 1788. While in port, La Pérouse mailed off all of the notes and letters that he had accumulated up to that point. After leaving Botany Bay, the expedition was lost at sea and, despite the efforts of a search party led by General D'Entrecasteaux in 1791, nothing more was ever known of the disappearance of La Pérouse and the two ships under his command.(8)

Selected Publications

The voyage of La Pérouse round the world, in the years 1785, 1786, 1787, and 1788, with nautical tables. Translated from the French. Illustrated with fifty-one plates in two volumes. London: Printed for John Stockdate, Piccadilly, 1798.


1. Valentine, F., Voyages and Adventures of La Pérouse, J.S. Grassner, trans. (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1969), p. xv.

2. Ibid., p. xvi.

3. Ibid., p. xvii.

4. The Oxford companion to Canadian history and literature, Norah Story, ed. (Toronto, London, New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 432-433.

5. Valentine 1969, p. xviii; The Oxford companion, p. 433; Otness, Harold M., One thousand westerners in Taiwan, to 1945: A biographical and bibliographical dictionary ([Taipei]: Institute of Taiwan History, Preparatory Office, Academia Sinica, 1999), pp. 95-96.

6. Valentine 1969, p. xxvii; The Oxford Companion, p. 433.

7. Otness 1999, pp. 95-96; G.W. Carrington, Foreigners in Formosa 1841-1874 (San Francisco: Chinese Materials Center, 1978), p. 9.

8. Valentine 1969, p. xix; The Oxford companion, p. 433.