Exposition permanenteMusée MaritimeThe golden age of sea travel

Conference in english by Garrick Hitchcock

Thursday Dec 7 2017, at 6pm, free entrance

The final fate of the La Pérouse expedition is a mystery. In 1788 the frigates L’Astrolabe and La Boussole were wrecked on Vanikoro in the Solomon Islands. According to Vanikoro oral tradition, after approximately six months the survivors departed the island in a two-masted boat constructed from wreckage of L’Astrolabe and timber hewn from the forest. They were never seen again. An 1818 Indian newspaper article and 1825 letter can perhaps shed light on the fate of the Vanikoro escape vessel. These documents relate the 1818 rescue in Torres Strait of a lascar named Shaik Jumaul, a castaway for four years on Murray Island (Mer). While in Torres Strait he saw weapons and navigational instruments he recognised as ‘differently made from English’. The Murray Islanders informed him that these objects came from the crew of a vessel wrecked on the nearby Great Barrier Reef some three decades earlier. No European ship is known to have been lost in Torres Strait in that period. Shaik Jumaul’s account points to the possibility that the La Pérouse expedition ended tragically in northern Australia.

 Dr Garrick Hitchcock is Melbourne-based anthropologist specialising in New Guinea and Torres Strait. He is Honorary Senior Lecturer in the School of Culture, History and Language at The Australian National University. An article by Dr Hitchcock, exploring the final fate of the La Pérouse expedition, has been recently published in The Journal of Pacific History.


          La Pérouse portrait by Thomas Woolnoth, C.1792, national Portrait Gallery Canberra La Pérouse portrait by Thomas Woolnoth, C.1792, national Portrait Gallery Canberra