Antoine-Raymond-Joseph de Bruni d’Entrecasteau

(French Voyage of discovery 1791-1793)

Despite the heightened political situation in France in 1791 there was still a strong feeling that France should have a resence in the Pacific, and many people were anxious to solve the mystery of La Perouse’s disappearance (setting out from France in 1785, he was last seen sailing out of Botany Bay by the First Fleet of Convicts arriving in February 1788, never to be seen again). The Societie d Histoire Naturelle made representation for a new expedition of Discovery. On February 9, 1791 the Assembly issued a decree recommending a search for the lost expedition of La Peruse and Louis XVI signed the necessary order and plans were made for an expedition.

Command was given to Antoine-Raymond-Joseph de Bruni d’Entrecasteaux who was 52 yesrs old having just completed a tour of duty as Governor of Ile de France, an island colony in the Atlantic. He took command of the ship, appropriately named Reserche, which was to carry the botanical artist, Piron, along with astromoner , Charles-Francois Beautemps-Beaupre,and many other scentific personages. The other ship in the voyage was the Esperance. In some ways the members of the expedition were more volatile than the Bounty in the Pacific, commanded by Captain William Bligh, because some were Royalists while others were believers in the new regime.

The voyage headed for the West coast of Australia and on the southern coast of what is now Western Australia, came to a prominent headland which they named Point d’Entrecasteaux. He hoped to explore the entire south coast but contrary winds and a acute shortage of water made him turn away to Van Dieman’s Land. In February 1793 d’ Entrecasteau sailed for New Zealand but continued to find no trace of La Peruse. The voyage continued onto Tonga, the Loyalty Islands and New Caledonia followed by the Santa Cruz Islands, Uyupua and an island which was new to Europeans. They named it Ile de la Recherche but did not attempt a landing, an omission that caused them to miss the chance of tracing La Peruse. The island was Vanikoro, and its even possible that the last two survivors of the lost expedition were still alive on the island at the time.

The ships worked through the maze of islands: starting with the Solomons. They saw New Guinea to the west and saw the north coast of New Britain. By this time the old scurge of scurvy was ravaging the crew and many of them suffered from dysentry as well. D’Entrecasteux had both diseases and died on 20 July 1793. The naturalist Jacques-Julien Houtou de la Billiardiere wrote and published his account of the voyage in Relation du voyage a la recherche se la Peruse published in 1799.