This lithograph depicts the 'corvette' ASTROLABE sailing within sight of Vanikoro Island. Boats have been launched to reconnoitre the island's fringing reefs to find a passage through to a safe anchorage. It is by A. St Aulaire and is based on original artwork by the principal voyage artist Louis Auguste de Sainson, during Dumont d'Urville's first Pacific voyage in command of the ASTROLABE (1826-29).
SignificanceThis illustration shows the ASTROLABE nearing Vanikoro Island in 1828, where evidence would soon be found concerning the fate of La Perouse and the crews of his two lost ships.
Unfortunately an opportunity to rescue some survivors and discover the fate of the expedition had passed by in 1791 when HMS PANDORA - in pursuit of the BOUNTY mutineers - sailed within sight of Vanikoro and omitted investigating the source of smoke plumes which indicated that the island was inhabited. The LaPerouse expedition’s demise was a great disappointment in France. The circumstances surrounding the loss of La Perouse's expedition had become a great maritime mystery since the disappearance of the two ships in 1788. The expedition's royal patron (King Louis XVI) is said to have asked, shortly before his execution by guillotine in 1793, whether finally there was some news of La Perouse!
Although the fate of the expedition is now known in broad outline, there are still major aspects of the story that have not yet been fully explained. Not least in this regard, the story of several wreck survivors who apparently managed to construct a boat from the wreckage of the ASTROLABE and set sail from Vanikoro to get help in Port Jackson or in Timor. One of the hypotheses concerning this group of shipwreck survivors is that they perished after being wrecked again, in the vicinity of Temple Island (one of the Whitsunday islands group off Queensland). This hypothesis is still unproven to date and ranks with similar, highly speculative theories about wrecks of Spanish or Portuguese "galleons" or "naos" off the east coast predating James Cook's first voyage.
HistoryCaptain Jules Dumont d'Urville was a French naval officer who commanded two voyages of discovery to the Pacific Ocean and to Antarctica during the Bourbon Restoration (1815-1830) and July Monarchy (1830 - 1848)
At an early stage of his naval career Dumont d'Urville participated in a hydrographic survey of the Aegean Sea during which he was instrumental in the recovery for the Musee de Louvre of the 'Venus de Milo'; he later served with distinction as second-in-command to Captain Louis Duperrey during a circumnavigation in the 'corvette' LA COQUILLE (1822 - 1825)
Due to the success of that voyage, the French Minister for the Navy commissioned another voyage in LA COQUILLE, which was refitted and renamed L'ASTROLABE in recognition of the fact that one of the voyage's objectives was to discover the fate of La Perouse's two ships (L'Astrolabe and La Boussole) which had disappeared without trace in 1788.
The fate of La Perouse's expedition had become a great mystery since the disappearance of the two ships. Unfortunately an opportunity to rescue some survivors and shed new light on the mystery had passed by in 1791 when HMS PANDORA sailed within sight of Vanikoro and ignored smoke plumes indicating that the island was inhabited. The La Perouse expedition’s demise was also a great disappointment in France. The expedition's royal patron (King Louis XVI) is said to have asked, shortly before his execution by guillotine in 1793, whether finally there was some news of La Perouse!
Dumont d'Urville was given command and set off in the renamed 'corvette' in 1826; this first voyage in L'ASTROLABE lasted nearly 3 years (to 1829) and, following reports by the Anglo-Irish sandalwood trader Peter Dillon, succeeded in finding the wreck of La Perouse's ASTROLABE and evidence of a survivors' camp on Vanikoro Island; however, by then none of La Perouse's crews had survived to tell of their fate after shipwreck. Dumont d'Urville erected a monument to La Perouse at Vanikoro before starting the return journey to France. He arrived in Marseilles in February 1829 carrying anchors, chains and guns collected from the wreck site.
On its second Pacific voyage, which included a visit to Anarctica and also lasted almost three years (1837-1840) L'ASTROLABE was accompanied by the 'corvette' LA ZELEE, commanded by Dumont d'Urville's former second-in-command in L'ASTROLABE Lieutenant Jacquinot.
The findings of both voyages were published in Paris accompanied by 'Atlases' containing a wide variety of detailed illustrations, ranging from drawings of collected specimens of natural history and coastal views to portraits of exotic peoples encountered during the voyages.
Dumont d'Urville gained fame for his role in unravelling the disappearance of La Perouse, one of the greatest maritime mysteries of the 19th century; and for his exploration of Antarctica. On 8 May 1842 he was killed with his family when the train they were on derailed and caught fire during a journey from Versailles to Paris.
Dumont d'Urville: 'Atlas historique' to 'Voyage de la corvette l'Astrolabe execute par ordre du Roi pendant les annees 1826, 1827, 1828, 1829, sous le commandement de M. Jules S-C Dumont d'Urville
Dumont d'Urville: 'Atlas Pittoresque' to 'Voyage au Pole Sud et dans l'Oceanie sur les corvettes l'Astrolabe et la Zelee, execute par ordre du Roi pendant les annees 1837, 1838, 1839,1840, sous le commandement de M. Jules Dumont d'Urville, Capitaine de Vaisseau.
Web title: La corvette L'Astrolabe en vue de l'ile Vanikoro
Primary title: Plate 175. La corvette L'ASTROLABE en vue de l'ile Vanikoro