The ASTROLABE under attack by native canoes off the north coast of New Guinea. Based on original work by the voyage artist, Louis Auguste de Sainson, during Dumont d'Urville's first ASTROLABE voyage (1826-29) Lithograph c 1830.
SignificanceThis illustration, from Dumont d'Urville's account of his first ASTROLABE voyage, published in Paris in 1833, represents an incident off the north New Guinea coast in August 1827, which can be considered representative of many 'first or early contact' situations where Europeans encountered islanders in the Pacific Ocean and mutual misunderstanding of each others' signs, words and gestures resulted in violence.
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.