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Thursday, July 13, 2017

A historical coincidence

This place visited by Monsieur de La Perouse in the year MDCCLXXXVIII
is the last whence any account of him have been received


When Captain Cook and his merry men arrived at Botany Bay in 1788, they found it wasn't quite the kindly refuge they had been led to expect. Its exposed position made it a dangerous anchorage, and a foray ashore found nothing but sandflies.

As they stood surveying their unhappy situation, there happened one of those coincidences in which history abounds. On the eastern horizon two ships appeared and joined them in the bay. They were under the command of an amiable Frenchman, Count Jean-François de La Pérouse, who was leading a two-year journey of exploration around the Pacific. Had La Pérouse been just a little faster, he could have claimed Australia for France and saved the country 200 years of English cooking.

The headland where La Pérouse and his crew camped was later named for him, and in the 1820s, Hyacinthe de Bougainville organised for a monument to be erected there which, if nothing else, should convince anybody that it is far easier to write MDCCLXXXVIII in Arabic numerals. (which they aren't or else they'd run from right to left; they copied them from the Hindus)

As for La Pérouse, he sailed off into the sunset, never to be seen again. And here's the real kicker: as a youth Napoleon Bonaparte volunteered for service on the ill-fated La Pérouse expedition. Just imagine how much vexation the world might have been saved had he been accepted!