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Lapérouse ships, their true appearance & Botany bay:

Of Lapérouse, his ships, their arrival at Botany Bay…  It is Trafalgar Day and I’m working on a French ship???Laperouse_entering_Botany_Bay_IMG_5687.JPG_c.JPG_d.JPG

I varnished an ‘old friend’ today in preperation for its storage… “Lapérouse Entering Botany Bay” is not yet on my web site.For those unfamiliar with the voyage of Lapérouse this painting shows a very remarkable co-incidence.

 “L’Astrolabe” and “La Boussole” are seen here entered Botany Bay the very same day the First Fleet moved out.

By a huge coincidence, an extraordinary chance meeting, the ships of Laperouse on a voyage of scientific discovery, the French response to the voyages of Captain James Cook, encounter the First Fleet, at anchor and about to sail as they prepare to move to Port Jackson to start in earnest a colony at Sydney Cove. Frickers has worked from original source material including thanks to the UK Hydrographic Office, the chart drawn on Cook’s voyage, the same that guided the First fleet and Laperouse to Botany Bay– Life on the Ocean Wave,ISBN 978-0-9569109-0-5

This unusual painting was the result of much careful research.

Most paintings of this voyage show the wrong ships, same names, later period!

We are confident we have their appearance ‘shipshape’ for you here. Laperouse_entering_Botany_Bay__detail__.JPG_wp.JPG


For this painting I was able to get as close as modern research can to the true appearance of Laperouse ships, “L’Astrolabe” and “La Boussole” and of Botany Bay as viewed from seaward possibly the first time this has been done.

My work was based on sketches made by his people and knowledge of French merchant ships of that period.

This painting was one of mine honoured by an invitation to exhibit at the European Parliament, Brussels, May 2011.

The creation of this painting included many detailed discussions about the voyage with members of the Laperouse Association and the Laperouse Museum staff and with Stephen Best.

The ships of the First Fleet are also taken from a carefull study of original illustrations adapted and bought to life with knowledge of ships of that period .

Aside from my own efforts a great deal of information written and visual was made available.



The voyage of Laperouse was literally the French response by personal command of the king, to the voyages of James Cook.

The arrival of Laperouse at Botany Bay was an extraordinary moment.

“L’Astrolabe” and “La Boussole” arrived as if stage managed.

The French entered Botany Bay the very day the British First Fleet were leaving.

Yet this was the equivalent of arriving today on the Moon.


Laperouse relations with the British at Botany Bay were very cordial as were mine in Albi.

You can see in the painting a British lugger acting as pilot for the French ships

Laperouse stayed 3 months refitting and resting his ships and crew.

Much of Laperouse scientific research was sent by the British to Paris.

Our other source was via the Russians.

When the “L’Astrolabe” and “La Boussole” called at Vladivostok all possible was done to make them welcome.

Upon leaving Botany Bay the two French ships were never again seen by Europeans.


Captain James Cook voyages into the then largely unknown Pacific Ocean had created huge excitement and had an enormous impact on Europeans.

The French considered Captain Cook so important they forbade all French ships from attacking Captain Cook’s ship ‘Endeavour’.

Other countries soon issued similar commands including the U.S.A.


Lapérouse (sometimes written La Perouse, often written as Laperouse) ships “L’Astrolabe” and “La Boussole” were on a voyage of scientific discovery inspired by the sensational voyages of Captain James Cook.


Sixty years and several searches passed before Europeans began to suspect the island of Vanikoro had a part in the Laperouse tragedy.


Several artists have had a go at the Botany Bay moment.

I have been fortunate to have read some of the original accounts.

I though there was still scope for an original “Frickers”.


My research has taken me to some fascinating places, beautiful Albi in South West France being foremost and including (for me at least) breath taking moments at the UK Hydrographic Office, Taunton, Somerset.

The UKHO is a government and secure building responsible for among other things the most modern “Admiralty” charts on paper and these days on digital formats made to the very highest standards and available to any mariner including you and I.

There simply is no better chart than a UKHO Admiralty chart.

The UKHO may not at first seem a great subject.

It does though has a long fascinating history closely involved with the birth of the world as we know it today and the UKHO continues to discreetly influence all our daily lives.

The many unique treasures in the archives are kept and maintained to the highest standards.

I was given special permission to enter and was honoured to be treated like as celebrity, most kindly.

I was shown many original and amazing maps, charts and pictures some of which have since contributed to other Frickers paintings; “Nelson at Gibraltar”, the port being taken from period watercolours made for navigators, being one example.

In this instance I found myself examining the original chart of Botany Bay draw by Captain James Cook of HMS Endeavour and his officers and a number of paintings for navigators made in the early 19 th century.

The chart would have been the very same chart that drew the First Fleet to Australia and lead to the discovery of Port Jackson, the development of the settlement at Sydney Cove then onto the colonisation of Australia by Europeans.

This same chart would have drawn Laperouse to Botany Bay and his people to their last rendezvous (hmmm, do the French have a word for rendez-vous?) with Europeans before he and his ships vanished into the Pacific Ocean and eternity.


I was very willingly given unrestricted access to the Laperouse Museum in Albi  to research the voyage and in particular  the 2 French ships “L’Astrolabe” and “La Boussole” (Boussole means compass and Astrolabe means… ahh you are ahead of me?).

The staff proposed an exhibition of my marine art which regrettably I have not yet followed up on.


Albi was home for Laperouse whose very adventurous life ended in mystery with this voyage, hence the Museum of Laperouse in the old town and his very impressive statue near the centre.

The Laperouse Museum of Albi is located in a old quarter not much frequented by tourists, beautifully placed on the bank beside the river Tarn so is an easily missed gem well worth an hour or more.

The Laperouse Museum is very small, about the size of one of Laperouse ships.

It benefits from a very active society whose work has included dives on the wrecks and arranging tours for artefacts.

Interest in the voyage of Laperouse is growing; the voyage touched many places world wide many of which now request exhibitions.

Albi is a beautiful town recently granted UNESCO World Heritage status.

Besides beautiful it is vivant, there is always some thing interesting going on from music to motor racing, night clubs to the world class Museum of Toulouse Lautrec.

UNESCO seems to agree.

Happily for the region this has already had a noticeable effect boosting tourism to the little known but beautiful province of Tarn some 25%.


My particular thanks go to the Lapérouse Association and Laperouse Museum (Musée Lapérouse) at Albi (his home town) and to Stephen Best who inspired and encouraged my research.

We are quietly confident we have the appearance of Botany Bay, The First Fleet, “L’Astrolabe” and “La Boussole” ‘shipshape’.

Also to the staff at the UK Hydrographic Office, Taunton who could not have been more helpful including permitting me to use the original chart of Botany Bay drawn by James Cook.

Think how many people were subsequently drawn to Australia…


At the time of writing this remarkable painting is in France available for exhibition and acquisition.


Gordon Frickers, artist, (C) 21.10.2013

T: 0044 (0) 1865 52 2435. Email: gordon@nullfrickers.co.uk

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