Albi, in the eighteenth century, comprises approximately 9,000 inhabitants, of whom a hundred or so belong to Languedoc nobility. The main administrative and spiritual power resides in the archbishop, who until 1747-when Lapérouse is still a child—is Monseigneur de Castries. De Castries has welcomed to Albi his nephew, a young orphan, who is to become minister of the Navy and the Colonies. The royal authority for the Languedoc region is carried out from Montpellier, the regional capital. Albi, with its Pont Vieux, is a passage point on the river Tarn on the way to Aveyron. The city on the south bank of the Tarn is surrounded by ramparts, but they are in rather poor condition. Many are churches and chapels associated with parishes or convents. Lapérouse will be present during the period when actual communication routes for transporting people and mail are constructed. From 1761, the ramparts will be gradually destroyed, notably in the area known today as “les Lices,” to allow the royal road from Toulouse to Rodez to access the bridgefrom which the houses have now been removed. The river is home to large river barges. During this period, the region’s economic base is farming in the Tarn plain. In addition to woad and saffron, now in decline, various crops are grown for both human and animal consumption.
The de Galaup family has figured among the nobility since the middle of the sixteenth century. It became rich and enobled during the period when the cultivation and commercialization of woad flourished. The de Galaups, who were originally lords of Brens and of Orban, not far from Albi, would carry out judicial and administrative duties and often serve as consuls for the city of Albi. The father of Lapérouse, Victor-Joseph de Galaup, was himself a consul. The family owned a manor house in the area of Gô, at a bend in the Tarn upstream from Albi, acquired in 1613 by Claude de Galaup. It was there that Jean-Francois, future Lapérouse, was born in 1741. His mother, Marguerite de Rességuier, daughter of a former commander of the second battalion of Condé, was originally from Sauveterre de Rouergue. The de Galaups also owned property on land that is now the commune of Puygouzon: the Lapeyrouse (La pierreuse) farm.
The de Galaups, Lapérouse’s parents, had ten children, both sons and daughters. The only siblings who reached adulthood were oldest son Jean-François; his sister Jacquette, born one year after him; and a sister, Victoire, who was eighteen years his junior. Lapérouse, who married late in life—two years before his grand voyagehad no children. His heirs would be his sisters, but in the end, his estate would go to his nephews. His sister Jacquette married a Dalmas. The Dalmas settled in the Aveyron, then scattered to other parts of France and even to the United States. His young sister Victoire married Bernard-Louis de Barthès, and their children remained for the most part in Languedoc. One of his descendants now owns the château du Gô, Lapérouse’s birthplace.
Jean-François divides his time during his youth between Albi and le Gô, and probably spends some time with his grandmother in Sauveterre. He speaks Occitan (langue d’oc) and French. His secondary studies at the Jesuit college in Albi, until he reaches fifteen, are conducted in Latin. He knows other nobles in the city who will also become naval officers; one was Rochegude, who was his same age and attended the same college. He would also have met Mengaud de la Hage, whose parents, originally from Gers, lived in Toulouse. Mengaud de la Hage will become one of Lapérouse’s best friends.
Portraits of Lapérouse can be classified as portraits painted during his lifetime or portraits painted after his death by artists who knew him. The mariner is portrayed sometimes as an adolescent, other times as an adult. Throughout the nineteenth century, many representations, eventually by accomplished portratists such as Monsiau and, especially, Greuze—and also by the sculptor Rude—give him a noble and smiling bearing. In contemporary times, his portrait appears on stamps and medals, and a statue of him stands in front of the Australian Embassy in Paris; also, his image is to appear in haut relief on various commemorative monuments worldwide.
Both public and private memorial sites are found in Albi. The bronze monumental statue in the city center dates from 1853. It is the work of Nicolas Raggi, who had already done a statue of Henri IV at Pau. The statue of Lapérouse is considered to be a very accomplished work. Erected on a pedestal three meters high, it is located at the end of a path bordering Place Lapérouse. Since 1988, the Musée Lapérouse, situated on the right bank of the Tarn, has presented, in very lovely interior and exterior settings, a permanent exhibit of mementos of the explorer as well as numerous remains gathered at Vanikoro.
This museum is only the beginning of what one hopes it will become becomes a more expansive structure. The houses that Lapérouse knew still exist but are private and can be visited only on certain occasions. The exterior of the chapel of the Lycée Lapérouse has not changed in appearance but is part of a school, named for the navigator, constructed under the second Empire.