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The Context

The influence of Cook’s voyages on Lapérouse’s expedition, by Alain Morgat. Text of the Conference

The state of Pacific discovery in 1785. The return of maritime peace in 1783 allows one to envision the voyages of exploration that Cook had made during wartime, withadded to his known successsafe conduct across enemy lines that the French would have granted had Cook been aware of it (he died before he knew of this homage paid to him by the French navy). The eastern Pacific Ocean has been known by Europeans since about 1520, at the level of both the Isthmus of Panama and the tip of South America, rounded by Magellan; Magellan also makes the first transpacific crossing and sizes up an ocean that covers almost half the globe. The Portuguese in their push toward Macao draw up the first maps, notably of eastern Australia. The existence of countries on the other side of the Pacific had long been knownin particular, mysterious and presumably rich China—but only by way of the Asian land route. From 1543, the Philippines are linked to Spanish Mexico, but the English privateer Francis Drake challenges the Spanish monopoly in the north Pacific from 1680. After 1700, a fairly large number of navigators with various goals are sailing the Pacific: Dutch, French, English, Spanish, and Russian. Then more official explorers, among them Bougainville, focus, beyond Tierra del Fuego, on following the approximate route Juan Fernandez Islands/Tahiti/Nelle (New Guinea). But it is Cook who from 1769 to 1788 begins scientific navigation with precise maps and solves almost all the great riddles during the course of three voyages from 1769 to 1778 (eastern Australia and New Zealand, “the southern continent,” and passage through the Behring Strait).