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Instructions from Louis XVI

The first project papers, drawn up by the director of the Navy’s ports and arsenals, Pierre Claret de Fleurieu, contain marginal notes in the king’s handwriting showing that he had a lively interest in oceanic discoveries and a constant concern about the well-being of both the crew and the populations the expedition would encounter. These observations were taken into account in the instructions to Lapérouse drawn up under the direction of the maréchal de Castries, secretary of state for the Navy.

For example, the separation of the two expedition ships, proposed in order to “multiply the discoveries,” is rejected by Louis XVI as “too dangerous in unknown waters.” Beyond his objective of making discoveries, the expedition has a political aspect (to observe how far the English have come with their projects in New Zealand), a commercial aspect (to establish a fur trade between China and the northwest coast of America), and, especially, a scientific aspect. The Royal Academy of Sciences draws up a document, and the Royal Society of Medicine addresses some questions to the officers and the scientists on board. The collection “of vegetation that might be useful to Europe” is part of the plan, but European vegetation is also being taken to the countries yet to be discovered. This is the height of the period of Enlightenment. The expedition will perish at Vanikoro (Salomon Islands) in 1788.