“Lapérouse, further reading

Laperouse,  The First Fleet , Australia”, Further Reading.

Laperouse entering Botany Bay
Laperouse entering Botany Bay

Lapérouse, Further Reading

Lapérouse The Count, the First Fleet” at Botany Bay measures 61 x 91 cm.

Available €/ £ 5,000.

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The French ‘Lapérouse Expedition’ :

vanished mysteriously in Oceania in 1788.

Their last European contact was with the British ‘First Fleet’ at Botany Bay, Australia.

The first clues of the expeditions fate emerged 60 years later.


When I began this painting I could find no one who knew the true appearance of the ships as no contemporary paintings, models or plans were know to exist.

It is unlikely any other painting portrays these two ships Astrolabe‘ and ‘la Boisselle as accurately or better shows the approach to Botany Bay.


Beware, some of the published information is historically incorrect on Wikipedia and elsewhere.

Now you know who to ask you can acquire “Lapérouse and the First Fleet” or commission a painting of this quality.

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Contents :

  • Introduction :
  • Meeting Laperouse :
  • Preparation :
  • Painting :
  • The Lapérouse expedition :
  • The First Fleet :
  • Destiny :
  • Principal Sources :


Introduction :

By personal command of the King of France Louis XVI, the Lapérouse Expedition, after suitable modifications to their ships, sailed from the naval port of Brest, Finisterre, N W France eventually reaching Botany Bay, Australia on the 10 March 1788.

Lapérouse with all his men enjoyed a good relationship with the British at Botany Bay.

The British, among other things faithfully conveyed all the scientific artefacts he gave them, to Paris.

After a 6 week refit, the two French ships departed to vanished, never to be seen again by Europeans.


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Meeting Lapérouse :

The voyage and mysterious fate of the Lapérouse Expedition intrigues many people including one I knew well, Mr. Stephen Best.


Mr. Best has worked out of Australia, travelled extensively around ‘Polynesia’ and the Pacific Rim.

Consequently inspired by his visit to the splendid Musee de Lapérouse, he was enthused and fascinating by the exotica and many mysteries.

The Musee de Lapérouse is about the size of a Lapérouse ship and is ‘anchored’ in Albi in the peaceful, remote Tarn department [81] at the heart of the beautiful LOccitane region of France.


My inspiration began when Mr. Best, an Englishman who admires my painting and reputation for meticulous research, visited my studio with a very respectable sized dossier about the voyage.

His plan was to propose I paint on speculation, a scene from The Lapérouse Expedition voyage.

Lots of people suggest to artists, “why don’t you paint my good idea”.


This time was different.

Stephen Best presented me with a book and dozens of pages of research and illustrations.

Besides, he is bigger than me, very persuasive, he and his wife Marianna are very hospitable, so one way and another “no” did not look like a viable option.

I’d heard in a general way of Lapérouse.

We visited the Musee de Lapérouse and I joined L’association Lapérouse, to learn, perhaps to discover more.


Preparation :

Painting can be pick up a material and get started; usually though, as with so many things in life, good preparation gets better results.

For a setting we looked at various ‘colourful’ options eventually settling upon the meeting of Lapérouse and ‘The First Fleet’ as to good to ignore.

As I researched, it became clear the splendid models and all the paintings of the ships Astrolabe and la Boisselle were historically incorrect as is some of the info on Wikipedia and elsewhere.

In fact, by one of those extraordinary coincidences that prove fact can be more bizarre than fiction, Lapérouse arrived at Botany Bay, South East Australia on the same day the English ‘First Fleet’ departed Botany Bay.

The First Fleet’ was moving to settle at a nearby location more suitable for an embryonic colony, Sydney Cove.

This contact and the movement was important for Lapérouse and ripples from that day still affect us today.

To create an impression of this scene I wanted to know where were the ships in relation to each other and Botany Bay, at what time of day, what were the weather conditions, sea state, wind direction, cloud cover which sails would have been set, which flags flown and so on …?

There was also another a big question, what did Botany Bay look like in 1788?

Burrowing more deeply I discovered at various times Lapérouse officers had included the ships in what looked like casual personal souvenir drawings of bays were the ships had anchored.

The drawings were small and of poor quality, probably the officers were not very interested in the appearance of their ships which to them were very ordinary.

The sketches contained errors obvious to a sea man like me.

However overall, dramatically enlarged and enhance, they proved very useful revealing much about the true appearance of Astrolabe and la Boisselle.


Astrolabe and la Boisselle :

We knew where the ships were acquired.

Both ships were second hand merchant vessels as was Captain Cook’s ship.

We know their dimensions and where they were prepared for their long voyage (Brest).

For our two French ships, I made as meticulous and detailed study as I could, especially carefully examining the few surviving drawings made by the crew of Astrolabe and Boussole during the voyage and of similar French ships of the period, their plans, pictures and models.


It soon became clear one of the ships was particularly note worthy having a stern by then old fashioned, a some what ‘pirate galleon style’ stern.

Laperouse ships, details


Botany Bay :

I next set my course to research Botany Bay circa 1788.

This painting is based among other things on my seeing the original chart made by Captain James Cook.

My course took me to Somerset in England, to Her Majesty’s Hydrographic Office [HMHO], a military and secure government building, with armed soldiers, definitely not open to the public and where the world famous ‘Admiralty’ charts are made, these days including in digital versions.

Following my enquiry, it transpired some of the staff knew of my paintings.


By very great good fortune I was invited for a day at HMHO.

Somewhat to my surprise, my host, Mr. Guy Hannaford and his very helpful staff treated me as a celebrity guest.

The Serres master pieces, with Guy Hannaford

I even overheard them phoning other departments, saying “you will never guess who we have here, do come and meet him”.


I found myself holding not any chart but the original chart of Botany Bay drawn by Captain James Cook.

How many lives have been changed because of Cook’s discovery of Botany Bay and his charts?

This was the same chart drew that The First Fleet of English settlers and the French voyage of scientific discovery commanded by Lapérouse.

I felt very privileged to have that access, a special moment, awesome.


At UKHO I was also given access to water colour paintings made not long after Lapérouse’s visit to Botany Bay by captains of Royal Navy ships.

Those archived paintings are the originals, perfectly preserved, not available to the general public. They were made for navigational purposes, long before the invention of photography.


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Painting :

I was ready to paint.

I began by using a modified classic technique.

I established the tones using a recently purchased selection of warm ochres. This initiative, this inspiration, turned into a very happy, most unusual result for our Lapérouse painting.

I had intended to go to full colour with our Lapérouse painting, but …

I’d bought the colours for use with one of my ‘Nelson and Trafalgar’ series.

This following an extraordinary request from Mr. Peter Goodwin, author of 17 published books, former Keeper and Curator of HMS Victory, as part of a mutual project.

We were researching the true colours used by Nelson on and in his ships.

That detective story is explained on my web site page “Nelson’s Bright Yellow”.

I mischievously sub titled the page “HMS Victory under false colours”.


At the time Victory was striped a chrome yellow and black. I thought she looked like a giant bumble bee with masts.

Anyway we eventually proved the real Nelson bright yellow colour using the ochres much of which remained surplus after I’d completed our colour tests.


Nelson’s Bright Yellow

You can see our results today on HMS Victory at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Was my choice of ochres was a happy accident or intuition?


Either way that choice of warm colours has produced what many consider a very appropriate effect.

Several friends visiting my studio reacted much the same way saying “‘stop’, don’t do any more !!!


Taking their passionate advice I added a minimum of additional colour, more detail, balanced the tones, tidied up and stopped.



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The Lapérouse expedition :

The King of France Louis XVI, personally encouraged and followed voyage.

The aims were to complete the Pacific discoveries of Captain James Cook R N (whom Lapérouse greatly admired), correct and complete maps of the area, establish trade contacts, open new maritime routes and enrich French science and scientific collections.

Lapérouse or more formally, Jean François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse, his name sometimes spelt >comte “de La Pérouse”< was born near Albi in the Tarn department, 3 August 1741.

He became a distinguished French naval officer and disappeared mysteriously in 1788.

Watkin Tench was one of the Britons who witnesses the arrival at Botany Bay of Lapérouse ships.

Tench also wrote “judge of my surprise on hearing from a an almost breathless to the cabin where I was dressing, that a ship was seen off the harbour’s mouth. At first I only laughed …”

The men of the Lapérouse Expedition were equally surprised to find British ships in the bay.


The First Fleet :

Under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip 11 ships carrying nearly 1500 people arrived from Portsmouth after a passage of thirty six weeks in Bottany Bay, Australia from 18 to 20 January 1788.

Watkin Tench was a junior officer onboard and wrote a vivid account of the voyage and early years of the colony. “ on the morning of the 20th, by ten o clock, the whole of the fleet had cast anchor in Botany Bay”.

Having experienced Botany Bay, the British thought Botany Bay unsuitable for a colony.



He wrote, “the bay is very open and greatly exposed to the fury of the south-east winds, which when they blow cause a heavy and dangerous swell”.

Watkin Tench added “a league from the harbour’s mouth is a bar, on which at low water not more than fifteen feet are to be found”.

Any navigator can tell you how very dangerous that bar could be.

Reason enough to quit Botany Bay which was also found to have poor quality soil, a scarcity of fresh water and relatively few trees.


Their small boats discovered and chose a fine harbour Captain Cook had missed.

They examined an opening a few miles along the coast which Captain Cook had named ‘Port Jackson’ within which they chose a sheltered cove they named ‘Sydney Cove’.

This name after Lord Sydney then British Home Secretary.


Sydney Cove :

Phillip originally named the colony “New Albion”.

It was then more blatantly than now, an age of political patronage, which ensured career advancement.

“Sydney Cove” was named for their British Home Secretary, Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney (Baron Sydney, Viscount Sydney from 1789).


Incidentally the name has a probable French connection.

The baronial name taken from the place-name St. Denis in Normandy. On an alternate thought, Sidney in Old English meant ‘dweller of the wide well-watered land’, a much perfect match for the new colony.

As you know, one of the world’s great Cities has grown up around that seed which still bears his name.



Destiny :

Le musée Lapérouse staff said the museum would love to have the painting for all the reasons mentioned above and especially as no one knows the exact appearance of the Lapérouse ships or Botany Bay in 1788 as no plans or contemporary paintings are know to exist.


I am told by staff, the musée Lapérouse is scheduled to change premises sometime in 2020/21 so very regrettably, has insufficiently funded to acquire this painting.

Most likely this fine painting will go to a lucky private buyer.


If the painting is presented to the museum a wider audience will be able to benefit

Meanwhile, a staff member asked me to write a brief article for the Association Lapérouse, this being a fuller account.

le musée Lapérouse, in Albi has an active.


Perhaps a member of l’association Lapérouse will find a solution, perhaps not ?

Perhaps a sponsor of patron can step forward and have their name permanently associated with the museum and story for future generations, of the immortal Lapérouse Expedition ?




Lapérouse The Count and the First Fleet” at Botany Bay a marine painting by Gordon Frickers measures 61 x 91 cm.,

Available €/ £ 6,000.

> with your credit card Purchase Now  < via Paypal, in any currency, or £/, or bank to bank; or in instalments by arrangement, contact Gordon Frickers.

How much in my currency?

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You can acquire Lapérouse and the First Fleet” or commission a painting of this quality.

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Gordon Frickers © updated 26.12.2020


Principal Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Fran%C3%A7ois_de_Galaup,_comte_de_Lap%C3%A9rouse for the Jean François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse, although one has to be cautious about information from this source.

  • The musée Lapérouse
  • Mr. Stephen Best collections
  • Various archives in Paris
  • 1788, Watkin Trench, published 1789, edited by by Tim Flannery and republished 1996, Text Publishing Company of Melbourne, Australia, ISBN 1-875847-27-8
Gordon Frickers artist
This Gordon Frickers art signature is on all my more recent paintings.