It’s the high-seas mystery that’s confounded historians for almost 200 years: what happened to the famous French navigator Comte de La Pérouse?
La Pérouse disappeared without a trace in 1788 – along with two ships and 225 officers, sailors and scientists – while exploring the Pacific on King Louis XVI’s orders.
Now, a Canberra researcher says the answer could lie at the bottom of the Great Barrier Reef.
Anthropologist Dr Garrick Hitchcock of the Australian National University believes he has stumbled across a clue suggesting the last survivors of La Pérouse’s voyage were wrecked on the “graveyard of ships” – the Great Barrier Reef, near Murray Island.
“La Pérouse’s voyage of discovery in the Pacific is recognised as one of the most important of its era, rivalled only by the work of Cook,” Dr Hitchcock said.
But, after setting out in 1785, La Pérouse’s ships Astrolabe and Boussole were both wrecked three years later on Vanikoro in the Solomon Islands.
The survivors who made it to shore spent several months constructing a small “two-masted craft” from timber salvaged in the shipwreck and launched it in a bid to return to France.
“What became of this ship and its crew, desperate to return to France, has been an ongoing mystery,” Dr Hitchcock said.
On his way to the guillotine in 1793, it’s said King Louis XVI himself asked: “Is there news of La Pérouse?”
It was while digging into the…
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