230 Years Later, We May Learn the True Fate of French Explorer La Perouse

La Perouse

Finally, the 230-year-old riddle of famed explorer Jean-François de Galaup de la Perouse and his crew may be solved-- thanks to uncovered evidence provided by Indian shipwreck survivor Shaik Jumaul.

King Louis XVI commissioned La Perouse to explore and map the globe, finishing the job started by James Cook, in 1785. The ship of the French explorer and his crew of over two hundred sunk off the coast of Botany Bay (in what is now Australia) three years later.

When two of the smaller ships appeared near the island Vanikoro, locals theorized that the remaining crew built a boat to take them back to France; however, they disappeared shortly after departing.

A recently uncovered story, published in the Madras Courier in 1818, suggests a more violent outcome to the mystery.

In it, Indian sailor Shaik Jumaul recounted the story of his 1814 shipwreck near northern Australia, says Australian National University anthropologist Garrick Hitchcock. According to Hitchcock's article in the Journal of Pacific History, Jumaul became stranded on Murray Island, where he found swords, muskets, a compass, and a watch that were manufactured outside of England.

Hitchcock explained that when Jumaul asked the locals where these items came from, "they related how approximately 30 years earlier, a ship had been wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef to the east, in sight of the island."

The Islanders also told Jumaul that after the survivors made it to shore, the hostility that broke out between locals and crew killed all but one young boy, who grew up on the island. Although the story was dismissed as unreliable in a 2012 book, Hitchcock noted that the chronology matches up, which leads him to believe it may be real.

As the anthropologist says, there is no record of other European ships sailing in that area during that period. A few days after Perouse's landing in Botany Bay, Arthur Phillip declared it for the British.

Hitchcock will personally search the island for French antiquities and expects that marine archeologists will also find some during their exploration of the reef near Murray Island.

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