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1999-12, 324, Antiquarian Books, Frank Carleton, New South Wales

Atlas of the Laperouse Voyage



The first edition of the Laperouse Voyage was published in four quarto volumes with accompanying folio atlas at Paris in 1797. The atlas contained 69 plates, maps and plans. It is the first and official account of the ill-fated world voyages undertaken in the frigates, the Boussole and the Astrolabe, under the leadership of Jean Franscois Galaup de Laperouse. Publication occurred almost forty years before the nature of the tragic end of the expedition after its departure from Botany Bay in March, 1788, was discovered.

The edition has been repeatedly described, with varying levels of detail, in bibliographies and published library catalogues including Sabin’s Dictionary of books relating to America,1 Ferguson’s Bibliography of Australia,2 the Catalogue général des livres imprimés of the Bibliothdque Nationale,3 The Hill Collection of Pacific voyages 4 and Edmund Weber Allen’s Laperouse Check list 5. Customarily such bibliographical works cite the location(s) of the copy or copies described. The edition has also been repeatedly described in antiquarian booksellers’ catalogues 6 and book auction records internationally.

The following summary description of the edition is derived from the first entry in Ian F. Mclaren’s annotated bibliography, Laperouse in the Pacific 7 which cites a multiplicity of bibliographical references, including the five given above, and ten copy locations, including eight Australian libraries:

Voyage de La Perouse autour du monde, publié conformément au Décret du 22 avril 1791 et rédigé par M.L.A. Milet-Mureau … A Paris, de L’lmprimerie de La République. An V [1797l

4vols. 4to. with Atlas du Voyage de La Perouse.Fo.

A Sydney Morning Herald article of 5 September, 1998, recounted the donation of the surviving maps from an incomplete copy of the atlas to the Laperouse Museum 8 at La Perouse on the north headland of Botany Bay, an institution run by the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service. The Museum was opened in February, 1988, by the late great André Giraud (1925-1997), the then French Minister of Defence,9 the French Navy being represented in Botany Bay on this gala occasion by the helicopter-carrier Jeanne d’Arc and the frigate Boussole.10 Seven years later in a bizarre and wholly ineffectual anti-nuclear gesture, reminiscent of an initiative by Herr Adenoid Hynkel in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, the premises of the Laperouse Museum were denied to those attending the annual Bastille Day commemoration at the Laperouse Monument on 14 July, 1995.11

Concerning the surviving 24 maps of the incomplete atlas, “these were cleaned of mould by the State Library and are now in the museum”.12 According to Stephen Thompson, the NPWS curator of the Museum, as quoted in the Herald article

“We couldn’t have curated a collection like that [if] we scouted the world for it.”13

A very curious assertion.

Although the National Union Catalog: pre 1956 imprints entry for the first edition of the Laperouse Voyage references 37 copies in American libraries,14 it’s unnecessary to look so far away. The Dixson Library in the State Library of New South Wales in Macquarie Street, little further than a 394 bus ride from La Perouse, holds three complete copies of the atlas 15 one of which is referenced in the list of copies at the end of the McLaren entry as a component of a complete edition of 5 volumes.16

As for “scouting the world”, recourse to British, American and Australian book auction records shows that a number of complete copies of the first edition of the Laperouse Voyage have been sold in recent years.

Australian book auction records for 1994-1995 notes the sale of a complete copy, including the atlas in fine condition in November, 1994. 17  The British Book auction records “for the auction season 1996” record the sales of three complete copies of the edition, plus the sale of a copy of the atlas between November, 1985, and April, 1996 18. Then, as recently as June, 1997, as American book prices current attests, four complete copies of the edition, including the atlas, were sold by Christie’s New York at a single auction.19

With the exception of book auction data almost all the details of elementary enumerative bibliography in this article can be found in the McLaren bibliography’s first entry. One would expect it to be used for ready reference in the Laperouse Museum.

Frank Carleton




– Though I phoned the NSW office of Museums Australia before writing and sending it, Peta Landman, the Editor of Museum Matters in her letter to me of 27 October, 1998, declined to publish a letter of 20 October, 1998, from me which summarised the substance of the present article and began with the following sentence: “Accuracy in public comment about any cultural artifact donated to a museum is a matter of elementary professionalism.” Her refusal was on the interesting but previously unstated, ground that “… Museum Matters does not publish letters to the editor.”

– Before publication a copy of the article was sent to the Musée de la Marine in Paris. I was both gratified and complimented to receive a letter dated 28 October, 1998, from the Consevateur du Patrimoine acknowledging receipt of “votre mise au point tout à fait pertinente concernant la bibliographie de l’Atlas du voyage de Lapérouse”. Apropos the Laperouse Museum I was gracefully thanked for my interest in “ce petit musée très cher à notre coeur” [this little museum that is very dear to our hearts].

– Without the initiative and direct support of that distinguished sailor and scholar, Rear Admiral Francois Bellec, who retired as Director of the Musée de la Marine in December 1997, there would have been no Laperouse Museum on Botany Bay in 1988.


1 Joseph Sabin. A Dictionary of books relating to America from its discovery to the present time. New York, 1868-1936 (Sabin 38960).

2 J.A. Ferguson. Bibliography of Australia. Sydney. Angus and Robertson, 1941-1969 (Ferguson 251).

3 Catalogue général des livres imprimés de La Bibliothèque Nationale: auteurs. Vol. 88. Paris: Imperimerie Nationale, 1926, column 716.

4 The Hill Collection of Pacific Voyages. Ed. by Ronald Louis Silveira de Braganza and Charlotte Oakes; Annotations by Jonathan A. Hill. San Diego: University Library, University of Southern California 1974, p.173.

5 Edward Weber Allen. Jean Franscois Galaup de Laperouse: a check list. California Historical Society, 1941, p.4.

6 Pacific voyages and exploration from the Carlsmith Collection and other sources. Potts Point: Hordern House, 1987, p.78.

7 Ian F. Mclaren. Lapérouse in the Pacifc: including searches by d’Entrecasteaux, Dillon, Dumont d’Urville: an annotated bibliography. Parkville, Vic.: University of Melbourne Library, 1993. A limited edition of 200 copies, pp.3-4.

8 Andrew Clennell ‘Old paper reveals La Perouse Pacific voyage maps’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 Sept., 1998, p.17.

9 The obituary of André Giraud “sometimes known as the de Gaulle of French industry”. The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 Aug., 1997,p.35.

10 As noted on the occasion by the present writer.

11 Reported in the Weekly Southern Courier, 4 July, 1995, pp. 1 and 9.

12 Clennell, op.cit., p.17.

13 Loc. cit.

14 The National Union Catalog: pre-1956 imprints. Vol. 316. London: Mansell, 1974, p.37. (NL0094086).

15 Located at X79/1, X79/2, X79/3.

16 McLaren op. cit., p.4, NSL:D [Q79/21-4,X79/1].

17 Jill Burdon, comp. Australian book auction records. New series. Vol. 6, 1994-1995, Canberra 1996, p.1L. The most recent issue I found readily available to me.

18 Book auction records. Vol. 94. London: Dawson, 1988, p.411.

19 American book prices current 1997. Vol. 103. The Auction season September 1996-August 1997. Washington: Bancroft-Parkman 1998, p.704



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