Many scientists, all men of great merit, participated in the expedition: an astronomer, a physician, three naturalists, a mathematician, three draftsmen, physicists, an interpreter, a watchmaker, a meteorologist, as well as priests with scientific training.
The objectives were numerous: geographical, scientific, ethnological, economic (prospecting for whale hunting or fur collection possibilities), but also political with the possible establishment of French bases or colonial cooperation with the Spanish allies in the Philippines.
The exploration program should lead them to the North and South Pacific, including the coasts of the Far East and Australia.
The results of the expedition were known by mail in the ports of call with connections to European countries.
Scholars and Artists
Mr. Louis Monge and Mr. Joseph Lepaute Dagelet, both professors of mathematics at the military school, were embarked as astronomers, the first on the Boussole and the second on the Astrolabe.
Dagelet, a member of the Academy of Sciences, is known in particular for calculating the distance from the center of the planet Mercury to the Sun. Ulleung-do (울릉도, 鬱陵島) is an island in South Korea located in the Sea of Japan or East Sea. The Japanese know it as Matsu Shima or Utsuryo To. It is also known under the name of Dagelet for Europeans, and Russians. It is still expressly mentioned as Dagelet Island in the San Francisco peace treaty signed between the Allied Forces and Japan on September 8, 1951. Joseph Lepaute Dagelet is perhaps the unknown man of Vanikoro, now buried in Brest.
Mr. Monge was ill and had to disembark in Tenerife, thus escaping the disaster of Vanikoro. He died on October 6, 1827.
Mr. Robert de Lamanon, of the Academy of Sciences, was in charge of the part of natural history and its atmosphere, known as chronology.
Robert de Lamanon was the first scientist to suggest evidence of the lacustrine origin of gypsum in the Paris Basin. He was killed by natives, next to M De Langle on December 11, 1787 on the Tonga archipelago on the island of Maouna.
Mr. l’abbé Mongèz (Jean-André), canon regular of Sainte-Geneviève, editor of the Journal de physique, was to examine the minerals, to make the analysis, and to contribute to the progress of the various parts of physics.
He is presented as an active scientist within the expedition, not hesitating to climb mountains and hills at each stopover. He made a study on the Northern Gannet.
Before his departure, he participated in the writing of the Journal de Physique.
On board, Mongez seemed very agitated not hesitating, as in Macao, to address jointly with other scientists, a letter to Lapérouse to complain about the little consideration that the leader of the expedition showed them.
Mr. de Jussieu appointed Mr. Joseph de Boissieu de La Martinière, doctor of medicine of the Faculty of Montpellier, for the botany part.
He was assigned a gardener from the King’s Garden, to cultivate and preserve the plants and seeds of different species that we would be able to bring back to Europe.
In December 1787, he escaped death in the Samoan Islands, escaping by swimming with one arm, the other holding a bag of plants.
MM. Guillaume Prévost, known as “Prévost oncle” and Jean-Louis Robert Prévost, known as “Prévost le Jeune” were entrusted with painting everything related to natural history.
Guillaume Prévost was noticed during the voyage because of his bad temper, which Lapérouse pointed out on January 3, 1787 in a letter to the Minister of the Navy. He refused to go ashore to paint in Manila in September 1787.
Jean-Louis Robert Prévost was noticed during the voyage by his zeal to draw, on board as well as on land, birds and shells, “full of ardor and good will.
Mr. Jean-Nicolas Dufresne, a great naturalist, and very skilled in the art of classifying the different productions of nature, was given to us by the Attorney General.
Mr. Dufresne was a scientist who took part in the expedition with the aim of exploring the Pacific Ocean and even circumnavigating the globe. He Dufresne disembarked in Macao on February 1, 1787, to bring back to France the journal of the memoirs of the first part of the expedition, thus avoiding the tragic end of the expedition
Mr. Jean-Baptiste Barthélemy de Lesseps, vice-consul, was taken on board as the king’s interpreter.
Gifted well above average, by the age of 12 he was fluent in Russian, German, Spanish and, of course, French. Having put his documents (journals, maps and notes) in order, on October 7, 1787 La Pérouse handed them over to Barthélemy de Lesseps to take them to Versailles, 16,000 kilometers away. Blocked by the bad winter weather in the Kamchatka peninsula, Barthélemy had to wait until the spring of the following year to cross Russia. Once he arrived in Irkutsk, it took him forty days to reach Saint Petersburg. He published the account of his journey, where he had to travel by sled pulled by dogs or reindeer, by boat or by tibitk. His journey lasted thirteen months: he arrived in Versailles on October 17, 1788.
Finally, Mr. Gaspard Duché de Vancy received the order to embark to paint costumes, landscapes, and generally everything that it is often impossible to describe.
He exhibited at the Salon des Jeunes Artistes in Paris in 1781, and at the Royal Academy in London in 1784. He painted the portrait of Stanislas Leszczynski, of the Secretary of the Kingdom of Naples (1784) and of the French Queen Marie-Antoinette.
Valuable help from “compagnies savantes”
The learned companies of the kingdom hastened to give, on this occasion, testimonies of their zeal and their love for the progress of sciences and arts.
The Academy of Sciences and the Society of Medicine each sent a memorandum to Marshal de Castries on the most important operations that should be carried out during this campaign.
M. l’abbé Tessier, from the Academy of Sciences, proposed a way to preserve fresh water from corruption.
Mr. Dufourni, engineer-architect, also shared his observations on the trees and the leveling of the waters of the sea.
M. Le Dru proposed, in a memorandum, to make several observations on the magnet, by different latitudes and longitudes; he attached a compass of inclination of his composition, which he asked to compare with the result given by the two compasses of inclination which were lent by the commissioner of the office of longitudes in London.
Lapérouse showed his gratitude to Knight Banks, who, having learned that Mr. Monneron could not find an inclination compass in London, was willing to lend him the ones that had served Captain Cook. Lapérouse received these instruments with a religious feeling for the memory of this great man.
The dip circle ( boussole d’inclinaison en français) is an instrument used to measure the angle between the horizon and the earth’s magnetic field. It has been used in navigation, mining and prospecting, as well as for the study of magnetism.