The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal/Volume 6/5 May 1838
To the Editor of the Perth Gazette
It is known to most of your readers that in the latter end of the year 1800 the French Government fitted out an expedition consisting of two corvettes — The Geographe and the Naturaliste — for the purpose of making a voyage of discovery along the Australian shores. On the 27th May the following year these vessels first made the land a little to the north of Cape Leeuwin and on the 30th they dropped anchor in an extensive bay after rounding a remakable Cape; which place the commanders named after their respective vessels — Geographe Bay and Cape Naturaliste. During their examination of that part of the coast, a circumstance occurred which caused a deep sensation at the time and which is so much connected not only with our own colony, but with the honour of the British name, that it may be excusable to give the detailed account of the (translated) language of M. Peron, the Zoologist, of that expedition. It appears that whilst they were on shore a violent storm arose, which wrecked their boat upon the beach, so that several days elapsed before they were able to regain the vessel. After giving an account of the privations and exhaustion of the party for want of food and water and the sickness consequent upon the use of a wild vegetable as food which was surcharged with carbonate of soda and of the brackish water from a neighbouring salt marsh — after enumerating the various articles which were lost or destroyed by the wrecking of the boat he continues his account in this manner "But the most deplorable circumstance attending this last disaster, was the loss of one of the best sailors belonging to the Naturaliste, of the name of Vasse from the town of Dieppe. Dragged down three times by the surf at the moment he was endeavouring to get into the boat, he disappeared among the waves, without the possibility of rendering him any assistance, or even of being certain of his death, as well owing to the violence of the heavy sea, as to the obscurity of a very dark night. However, as all the circumstances conspired to render his death inevitable, there was not an individual of the expedition, who entertained the slightest doubt on the subject, until an article which was copied into all the French journals, had the effect of fixing the public interest on the unfortunate Vasse, and reviving a hope in the breast of his companions. It was insisted in that article, that having miraculously escaped the fury of the waves, Vasse, after the departure of the two ships, had joined himself to the savages of that part of Leeuwin's land, and had adopted their habits and learned their language, and that he had thus passed two or three years with them: then, without attempting to explain how such a thing could be, at a distance of three or four hundred leagues to the south of where he was shipwrecked, he was made to fall in with an American vessel on board of which he had been received and some time after he had been taken up by an English Cruiser. It was even added, that he had just arrived in England, where contrary to the right of nations, he was stll detained a prisoner. However improbably an occurrence of this sort might be, Messrs. Freycinet, Lesueur and myself thought it our duty not to overlook that public rumour and we lost no time in calling the attention of the Minister to this relation which by all accounts would have been of so great interest, if it had been true. Unfortunately, that agreeable delusion was soon put an end to by the result of the enquireies on that subject directed by the "Minister of the Marine". All the details concerning our unfortunate companion were absolute fabrications. It is for the purpose of consecrating his unhappy fate and our regrets that we gave the name of the "River Vasse" to that arm of the sea which I have described, and the discovery of which becomes to us a source of loss and affection."
By the above account the mind is left in a state of painful suspense and uncertainty, from which it is naturally desirous to be relieved. The situation of a poor solitary mariner thus left strugging in the surf on a remote and savage coast is one of such deep and general sympathy, that I am sure any information, however scanty, which is calculated to throw any light upon his fate, will meet with a corresponding interest. A recent visit to that part of the coast has afforded an excellent opportunity of gleaning the following particulars:— poor Vasse did escape from the waves but enfeebled as he was with the sickness and exhaustion by his struggles, exposed to the fury of the storm unsheltered and apparently abandoned among the savages, perhaps he would have thought death a preferable lot. But the savages appear to have commiserated his misfortunes; they treated him kindly and relieved his wants to the extent of their power by giving him fish and other food. Thus he continued to live for some time, but for what length of time I have not yet been able to ascertain. He seems to have remained most constantly on the beach looking out for the return of his own ship, or the chance arrival of some other. He pined away gradually in anxiety, becoming daily, as the natives express it, weril weril (thin thin). At last they were absent for some time on a hunting expedition and on their return they found him lying dead on the beach, within a stone's throw of the water's edge. They describe the body as being then swollen and bloated, either from incipient decomposition, or dropsical disease. His remains were not disturbed even for the purpose of burial, and the bones are yet to be seen. The natives offered to conduct us to the spot but time pressed we were then upon the point of embarkation and the distance was six or seven miles. The spot indicated is near Toby's Inlet at the south-eastern extremity of Geographe Bay.
As French ships are now likely to frequent these coasts, probably this account may reach some of his countrymen, who may feel an interest in the information, or possibly some relative may still survive, to whom it may afford a melancholy consolation to learn even these scanty particulars of his fate.
- I am Sir
- Your obedient servant,
- G. F. Moore
- Your obedient servant,