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Lot 73: France 1785 'La Perouse' Expedition Medal, virtually Uncirculated

Est: $12,500 AUD - $15,000 AUDPassed
Smalls AuctionsFebruary 05, 2023 Sydney, Australia

Item Overview

Description

Struck in bronze to commemorate the departure of 'l'Astrolabe' and 'la Boussole' to the South Pacific

Dimensions

Diameter 59.5mm

Medium

Coins, Monies & Stamps

Date

Medals, Commemorative

Condition Report

Some light staining on reverse

Exhibited

393

Literature

Collectibles

Notes

Have you ever wondered what Australia would have looked like if Captain Cook hadn’t sailed into Botany Bay on the 29th April 1770? It’s likely that this vast island continent would have been populated from the north and would now be a thriving Asian nation home to over 100 million people living in the hot humid reaches of its northern environs that we Australians of European heritage tend to avoid. Or, if the ships of the First Fleet had been delayed by the howling gale that arrived a week later and sailed into the same Botany Bay on the 26th of January 1788 instead of the 18th only to find the Tri-colour flag of the French Explorer Compte De La Perouse flapping on Bare Island in competition with the Union Jack at Kurnell on the opposing shore. Of course, history records that La Perouse was greeted cordially by the English when he entered Botany Bay who were in the process of relocating the 11 ships of the First Fleet to Port Jackson to establish a beachhead for British colonisation. But, imagine if it were the French who greeted the surprised English? Would the meeting have been so friendly and, would the French, if sent packing, have felt sufficiently aggrieved to return later in force on the directions of the Empire building Napoleon Bonaparte, who as a 16-year-old second lieutenant had unsuccessfully applied to accompany La Perouse on this Voyage of Discovery. La Perouse was himself inspired by the voyages of Captain Cook and with the personal backing of King Louis XVI, mimicked Cook’s 2nd and 3rd voyages, for which the Resolution and Adventure medals were struck, with the commissioning of an impressive commemorative medal which bore a regal side portrait of the king on its obverse. The reverse of the medal provided a written inscription detailing the departure of the two ships of the expedition, La Boussole and L’Astrolabe, from the Port of Brest on the 1st August, 1785. Only 100 of the double-sided medals were struck which were split between silver and bronze and a further 600 uniface medals were made in bronze to be given away on the voyage. Again, this paralleled the Cook medals which were struck in limited numbers in gold (2) and silver (142) for presentation with a further 2000 struck in platina (bronze) to be given out as gifts to the peoples Cook encountered on the voyages. In fact, the preparations for La Perouse expedition had some direct English input with Sir Joseph Banks intervening with the Royal Society of London to allow two of Cook’s personal compasses to be taken on the voyage. Further scientific instruments were secured from the prestigious London firm Ramsden’s the preferred maker of telescopes for the early explorers. As it turned out the English upped stakes and sailed north to establish a Penal Colony at Farm Cove while La Perouse stayed on in Botany Bay until the 10th March before resuming his voyage and sailing north-east to an unknown fate. Meanwhile back in Europe there had been a sharp decline in Anglo - French relations sparked by the French Revolution that kicked off in 1789 and which led to the execution of King Louis XVI in 1793 despite international condemnation. With no word of La Perouse, it was now rumoured that the English had had a hand in his mysterious disappearance and such was the concern that It is even said that just before the deposed King Louis’s head fell into the basket he had enquired if there had been any news of the boats. The ships and the crew of the expedition had never made it back to France and it was not discovered until 1826 that they had been shipwrecked on the reefs of Vanikoro in the Solomon’s Archipelago a fate imagined in Jules Verne's famous novel “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” It is said that history can be even stranger than fiction but can you imagine the different course of World history that would have happened if Napoleon Bonaparte had actually made it onboard the expedition? This month Smalls Auctions offers two recently discovered varieties of the ‘Commemorative Medal for the La Perouse Expedition’ in Bronze in about Uncirculated condition. It was only while cataloguing the two medals that we noticed that the medallist’s name and date which appears on the truncation of the obverse portrait of Louis XVI are in markedly different positions proving that at least two obverse dies were used to produce the 100 bronze and silver medals struck to commemorate the La Perouse Voyage.

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Auction Details

Explorer Medals & Other Collectables

by
Smalls Auctions
February 05, 2023, 12:00 PM AEDT

On-Line Only, Sydney, NSW, 2000, AU

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