Paul Antoine Fleuriot de Langle

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Death of Langle, as depicted in 1846

Paul Antoine Fleuriot de Langle (1 August 1744, château de Kerlouët at Quemper-Guézennec, Côtes-d'Armor – 11 December 1787, Maouna, Samoa) was a French vicomte, académicien de marine, naval commander and explorer. He was second in command of the La Pérouse expedition, which departed France on 1 August 1785 and was eventually lost in the Pacific. Fleuriot de Langle died in an encounter with natives in what is now American Samoa before the expedition was lost; his remains were returned to France, and were buried in the choir of the church of Saint-Louis at Brest.

Life[edit]

He was a member of the Académie de Marine from 1774. He commanded the 50-gun Experiment in the American Revolutionary War, and then commanded the frigate Astrée in the Hudson Bay expedition under his friend La Pérouse's orders.

For Fleuriot de Langle's expertise, knowledge of math and astronomy, and force of character, La Pérouse chose him as his deputy for his next expedition, commanding the 114-man frigate Astrolabe (accompanied by the Boussole) on a voyage of exploration into the Pacific Ocean. On the return voyage in 1787, fearing scurvy among his crew, Langle and La Pérouse landed on the Samoan island of Maouna to look for drinking water and fresh food, which they were running out of (Langle and La Pérouse both recognised the importance of fresh food in fighting scurvy, and Langle - unlike La Pérouse[1] - was persuaded by the observations of Captain Cook that fresh water was also valuable in this regard). With their boats laden with water barrels, they waited for a tide high enough to rejoin their ship, but were in the meantime faced with ravishing young women, their hair decorated with hibiscus, advancing across the beach towards them and (according to the survivors' accounts) offering them sex. After many weeks at sea, these advances were evidently not unanimously rebuffed and extreme confusion and disorder followed.

To convince the indigenous chiefs to re-establish order, and to divert the ladies' attention, Fleuriot de Langle offered the women several trivial objects, and they retired in good order. The exchange of gifts and the inevitable comparisons that followed created jealousies and only boosted the tensions. Soon 7 to 8 thousand hostile natives encircled the boats and the casks and prevented the French from re-embarking, but Langle refused to fire on them since the French king's orders had been to keep the mission peaceful. Hit on the head by a stone, he fell into the water, dead, and his sailors opened fire. In the ensuing massacre, 12 sailors were killed and 20 wounded and finished off with club blows.

Paul-Antoine Fleuriot de Langle is featured on a Monument to the Dead on the site on the island of Tutuila in American Samoa, inscribed "Inauguré en 1883 pour honorer la mémoire de onze membres de l'expédition Lapérouse massacrés en ce lieu." (inuagurated in 1883 to honour the memory of de Langle and the 11 other members of the Lapérouse expedition massacred on this site).

Fleuriot de Langle was posthumously promoted to chef de Division on 24 April 1788. Angered by his death, La Pérouse sank more than 100 pirogues containing over 500 people before leaving this island, but said I feared erring in my choice of victims, the cry of my conscience saved their lives. He said of Langle that "He died for his humanity" and "I have lost by the most horrific of treasons my best friend, my friend for thirty years. A man full of spirit, judgement, knowledge, and certainly one of the best officers in all the fleets of Europe". His remains were buried in the choir of the church of Saint-Louis at Brest.

Epilogue[edit]

After the massacres, Astrolabe and Boussole arrived at Botany Bay on 24 January 1788, and had some contact with the officers of the First Fleet under Captain Arthur Phillip (but not Phillip personally) who had arrived that same week to set up the colony of New South Wales. They remained until 10 March and then set off, never to be heard from again. Missions to discover its fate determined that the expedition's ships were sunk at Vanikoro, to the north of New Guinea, probably in March 1788. It was only in 1826 that the debris of Langle's ship was found on Vanikoro — a fragment of sculpted wood, a silver bowl stamped with a fleur-de-lis, and a bronze ship's bell, all of which are now in the Musée de la Marine. It is impossible to reconstruct the exact circumstances of her sinking.

An expedition to Vanikoro in 1999 dived on the wrecks of Boussole and Astrolabe, finding a Graphometer similar to one found at Numbo in 1885. This follows finds of a silver fork with the coat of arms of Fleuriot de Langle, a Louis d'or, Spanish and Russian coins, an alcohol thermometer, a ship's whistle, part of a bilge pump, an anchor, a cask of dragon, a crucifix, a human statue, ship's débris, a copper sieve, musket balls, an engraved domino, bottles, pitchers, goblets, trivial trade items and officers' medals and high collars.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ In his account of the Maouna drama, La Pérouse wrote of Langle that "he adopted captain Cook's system and believed that fresh water was a hundred times more preferable to casked water"

External links[edit]