During the second half of the 18th century, Britain and France despatched a number of major expeditions to the Pacific. The greatest contribution by far was that of James Cook, but the voyages of Bougainville, Surville and Marion Du Fresne had each played an important part in Pacific exploration. After Cook's death, France, with the active support of Louis XVI, organised a large-scale expedition to the Pacific, planned to last four years, concentrating on areas of the Pacific left unexplored or inadequately surveyed by Cook. It was to be led by an experienced and highly regarded naval officer, Galaup de La Perouse. All the major French scientific societies and savants of the times co-operated in drawing up instructions and, overseas, such men as Joseph Banks willingly assisted. La Perouse sailed with two ships, the Boussole and the Astrolabe, in August 1785, making for Tenerife, Brazil and Chile. He went on to Easter Island, the Hawaiian group and the Northwest coast of America, endeavouring to complete the work of James Cook. The French spent some time in California, the first foreign visitors to the new Spanish missions.
They then crossed the Pacific to China, sailed north to the Philippines and Formosa, and to the unknown waters around Korea, Sakhalin and Kamchatka. Having received new instructions, La Perouse sailed south towards the Samoan group and to Botany Bay in New South wales where he arrived on 26 January 1788, a few days after Captain Phillip and the First Fleet. He left on 10 March on the first leg of the voyage. At this point the expedition vanished. The disappearance of the two French frigates was a mystery that remained unsolved for almost 40 years. Meanwhile, an account of the expedition had been published, based on La Perouse's journal which he sent back from various ports of call. It contained his comments on his discoveries and on the various settlements he visited, and a wealth of information on native people, their customs and language, and reports by the naturalists on board his ships. The first volume contains over 200 pages of editorial introduction and the annotated narrative of the first half of the voyage, from Brest to the Philippines.
The second volume contains the balance of the annotated narrative from the Philippines to Botany Bay, selected correspondence from La Perouse and other members of the expedition, the ships' muster rolls, further editorial material, maps, a select bibliography and the analytical index.