The final fate of the La Pérouse expedition is a mystery. In 1788 the frigates L’Astrolabe and La Boussole were wrecked on Vanikoro in the Solomon Islands. According to Vanikoro oral tradition, after approximately six months the survivors departed the island in a two-masted boat constructed from wreckage of L’Astrolabe and timber hewn from the forest. They were never seen again. An 1818 Indian newspaper article and 1825 letter can perhaps shed light on the fate of the Vanikoro escape vessel. These documents relate the 1818 rescue in Torres Strait of a lascar named Shaik Jumaul, a castaway for four years on Murray Island (Mer). While in Torres Strait he saw weapons and navigational instruments he recognised as ‘differently made from English’. The Islanders informed him that these objects came from the crew of a vessel wrecked on the nearby Great Barrier Reef some three decades earlier. No European ship is known to have been lost in Torres Strait in that period. Shaik Jumaul’s account points to the possibility that the La Pérouse expedition ended tragically in northern Australia.

About the Presenter

Dr Garrick Hitchcock is an anthropologist specialising in New Guinea and Torres Strait. He is currently a Research Officer with the PNG-Australia Borderlands Project in the Institute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland. Articles by Dr Hitchcock, exploring the final fate of the La Pérouse expedition, have been recently published in The Journal of Pacific History and The Conversation.

About Archaeology Working Papers

The Working Papers in Archaeology seminar series provides a forum for dissemination of archaeological research and ideas amongst UQ archaeology students and staff. All students are invited to attend the series and postgraduate students, from honours upwards, are invited to present their research. The aim is to provide opportunities for students, staff and those from outside UQ, to present and discuss their work in an informal environment. It is hoped that anyone interested in current archaeological directions, both within and outside the School and University, will be able to attend and contribute to the series.