Pair of manuscript documents about the provisioning of La Pérouse's ship the Boussole.. LA PEROUSE, Robert CLONARD. SUTTON, chevalier Sutton de CLONARD.
Pair of manuscript documents about the provisioning of La Pérouse's ship the Boussole.

Pair of manuscript documents about the provisioning of La Pérouse's ship the Boussole.
Pair of manuscript documents about the provisioning of La Pérouse's ship the Boussole.

Brest: aboard the Portefaix, renaned Boussole, 28 & 31 May 1785.

Two notes in ink on laid paper, 155 x 207 and 155 x 168 mm (the first watermarked 1768); numbered in pencil 273 and 284.

Outfitting La Pérouse for the Pacific

A pair of simple but extremely rare documents from the outfitting of La Pérouse's ship the Boussole at Brest, by the Chevalier de Clonard, second-in-command and administrative officer on the vessel, and ultimately captain of her sister ship, the Astrolabe. Three years later both ships would be wrecked, with the ultimate loss of all lives, at Vanikoro in the Solomon Islands.

A pair of simple but extremely rare documents from the outfitting of La Pérouse's ship the Boussole at Brest, by the Chevalier de Clonard, second-in-command and administrative officer on the vessel, and ultimately captain of her sister ship, the Astrolabe. Three years later both ships would be wrecked, with the ultimate loss of all lives, at Vanikoro in the Solomon Islands.

Robert Sutton de Clonard, the son of a wealthy Irish nobleman, was a respected commander in the French Navy, seeing action at the Chesapeake, Yorktown and Tobago, well known for a gallant action he led in his privateering ship the Comte d'Artois against two British ships in 1780. Clonard had known La Pérouse since the time that they served together in India, and the two were close: in a letter La Pérouse wrote in January 1787 he described Clonard as an officer of the highest merit, talented in his profession, and full of zeal, honour and the love of glory, "un des hommes les plus estimables que j'ai connu." It was in 1787 that La Pérouse moved his trusted friend from being his second-in-command on the Boussole to take over command of the Astrolabe following the death of her captain Paul Antoine Fleuriot de Langle in a skirmish on the shores of the Samoan island Maouna.

The present manuscripts show Clonard engaged in the demanding business of fitting out the ships for what was planned to be four years at sea, much of it expected to be spent far from European ports of call. The first is a requisition for two new winches (on the "nouveau modéle" like those at the arsenal), signed as having been delivered. The second is a request for seven box-mattresses trimmed with green serge for the large room and for the captain's chamber, as well as two green carpets (presumably for the same locations): a rare glimpse of life in the officers' quarters.

Both notes are written at a striking point in the outfitting, the very moment when the ship selected for La Pérouse's expedition, Le Portefaix (the "Gatekeeper"), was finally provided with the name she would carry to the Pacific: on the first of the two notes, Clonard writes from the Portefaix, but on the second that name has been crossed through and Boussole written instead.

The tragic wreck of La Pérouse's two ships in Vanikoro in 1788 means that any papers and manuscripts from the voyage, other than the official despatches sent from earlier ports-of-call including Port Jackson and now held in French archives, are exceptionally rare survivals. We have handled a single similarly brief manuscript note by La Pérouse, and that considerably predating his voyage, but have never seen anything written by Clonard.

It is interesting that Milius in his journal of the Baudin voyage singles Clonard out as an early post-Cook visitor to New Holland when he speaks of "Marion, Lozier-Bouvet, the chevalier de Clonard and other French navigators [having] also visited some parts of this same coast..." (Peter Hambly, ed. Pierre Bernard Milius: last commander of the Baudin Expedition, Perth and Canberra 2013, p.33). He is remembered by the naming of Clonard Way in Little Bay, near La Perouse NSW.

Provenance: Private collection (France).

British Magazine and Review, October 1782; Dictionary of Irish Biography (online); Patrick Clarke de Dromantin, Les réfugiés jacobites dans la France du XVIIIe siècle (2005); John Dunmore, French Explorers in the Pacific, vol. I (1969).

Price (AUD): $9,750.00  other currencies Ref: #4504920