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On the 23d of June, they got sight of the American coast, in the neighbourhood of Mount St. Elias ; and on the 3d of July they anchored in a harbour to which M. de la P. gave the name of Port des Français, in latitude 58° 37' N. and longitude 139° 50. W. We have the following description of the interior of this harbour:
í To form a conception of it, let us suppose a bason of water of a depth in the middle that could not be fathomed, bordered by peaked mountains, of an excessive height, covered with snow, without a blade of grass upon this immense collection of rocks condemned by nature to perpetual sterility. I never saw a breath of air ruffle the surface of this water; it is never troubled but by the fall of enormous pieces of ice which continually detach themselves from five different glaciers, and which in falling make a noise that resounds far in the mountains. The air is in this place so very calm, and the silence so profound, that the merc voice of a man may be heard half a league off, as well as the noise of some sea birds which lay their eggs in the cavities of these rocks.' · This picture reminds us of the celebrated description giren of the solemnity of silence, in Congreve's Mourning Bride :
“ All is hush'd and still as death
my own affrights me with its echoes." On an island in this harbour, the French erected a tent for an observatory. Immediately on their arrival, the ships had been surrounded by the canoes of the natives, whom M. de la Pérouse describes as the most complete thieves, possessed of an activity and obstinacy capable of executing the longest and most difficult projects,' which his lenity towards them much encouraged. If (says he) we did not applaud the robber, we at least reclaimed nothing, in order to avoid every occasion of quarrel.
I am very certain they never thought of inspiring us with senti. ments of fear, but I have been convinced by their conduct, they ima. gined our patience to be inexhaustible : they soon compelled me to take away the settlement I had made upon the island; they disembarked there in the night from the side of the coast; they traversed a very thick wood, which was totally impervious to the day, and gliding upon their bellies like adders, almost without stirring a leaf, they contrived, in spite of our sentinels, to carry off some of our effects.
In an excursion designed for the examination of the shores o the harbour, M. de Langle and two other gentlemen attempted
to ascend one of the glaciers : but, after having with great labour and difficulty travelled two leagues, they found it impracticable to advance farther. On the day after this excursion, the chief of a village, who had before visited them, came on board, better ata tended and much more dressed than usual, and made a pro. posal to sell them the island on which the observatory had been placed. We had no proof,' says M. de la Pérouse, that this chief was the real proprietor, but as a great many Indians were witnesses to the bargain, I had a right to conclude that they gave their sanction to it. I gave him several ells of red cloth, hatchets, &c. and made presents to all his suite.' The bargain being thus concluded, M. de la P. took posession of the island with the customary formalities. The circumstances under which he acted deserve commendation, for the respect shewn by him to the rights of the natives : but on this formal method of taking possession of lands, as well as on the rights of first discoverers, the following reflections occur to us. If land be unoccupied, and there exist no tokens of the intention of any people to occupy it, it appears consonant to natural equity, that whosoever first takes actual possession, meaning to cultivate or make use of the land, has the best right; in full exclusion of all pretensions from those who, without design of occupancy, advance other claims, of whatever nature. It is generally intended, by the formalities of taking possession, to appropriate the right of occupancy whenever the exercise of that right may become convenient: but, to allow that such an act can entitle any nation to retain an exclusive right of keeping large tracts of country wholly useless, and locked up for ages from all mankind, would amount to an endeavour to render vain the gifts of our Creator; and would in effect, as far as re. garded the human species, be equivalent to the striking off so much territory from the face of the earth. Prior discovery, without the actual and declared intention of occupancy, seems a very slender reason for opposing the establishment of factories or settlements by other nations.
To this period, the navigators esteemed themselves most fortunate, in having arrived at such a distance from Europe with the companies of both ships in perfect health, and without having suffered any accident :--but a misfortune now awaited them, which, besides the immediate grief and distress that it occasioned, must have thrown a gloom over all the succeeding part of the voyage. A plan of the harbour had been made by Messrs. de Monneron and Bernizet, which wanted the soundings to render it complete. For this purpose, three boats were sent under the command of M. d'Escures, the first Lieutenant of the Boussole. At particular times of the tide, X 4
the current in the passage had been observed to run with a ta. pidity not to be resisted, and which constituted what is generally, in sea language, denominated a race. M. de la Pérouse had apprehensions from the too enterprising spirit of M. d'Escures. In the narrative, he says ; ...As his zeal had sometimes appeared to me to be rather too warm, I thought it my duty to give him his instructions in writing. The details I made of the prudence which I expected from him, appeared to him so minute, that he asked me if I thought he was a child, adding, that he had commanded ships before that time. I amicably explained to him the motive for my orders; I told him, that M. de Langle and I had sounded the passage of the bay two days before, and that I perceived that the commanding officer in the second boat had passed too near the point, upon which he had even touched.'
The directions given by the Captain were very particular; and 6 after these instructions (says he) could I be supposed to have any thing to fear? they were given to a man 33 years of age, who had before commanded men of war.' Many, no doubt, will ask why M. de la Pérouse should send a man in whose prudence he had not full confidence ? but no one who is conversant in military service can be ignorant that difficulties arise, and that much management is required, on many occasions where the commander feels a want of confidence in the officer whose rank and station, nevertheless, point him out as the most proper person to be employed on a particular service. To have shewn more open marks of distrust than the commander did, in this instance, would have given, apparently at least, just cause of complaint; besides that M. de la Pérouse took every reasonable precaution, and such as he doubtless believed would have been suíncient.
The three boats departed at 6 o'clock in the morning. Many of the officers went in them, the party being considered almost as much one of pleasure as of utility. At to in the forenoon, one of the boats, commanded by M. Boutin, was seen returning by itself to the ships. The first idea of danger that occurred was an apprehension that the party had been attacked by the Indians : but M, Boutin soon related the melancholy account of the wreck of the other boats, and the loss of their crews; the bolt which he commanded being the only one that escaped. From this officer's narrative, we give the following extract:
On the 13th July, at fifty minutes past five o'clock in the morning, I set off from the Boussole in the jolly boat ; my orders were to follow M. d'Escures, who commanded our pinnace, and M. de Mar. chainville, commanding that of the Astrolabe, was to join us. The instructions received in writing by M. d’Escures from M. de la Pérouse, and which had been communicated to me, enjoined him to employ these three boats in sounding the bay ; to lay down the soundings from the bearings upon the draft which had been put into his hands; to sound the passage, if the water were smooth, and to mea. sure its width ; but he was expressly forbidden to expose the boats under his orders to the least risk, or to approach the channel at all, if there was either broken water or swell in it. After having doubled the western point of the island, near to which we were at anchor, I perceived that the sea broke all over the channel, and that it would be impossible to approach it. M. d'Escures was at that time ahead, lying on his oars, and seemed desirous to wait for me, but when I was come within gun-shot he continued his course; and as his boat rowed much better than mine, he several times repeated the same manœuvre without any possibility on my part of joining him. At a quarter after seven o'clock, having constantly steered for the channel, we were not more than two cables length from it, when our pinnace put about. I did the same in his wake; we shaped our course for re-entering the bay, leaving the channel astern of us. My boat was astern of our pinnace, and within hail; I perceived that of the Astrolabe at a quarter of a league's distance within the bay. M. d'Escures then laughingly hailed me ; saying, “I think we can't do better than go to breakfast, for the sea breaks horribly in the channel.' I answered, * Certainly, and I imagine that our labour will extend no farther than to determine the limits of the sandy bay which lies on the larboard hand in going in.' M. de Pierrevert, who was with M. d’Escures, was about to answer me, but his eyes being turned towards the eastern coast, he saw that we were drifted by the ebb. I also perceived it, and immediately both our boats began pulling away to the northward, in order to increase our distance from the channel, from which we were still a hundred toises off. I did not think of our being exposed to the least danger, since by gaining only twenty toises on either tack we always possessed the resource of running our boats ashore. After having rowed more than a minute, without being able to stem the tide, I tried in vain to approach the eastern shore. Our pinnace, which was ahead of us, made the saine useless efforts to reach the western shore. We were then under the neces. sit; of once more laying our heads to the northward, to prevent our falling across the breakers. The first billows began to shew themselves at a small distance from my boat; I now thought it high time to let go the grapnel, but it did not hold: fortunately the rope not being made fast to a thwart, ran out end for end, and discharged us of a weight which might have proved very fatal to us. In an instant afterwards I was in the middle of the heaviest seas, which almost filled the boat; she did not however sink, or cease to answer her helm; so that I could always keep her stern to the sea, from which circumstance I entertained great hopes of escaping the danger.
"Our pinnace increased her distance from me whilst I was lctting go the grapnel, and in a few minutes afterwards she was in the midst of the breakers. I had lost sight of her on shipping the first seas, but in one of these moments when I found myself at the top of the breakers, I saw her again going down about thirty or forty toises ahead; she was broadside too, and I saw neither men nor oars. My only hope had been, that she might be able to stem the current, but I was too certain she would perish if she was drawn into it; for in order to escape, it were absolutely necessary to have a boat which would swim when full of water, and in this situation would answer her helm to prevent her oversetting; our pinnace most unfortunately possessed none of these qualities.'
The particular construction of the boat which M. Boutin commanded (the jolly boat) assisted his endeavours in getting through the danger. He had only seen one boat perish, the pinnace of the Astrolabe being at the time a full quarter of a league from the place of danger : but she was never seen afterward. She was commanded by M. de Marchainville; and from the knowlege of his generous disposition, it was concluded that, when he saw the other boats in distress, he imagined that they had lost their grapnels, or some of their oars, and immediately Towed towards them in the hopes of being able to give them assistance. Parties were sent along the coast to search whether any of the wreck had been driven on shore. M. de la Pérouse, indeed, was persuaded of the impossibility that any person belonging to either of the two boats should escape : yet, that no chance might be neglected, and for the satisfaction of the friends of the unfortunate sufferers, he remained in this port tighteen days after the accident;-a much longer time than he otherwise had intended. In this interval, some Indians brought to the ships several pieces of the wreck of the boats, and said that they had buried the body of one man which had been cast ashore. A party was sent, on this intelligence, with the Indians : but, after having proceeded three leagues in a very bad road, their guides (who had been liberally paid, and who had extorted from them fresh presents almost every mile of the way) sud. denly forsook them and pushed into the woods. The inha. bitants themselves entertained great dread of the channel in which the boats were lost : seven large canoes having perished there, a very short time before the arrival of the ships. The natives never ventured near it except at slack water.-By glasses from the ships, it was perceived that, when any canoes came between the two points, the chief or most considerable man of the party rose up, and extended his arms towards the sun, appearing to pray, while all the others paddled with their whole strength.
The several navigators who have visited this part of America do not much vary in their description of the natives. The women, indeed, made a more than usually unfavourable impression on M. de la Pérouse, though not on his ship's company, by the filthiness of their manners and habits. A specimen is given of their vocal music, by which it appears that they sing in parts, preserving regularly throughout a distance of thirds. Probably,