(above: L-R Celebration of Mass 1879; Sketch of Grave by local artist Aaron Francey; 2008 Anniversary Mass with Cardinal Pell)
After landing on the northern shores of Botany Bay, on January 18th 1788, Captain Phillip quickly decided that the area was unsuitable for settlement. He left the eleven ships of the Fleet and set off with a small group to investigate an inlet to the north that James Cook had recorded but not explored. Phillip declared it to be the ” finest harbour in the world.”
Shortly after he returned to Botany Bay to prepare for the journey to Port Jackson, the two ships of the Lapérouse Expedition, La Boussole and L’Astrolabe, were sighted. On January 25th Phillip headed out of Botany Bay leaving Captain Hunter to greet Lapérouse on the following day. There was a brief exchange before Lapérouse landed on the headland. Over the following six weeks the British occupied Farm Cove and the French established an observatory, a garden, a stockade and constructed two long boats. During the period eleven visits between the two parties were recorded and the noted French Astronomer, Joseph Dagelet, advised William Dawes on the observatory built at what became Dawes Point.
The Lapérouse Expedition included two Catholic priests, Abbé Jean-Andre Mongez, the senior Chaplain and and Fr Claude-Francois Joseph Louis (Laurent) Receveur, the junior. Receveur was born April 25th, 1757 in Noël-Cerneux, a village in Eastern France with a population similar in size to La Perouse. He was a Conventual Franciscan friar at a time when the Conventual Franciscan branch of the Friars Minor occupied the Grand Convent in Paris. A man of letters and author of a number of papers presented to the Académie des Sciences, Receveur was amongst the 17 scientists who accompanied Lapérouse. He served aboard L’Astrolabe as a naturalist, astronomer, botanist, geologist, chemist, meteorologist and philologist.
In a description of the young friar Mr de L’Angle, Captain of L’Astrolabe, wrote ” Father Receveur carries out his duties as chaplain with decorum; he is friendly and intelligent; while at sea he deals with meteorological and astronomical observations and when we are at anchor, with matters related to natural history.” Lapérouse described him as an “indefatigable naturalist” . However, he was not without spirit, and in Macao he was one of four scientists detained aboard ship for 24 hours after a quarrel with the commander. On Easter Island he is recorded as descending into an extinct volcano, with an estimated depth of 800 metres, and reporting that it contained “the finest banana and mulberry plantations.”
Over the course of the expedition, there were numerous scientific explorations where Receveur figured prominently and which Lapérouse recorded in his journals. These included the brutal massacre in Samoa which claimed de L’Angle, senior scientist Lamanon, ten other members of the expedition, and left Receveur with “a bruised eye”.
In the final letter written to his brother while in Botany Bay, Receveur claimed that his injury had healed but within ten days he was dead, possibly from unseen complications.
In death Fr Receveur became the first scientist, the first catholic, and the first priest to be buried in Australia. The burial mass was the first to be celebrated on Australian soil. It is also highly probable that the first Christian services held in the new colony were masses celebrated by Mongez and Receveur. The altar stone used by Mongez was recovered from the wreck of the Boussole and later presented to the Laperouse Museum.
On March 10th Lapérouse sailed for New Guinea, Tonga and New Caledonia, leaving behind letters and reports for the British to send on to France. The expedition was due to return to France in December but nothing more was heard from them.
On June 1st 1788, John White, Surgeon-General of the First Fleet and the Settlement at Port Jackson, visited the site of Receveur’s Grave and recorded the following in his Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales: “After breakfast we visited the grave of the French abbé who died whilst the Count de Peyrouse was here. It was truly humble indeed, being distinguished only by a common head-stone, stuck slightly into the loose earth which covered it. Against a tree, just above it, was nailed a board, with the following inscription on it:
EX F. F. MINORIBUS GALLIA SACERDOS
PHYSICUS IN CIRCUMNAVIGATIONE MUNDI
DUCE D. DE LA PEYROUSE.
OBIIT DIE 17th FEBR. ANNO 1788
As the painting on the board could not be permanent, Governor Phillip had the inscription engraved on a plate of copper and nailed to the same tree; and at some future day he intends to have a handsome head-stone placed at the grave. We cut down some trees which stood between that on which the inscription is fixed and the shore, as they prevented persons passing in boats from seeing it.”
HOMAGE TO LAPEROUSE
In 1791 Admiral Bruni d’Entrecasteaux was dispatched in search of Lapérouse and by April 1792 he reached Tasmania and was the first to explore its southern coast. The expedition then sailed north to the islands of Santa Cruz. It was there he named an uncharted island “Ile de la Recherche” but ironically did not stop to explore it. The island would later be renamed as part of the Vanikoro group. It was not until 1826 that the adventurer, Peter Dillion, established that this group of islands held the secret to the fate of the Lapérouse expedition. When d’Entrecasteaux reached the East Indies he learnt that Lapérouse’s patron, Louis XVI, had been delivered to the guillotine.
As he climbed the steps Louis was said to remark:
A-t-on des nouvelles de monsieur de La Pérouse ?
Other French explorers followed d’Entrecasteaux. In March 1824, Louis-Isidore Duperrey visited the headland and a young French officer carved an epitaph on the trunk of the eucalyptus tree which marked Receveur’s grave.
The tree was later removed and the engraved portion presented to France. In 1988, this item and many other objects from the Musee de la Marine in Paris were given by the French Government as a Bicentennial Gift to Australia for the establishment of the Laperouse Museum.
‘Prés cet arbre resposent les Restes du P. le Reçeveur visité en Mars 1824 ‘Engraved -crew of the Coquille in 1824 ‘
In 1825, while on a visit to Port Jackson, Baron Hyacinthe de Bougainville arranged for the construction of a monument to Lapérouse and a Tomb for Receveur. The project was supported by Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane who granted 176 sq. yards for the monument and 70 sq.yards for the tomb. In an official dispatch to the Minister for the Navy, de Bougainville wrote: “I discussed my plans with Governor Brisbane who welcomed them all the more since on the opposite side of the bay, he himself had recently arranged for a plaque to commemorate the arrival of the immortal Cook. H.E. had no hesitation in granting me the requested site and has kindly agreed to entrust the creation of the mausoleum to the government architect.”
2009 Celebrating the 800th Anniversary of the Franciscans
Like the Carmelites, there is not only one Franciscan Order, but rather a family of Orders which all derive from foundations of St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). The distinctive feature of the Franciscan Rule is the obligation of poverty of dispossession. The friars were to own no property and to earn their living by manual labour and begging. Eventually three Franciscan Orders came into being which differed from each of the others in their interpretation of the obligation of dispossession. The Friars Minor allow no corporate ownership of property, the Conventuals permit corporate ownership of property, and the Capuchins who are the most austere.
Over 50 Franciscans have been canonised, including St. Maximillian Kolbe who gave up his life for that of another prisoner in the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz. The most famous Franciscan theologian is St. Bonaventure, known as the Seraphic Doctor of the Church.
The Franciscans were always strong defenders of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, even before the Church officially defined the dogma in the nineteenth century. They have also been associated with spreading the devotion of the Way of the Cross, of the recitation of the Angelus Prayer, and the custom of building Christmas Cribs.
For women there is a female Order of Franciscans known as the ‘Poor Clares’. This is because they were co-founded by St. Francis and St. Clare. This is a contemplative order.
There are many Franciscan communities throughout Australia and their special apostolate is to the poor and to the care of the natural order, including the conservation of flora and fauna. In many communities throughout the world on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi the Franciscans bless farm animals and pets. St Francis was made the Patron Saint of Ecology in 1980.