Page:Paine--Lost ships and lonely seas.djvu/228

This page needs to be proofread.

the old skippers of Salem, it was not until 1811 that the first of them, in the bark Active, bartered a cargo with the Fiji Islanders, and he was only four years later than the pioneer ship of the British East India Company.

In the rivalry for the honors of discovery, France was moved by the desire to continue on the sea the illustrious traditions of her great explorers who had won empire in North America. The peace of Versailles in 1783 had ended her conflict with England, and although that absurd blockhead of a monarch, Louis XVI, was far more interested in exploring the menu of his next meal, there were noble spirits eager to win victories in peace as well as in war, and they persuaded the ministry to send a splendidly equipped expedition to the mysterious Pacific and the legendary coasts of Asia. Their choice of a leader was Captain Jean-François de Galaup, Comte de la Pérouse, soldier and sailor, who had proved his mettle by destroying the Hudson's Bay posts as an act of war, and thereby wringing with anguish the hearts of the directors of that opulent British company.

La Pérouse is a shadowy name to this generation and wholly forgotten by most of us, but he was a great and gallant gentleman who was of the rare company of those that wrought enduring deeds in