Honey thinks about the Astrolabe and the Compass and of Apple Inc.

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November 1, 2015 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground 


By Honey van Blossom






(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste)




Picture of Pacific Ocean by Jose L. de Juan, copyright 2015.

Jules Vern’s Captain Nemo (Meaning “no one” from Homer’s Odysseus – Odysseus said he was “No Man.”) traveled 20,000 leagues under the sea in a submarine. The title did not mean the Nautilus went 20,000 leagues deep in the water but that the vessel traveled 20,000 leagues while under water. The nautilus (from the Latin form the original Greek word “sailor”) is a marine mollusk, and its bony body structure is externalized as shell divided into chambers. The planisphere mentioned below was a star chart the shows the celestial sphere on a plane.

The narrator of the novel writes:

“That day being Christmas Day, Ned Land seemed to regret sorely the non-celebration of Christmas, the family fete of which Protestants are so fond. I had not seen Captain Nemo for a week, when, on the morning of the 27th, he came into the large drawing room, always seeming as if he had seen you five minutes before. I was busily tracing the route of the Nautilus on the Planisphere. The Captain came up to me, put his finger on one spot on the chart, and said this single word.


“The effect was magical! It was the name of the islands on which La Perouse had been lost! I rose suddenly.

“‘The Nautilus has brought us to Vanikoro?’ I asked.

“‘Yes, Professor,’ said the Captain.

“‘And I can visit the celebrated islands where the Boussole and the Astrolabe struck?’

“‘If you like, Professor.’

“‘When shall we be there?’

“‘We are there now.'”

“Followed by Captain Nemo, I went up on to the platform, and greedily scanned the horizon.

“…The earth seemed covered with verdure from the shore to the summits in the interior that were crowned by Mount Kapogo, 476 feet high. The Nautilus, having passed the outer belt of rocks by a narrow strait, found itself among breakers where the sea was from thirty to forty fathoms deep. Under the verdant shade of some mangroves I perceived some savages, who appeared greatly surprised at our approach. In the long black body, moving between wind and water, did they not see some formidable cetacean that they regarded with suspicion?

“Just then Captain Nemo asked me what I knew about the wreck of La Perouse.

“‘Only what everyone knows, Captain,” I replied.

“‘And could you tell me what everyone knows about it?’ he inquired, ironically.


“I related to him all that the last works of Dumont d’Urville (Jules Sébastien César Dumont d’Urville was a French explorer, cartographer, naval officer and rear admiral) had made known– works from which the following is a brief account.

“La Perouse, and his second, Captain de Langle, were sent by Louis XVI, in 1785, on a voyage of circumnavigation. They embarked in the corvettes Boussole and the Astrolabe, neither of which were again heard of. In 1791, the French Government, justly uneasy as to the fate of these two sloops, manned two large merchantmen, the Recherche and the Esperance, which left Brest the 28th of September under the command of Bruni d’Entrecasteaux.

“Two months after, they learned from Bowen, commander of the Albemarle, that the debris of shipwrecked vessels had been seen on the coasts of New Georgia. But D’Entrecasteaux, ignoring this communication– rather uncertain, besides–directed his course towards the Admiralty Islands, mentioned in a report of Captain Hunter’s as being the place where La Perouse was wrecked.

“They sought in vain. The Esperance and the Recherche passed before Vanikoro without stopping there, and, in fact, this voyage was most disastrous, as it cost D’Entrecasteaux his life, and those of two of his lieutenants, besides several of his crew.

“Captain Dillon, a shrewd old Pacific sailor, was the first to find unmistakable traces of the wrecks. On the 15th of May 1824, his vessel, the St. Patrick, passed close to Tikopia, one of the New Hebrides. There a lascar (a lascar was a sailor from the Indian Subcontinent) came alongside in a canoe, sold him the handle of a sword in silver that bore the print of characters engraved on the hilt. The lascar pretended that six years before, during a stay at Vanikoro, he had seen two Europeans that belonged to some vessels that had run aground on the reefs some years ago.”

Vern published Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Sea in 1870. The name La Perouse may have been well known then. It is a geographic name now, and the name of a crater on the surface of the moon. It is possible that the lascar had seen two Europeans that had belonged to some vessels that had run aground on the reefs surrounding the island of Vanikoro, one of the Santa Cruz Islands not too far from New Guinea.

It is not true, however, that no one heard of Jean François de Galaup, Comte de Lapérouse after 1785.

In 1785, Louis XVI commissioned Jean-François Lapérouse (1741-1788?) and his Minister of the Marine the Marquis de Castries to lead a scientific exploration around the world. From paintings, Lapérouse had blue eyes. He wore a powdered wig in these paintings but his eyebrows are a blonde’s.

On September 14, 1786, the first two foreign boats – L’Astrolabe (An astrolabe was an ancient astronomical computer) and La Boussole (The Compass) — entered the Bay of Monterey, then part of Spain.

Malcolm Margolin provided an improved translation from older translations of Lapérouse’s journal for the time the two ships were moored in the Monterey Bay in Life in A California Mission (Heyday Books, 1989). This book also shows drawings by John Sykes, a master’s mate aboard Vancouver’s ship in 1792, and drawings of the Carmel Mission and Indians by Jose Cardero in 1791, the drawings obtained from the Bancroft Library. Cardero (1766 – about 1811) sailed with marine explorer Alessandro Malaspina as a boatswain, and he became the artist for the Malaspina expedition.

Margolin writes:

“Aboard was a party of eminent scientists, navigators, cartographers, illustrators, and physicians. Cloth, tools, seeds, musical instruments, and other coveted trade goods were packed in the ships’ holds. But more importantly

L’Astrolabe and La Boussole brought what this tiny outpost craved the most: news from abroad and the novelty of new European faces.”

Margolin summarizes the primitive condition of the missions and presidios in the late eighteenth century, as well, of course, as describing the treatment the Indians received. The Indians, he perceptively writes, did not only have to learn how to act like Spanish villagers, but also the padres required the natives to live according to much higher standard of moral rectitude than real Spanish villagers followed. ” One of the monks that greeted Lapérouse first beat the Indians with whips, and then he began beating them with chains. In 1785, Governor Fages brought a formal accusation against Marias de Santa Catalina Noriega for beating Indians with chains for insignificant offenses. Lapérouse thought the missions were like slave plantations. He also, however, found the monks “pious, austere, charitable men leading lives of great sacrifice and devotion.

In footnotes to the journal, Margolin points out Lapérouse misperceptions. One is a claim that the Indians did not cultivate except for a small amount of maize and lived entirely by fishing and hunting. The fact is the Indians at the mission did not cultivate maize before the Spanish missionaries arrived in California. They fished and hunted, but the main staples of their diet came from gathering.

Another misunderstanding: Lapérouse saw the Indians as small and weak. Margolin points out that they were small and weak after they lived in the mission for a period of time; Europeans’ earlier encounter with those of the first people who were to become mission Indians showed them to have been strong and healthy.

The journal describes the many birds – including the alcatraz, or pelican, which once filled the skies above the bay. The mother-of-pearl abalone shells that filled tourist stores near the Monterey Bay when I was seven years old.

A sense of what native life had been like before the missions may be found in the following passage:

“These Indians are extremely skillful with the bow and killed before us the smallest birds. Their patience in approaching them is inexpressible. They conceal themselves and slide in a manner after their game, seldom shooting until within fifteen paces.

“Their industry in hunting larger animals is still more admirable. We saw an Indian with a stag’s head fastened on his own, walking on all fours and pretending to graze. He played this pantomime with such fidelity, that our hunters, when within thirty paces, would have fired at him if they had not been forewarned. In this manner they approach a herd of deer within a short distance, and kill them with their arrows.”

L’Astrolabe and La Boussole arrived at Macau in 1787. In 1787, Lapérouse visited Manila and the coasts of Korea and Kamchatka, islands in the Sea of Japan, and west, where he encountered the Ainu people. On December 6, 1787, he stopped in Samoa. The Samoans killed twelve of his men and wounded twenty. The expedition arrived in Botany Bay, Australia on January 24, 1788. The chaplain of L’Astrolabe is buried at Botany Bay. On March 10, 1787, he continued his voyage, intending to reach the Solomon Islands. L’Astrolabe and La Boussole then vanished.

In August 1791, the HMS Pandora missed a chance to rescue survivors of the two ships. Captain Edward Edwards, characterized as one of England’s most ruthless, inhuman, and incompetent captains, sailed past the island and saw smoke signals. He was, however, in search of Fletcher Christian, a mutineer, and sailed by without stopping.

In May 1793, Rear Admiral D’Entrecasteaux saw smoke signals from several elevated areas on the island of Vanikoro. D’Entrecasteaux could not bring his ships closer because of the dangerous reefs that surrounded the island.

In 1826, an Irish sea captain, Peter Dillon, found evidence that helped him piece together what had happened to L’Astrolabe and La Boussole, confirmed by expeditions in 2005 and 2008. Initially, divers brought to the surface thousands of items, including a watch, china, glasses, silver salvers and several sculptures. In 1999 the fifth expedition discovered what is now called the “French camp” on Vanikoro. Two archaeologists investigated the site. They found flints, flattened musket balls, nails, uniform buttons, a measuring instrument and a small cannon, spread over an area covering some 20 to 30 square meters. Four years later, another expedition found a well-preserved skeleton encased in a thick layer of sediment. The body was of a man of medium build, aged between 31 and 35. He had perfect teeth. His identity is unknown. He was believed to be the artist Gaspard Duché de Vancy but DNA testing turned out to be inconclusive.

The ships had wrecked on the reefs surrounding Vanikoro. Islanders killed some of the survivors. Others built a raft from the wreckage and sailed west, never to be heard from again. The “chief” and a servant remained behind but died a few years before Dillon arrived. If Lapérouse was one of the two men, and if he survived to leave the island by, say, 1820, then he would have lived to about age 80. If Lapérouse was one of the two French survivors, he was 47 when he was stranded.

Today, the 1300 occupants of Vanikoro consist of two populations that tend to live separately. The Melanesian population is comprised of the descendants of the original settlers. Melanesian people and Australian aborigines are the only extant people to have interbred with the Denisova hominim, sharing 4-6% of the genome with Neanderthal, and all people but Africans have a percentage of Neanderthal in their DNA. Denisova ranged from Siberia to Southeast Asia, although recent studies show some of them occupied Western Europe where they interbred with Neanderthal. About 800 occupants are of Polynesian descent. Their ancestors colonized Vanikoro “ a few centuries ago.” They use dugout canoes, and there is no electricity on the island.

The children are on Vanikoro are sometimes blond, but the DNA for Melanesian blond hair is not the same as for Europeans. Some Australian aboriginal people also have blond hair. I found nothing specifically for Vanikoro but some people in this island group have blue eyes, particularly striking against their dark skin.

Vanikoro is sinking rapidly — both because of global warming and because of shifts in tectonic plates.

Lapérouse’s expedition to Monterey brought seeds for fruit trees to California. Fruit trees did not thrive at Monterey because, I suppose, of the fog. The fog around Monterey meant extremely difficult navigation for the marine expeditions. The later Malispina expedition lost three anchors as a result of the fog, and the men were unable to successfully drag for them because of the stones in the ocean bottom. When I lived in Salinas, we needed both winter coats and summer coats because of the cooling fog.

Those seeds that Lapérouse brought to Monterey thrived, however, at the Santa Clara Mission. The Mission orchard at Santa Clara was the only source of fruit supply to the valley for many years. It furnished stock for the few orchards that were planted in the early years of the American occupation. These plantings were few at first, owing to the gold excitement, but when some Americans left the mines to farm in the Santa Clara area, the plantings became more numerous.

Maybe one day we’ll learn whether Lapérouse – or whoever the two survivors were – helped seed the human population in Vanikoro. He certainly helped seed the fruit trees of what would become Silicon Valley. Sigfurd and Russell Varian – the sons of an Irish poet and mystic and his wife who brought his children to the utopian community of Halycon, California — developed the klystron in World War II, and then an electronic empire that more or less ended the fruit-producing area by about 1971. The remnant of that era is in geographic place names, e.g., The Pruneyard and Blossom Hill. Russell and his wife Dorothy and their adopted children lived near still pristine in those days Stevens Creek, and the Varians had an extensive and beautiful peach orchard.

Steve Jobs’ parent’s garage was – the garage actually is still there, so is the house – was at 2066 Crist Drive, Los Altos. This is a modest house, built on a former apricot orchard, 1.9 miles from where Russell and Dorothy Varian lived — and that was the beginning location of a multi-national company named after a fruit.



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