Invalid Input

Invalid Input

Search the Remnant Newspaper
Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Commemorating the First Masses in Australia in 1788, Historically or Fictitiously

By:   Frank Carleton
Rate this item
(13 votes)
The Receveur Tomb, located in the Botany Bay National Park in Austrailia. Claude-Francois Joseph Louis (Laurent) Receveur was the junior of the two chaplains on the expedition which arrived in Botany Bay on January 26th, 1788. The Latin inscription on the grave reads: “Here lies L. Receveur French Priest of Friars Minor, Scientist in the Voyage Around the World under the leadership of de Laperouse, died February 17th, 1788" The Receveur Tomb, located in the Botany Bay National Park in Austrailia. Claude-Francois Joseph Louis (Laurent) Receveur was the junior of the two chaplains on the expedition which arrived in Botany Bay on January 26th, 1788. The Latin inscription on the grave reads: “Here lies L. Receveur French Priest of Friars Minor, Scientist in the Voyage Around the World under the leadership of de Laperouse, died February 17th, 1788"

In the 1960s the rapid displacement of its ancient Latin liturgy within the Catholic Church, first vernacularised, then supplanted by a new rite in 1969, has ever since occasioned perennial conflict between those who call the process a reform and those who term it an anti-liturgical and unhistorical revolution replete with cultural illiteracy. One instance of this conflict, covertly conducted, is provided by the foundation and continuance of the annual Père Receveur Commemoration at La Perouse on the north headland of Botany Bay. This February event commemorates the death of an eighteenth century French naval chaplain and the inception of the Catholic Mass at Botany Bay during the initial weeks of the British First Settlement in Australia in 1788. The lengthy sojourn of the Laperouse Expedition in Botany Bay from 26th January to 10th March that year occasioned both.


In a letter of 21st April, 1785 to Pierre Claret de Fleurieu, Director of Naval Ports and Arsenals while his two ships expedition was being fitted out at Brest Jean François de Lapérouse(1741-1788) had sought a priest "to say Mass for us and to have talent." By talent he meant scientific ability. Amongst a holding of forty Laperouse manuscripts in the Mitchell Library is a billet de demande or requisition slip of 8th July, 1785 for the provision of a chapel and its contents aboard Lapérouse's ship, the Boussole. As it had its own chaplain it is reasonable to infer that the same provision was made for the other vessel, the Astrolabe.

In 1964 an altar stone in several pieces, a necessary item for the celebration of Mass, was recovered from the wreck of the Boussole at Vanikoro in the Solomons. This was placed on display in the then newly opened Laperouse Museum on Botany Bay in 1988. It was returned with other original artifacts of the Lapérouse Expedition to the Musée de la marine in Paris in 2008 for a permanent Lapérouse voyage display from 2016.

A royal ordonnance of 1765 specified the duties of chaplains in the navy of the ancien régime with precision. The chaplain of a naval vessel was obliged to lead daily morning and evening prayers with the crew kneeling while the Angelus before meals was announced by the ship's bell. Mass was to be said, except when the weather prevented it, on Sundays and feast days and as often as possible on other days. In other words the celebration of Mass was a regular element of French naval regimen in the period.

The Lapérouse Expedition's two ships entered Botany Bay on the morning of 26th January, 1788 exchanging courtesies with the departing vessels of the British First Fleet then en route to Port Jackson. This French expedition of geographical and scientific discovery carried two priests acting in the dual roles of chaplain and scientific savant. Aboard Lapérouse's ship, the Boussole was the Abbé Jean André Mongez (1751-1788?), Canon of Ste. Genevieve. Aboard the second ship, the Astrolabe was a Conventual Franciscan friar, Père Laurent Receveur (1757-1788).

The Lapérouse Expedition arrived in Botany Bay on a Saturday and departed to oblivion on Palm Sunday, 10th March, 1788. Sexagesima fell on the first Sunday, January 27th, the first of seven Sundays there. In late January and up to 17th February, there were thirteen saints days, three of which fell on a Sunday. These included the ancient feast of the Purification of Our Lady or Candlemas on February 2nd. Ash Wednesday occurred four days later. The foregoing dates are drawn from the Roman Calendar in the Pars Hiemalis (December to March) of a Roman Breviary published at Kempten in Germany in 1781 four years before the Lapérouse Expedition sailed from Brest. Its Tabella temporaria gives 20th January as the date of Septuagesima in 1788 from which the dates of subsequent Sundays are calculated. Between 26th January and 10th March, 1788 it is reasonable to infer from the prescription of the 1765 ordonnance that over thirty Masses were said by two priests until 17th February, then only one.

In a murderous affray on Maouna (now Tutuila) in the Navigators Islands (now Samoa) on 11th December, 1787 in which twelve men of the expedition, including the captain of the Astrolabe, were killed, Père Receveur was lightly wounded. By letter of 7th January, 1788 from Botany Bay to his brother, a parish priest, he reported: "My wounds which amounted to very little were healed in about a week." But the young Conventual Franciscan priest died ten days later in mysteriously unknown circumstances on Sunday, February 17th. His death would have occasioned a Requiem Mass by his surviving confrère, the Abbé Mongez. From 17th February to 10th March, 1788 there were seven saints days that did not fall on a Sunday. In accordance with the 1765 ordonnance it can be inferred that in Botany Bay Mass was said aboard each ship by its chaplain during the voyage. After the death of his confrère we cannot know if the Abbé Mongez said two Masses on Sundays and feast days, one on each ship.

The massacre in December, 1787 induced Laperouse to fortify his encampment ashore and mount two small cannon in apprehension of a local Aboriginal attack which eventually ensued. It is inconceivable that Mass would have been celebrated ashore in such an insecure location as well as the logistical difficulties of setting up an altar ashore and assembling two ships' companies there. Moreover some men would have had to have been left aboard the ships for their security. As the ships' logs were lost when both vessels were wrecked in a hurricane within weeks of leaving Botany Bay no written record of any of the Masses has survived.
Rear Admiral Bellec
bellecIn early 1989 in Paris this writer met that distinguished French sailor and scholar, Rear Admiral François Bellec, then Directeur of the Museé de la Marine and expert on the Laperouse Expedition. The admiral took from his bookshelves the volume containing the royal ordonnance of 1765 and showed me the prescription cited above for the celebration of Mass by naval chaplains on Sundays and feast days. He was certain that Masses were said at Botany Bay because of it.

Since 1788 Père Receveur's grave on the north headland of Botany Bay has recalled the earliest contact between France and Australia and the inception of the Mass during the first weeks of the British First Settlement. The grave was enhanced with a low altar shaped tomb in 1829. Incised on the tomb's mensa is the Latin epitaph painted on a board fixed to a eucalyptus tree above the grave in 1788. This was transcribed with varying degrees of inaccuracy by several British First Fleet officers in their journals:

"Hic jacet L. Receveur Ex F.F. Minoribus Galliae Sacerdos Physicus in Circumnavigatione Mundi Duce D. de la Perouse Obiit Die 17th Febr. Anno 1788

Here lies L. Receveur from the Friars Minor, Priest of France, scientist in the circumnavigation of the world under the leadership of Laperouse Died 17th February in the year 1788"

In late 1986 was founded the Père Receveur Commemoration Committee to commemorate the bicentenary of Père Receveur's death in February, 1988 and the inception of the Mass in Australia at Botany Bay in the year of the Australian Bicentenary. This Committee included this writer, an archivist as Convenor, an associate professor of town planning, a reserve naval officer and a secular priest as chaplain. In September, 1987 a Mass for this commemoration on Sunday, 14th February, 1988, three days before the two hundredth anniversary of Père Receveur's death, was officially scheduled as an event of the Australian Bicentenary. It had the approval of the state body that controls the grave site, the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service. Throughout 1987 the Committee formed a documentation collection of books, articles and artifacts on the life of Père Receveur in the context of the Lapérouse Expedition. This informed the commemoration's planning.

To commemorate the death of an eighteenth century priest and the inception of the Mass in Australia the traditional Latin rite of Mass was both liturgically and historically correct. Though early advised of this coming event the parish priest at the local St. Andrew's Church, Malabar showed no interest in it during 1987 until the prospect of such a traditional Mass loomed. A Franciscan priest member of the Commemoration Committee ceased to attend meetings without explanation well before the end of that year even though he'd been kept informed of the work in progress.

By letter of 30th November, 1987 the late Edward Clancy, the Archbishop of Sydney, refused permission for a Latin Mass under Pope John Paul II's 1984 indult for the use of the 1962 editio typica of the Roman Missal, the traditional Roman rite:

"... while the Mass may be in Latin it should be according to the new rite. The Indult of October 3rd, 1984, does not provide for the celebration of the so-called Tridentine Mass on such an occasion as this."

The term" "Tridentine Mass", a misnomer for a rite in use for centuries before the sixteenth, had not been used in the Commemoration Committee's application letter of 24th November. Archbishop' Clancy's letter did not explain why the indult did not apply, a view not shared by the late Dr. Harry Jordan MSC, a senior canonist of Sydney Archdiocese who had vetted the letter of application. Notoriously however, the Sydney Sunday Latin indult Mass at 10am in the Chapel of the Resurrection, St. Michael's House opposite Sydney University from October, 1985 had no advertisement then nor for twenty years thereafter. Obviously a public Mass on a public site would have advertised the papal indult for the traditional Mass rite.

The commemoration in 2014
novus-priestBy letter of 22nd December, 1987 before further correspondence from the Committee Archbishop Clancy withdrew permission for the Mass given in his first letter and advised collaboration in a hastily organised vernacular new rite Mass by hitherto only perfunctorily involved local Franciscans and the local French chaplain. By January, 1988 an organising committee headed by the previously uninterested local parish priest was formed. This body impertinently invited the Commemoration Committee to its historically and liturgically novel event. The Committee riposted with invitations to the proper event . The other event was officially announced in the Catholic Weekly of 20 January, 1988 for the same time, date and place as the long prepared Père Receveur Commemoration in a blatant attempt to push that long prepared event and its organising committee off the ground. As Sydney Archdiocese had done nothing to commemorate two hundred years of Catholicism in Australia this clumsy tactic also represented a jejune attempt to annex an historically based Australian Bicentenary event but altered for reasons of liturgical politics.

Declining to have the Commemoration usurped by an anachronistic modern ceremony unknown to both priests and all other members of the Lapérouse Expedition the Committee altered its event in accordance with historical criteria. It became the Latin Office of the Dead chanted by a Gregorian schola after the presumed use of the Abbé Mongez for his deceased confrere, Père Receveur in 1788. This occurred as scheduled on Sunday 14th February, 1988 near the Conventual Franciscan's grave and was recorded by a sound unit of the Australian Broadcasting Commission's Department of Religious Affairs for use in a subsequent radio series.

Once it became obvious by continuing advertisement that the authentic Commemoration would not be overborne the historically bogus event occurred a week later. This was a concelebrated new rite Mass, only as old as 1969, with the late Bishop John Heaps as principal celebrant and including Franciscan friars. In 1879 when Irish Franciscan friars arrived in Sydney they twice celebrated Mass in the immediate vicinity of Pere Receveur's grave in the traditional Latin rite. Now the only actual, but unadmitted, rationale for the modern event was to prevent such a traditional Latin rite Mass which now only attracted an insensate hostility from sundry church sources.

This article offers a preview of things to come in the next print edition of The Remnant. Subscribe today and see what else you're missing.

The authentic Père Receveur Commemoration has continued annually since 1988. Its rival has not. With two further refusals of an indult Mass in 1990 and 1992 by Archbishop, then Cardinal, Clancy of Sydney the public recitation of the Rosary within and about the grave enclosure was the Père Receveur Commemoration in the years 1989 to 1991. In 1990 and 1992 priests, including a Conventual Franciscan friar for 1991, were available who held the celebret of the Pontifical Commission, Ecclesia Dei which included the explicit faculty for the private and public use of the Roman Missal of 1962 ("Quae facultas vigebit pro celebratione privata et etiam publica ..." )

According to the late Cardinal Clancy's refusal letter of 2nd January, 1992 to the Commemoration Committee:

"I do not think that the fact that Père Receveur would have celebrated Mass according to the earlier Latin rite provides an adequate reason for celebrating such a Mass on the occasion of the anniversary." He did not advise whether this unsolicited opinion, which ignored the explicit faculty here cited, was an historical or a liturgical one.

On Sunday 16th February, 1992 the Pḙ̀re Receveur Commemoration took the form of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at an altar erected in the Instrument Room of the old Cable Station which houses the Lapérouse Museum near Père Receveur's grave. This followed the liturgical precedent of 1938 for the sesquicentenary of Père Receveur's death when the then coadjutor Archbishop of Sydney, Norman T. Gilroy, administered Benediction near Pere Receveur's grave in the presence of Australian and French colonial Catholic clergy and French naval personnel from warships in Botany Bay. The subsequent procession in 1992 to Père Receveur's grave for the final prayers for the dead was led by priests in black copes attended by servers with crucifix, lights and incense and a choir chanting the Dies Irae. The French Consul General and the French Defence Attaché were in attendance.

The rival Père Receveur event, another novel concelebrated new rite Mass, mounted by the local Malabar parish, resumed in the same year and for the same unadmitted reason. Three weeks before the annual commemoration the Committee received from a La Perouse resident a copy of a letter of 30th August, 1991 signed by herself for a local tourist association to the Malabar parish priest about the celebration of an open air Mass on Sunday 16th February, 1992 . This was designated as one of the "special events" for the forthcoming Yalunga Festival of the local Aboriginal community. But the Commemoration Committee had scheduled the 1992 Commemoration for Sunday 16th February in correspondence with the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service in March, 1991. Sadly for the plausibility of the alleged reason for another rival Père Receveur event, the Yalunga Festival actually occurred a week later than advised.

Both events were featured in the February 12th issue of the Catholic Weekly of Sydney Archdiocese as though they were one with an absurdly inaccurate caption to a picture of Père Receveur's grave:

     " The well-tended grave of Father Receveur had been allowed to deteriorate for more than 170 years before the local Catholic community took charge."

The "local Catholic community " had never had charge of the grave which has been a public site under government auspices since the nineteenth century. This triumphalist statement ignored, amongst other well recorded facts, the placing of iron railings about the grave at the behest of the New South Wales Colonial Premier in 1876, their renewal at the expense of the French Government in 1906 and initiatives by the Franciscan order for the grave's upkeep in the 1930s. A further gross instance of historical illiteracy was provided by the Mass brochure which featured a sailing ship flying the French tricolour, a flag which did not exist during the Lapérouse Expedition's lengthy sojourn in Botany Bay nor for more than a year thereafter.

Repeatedly without any supporting evidence the Malabar parish advertised in the Catholic Weekly a Mass in the vicinity of Père Receveur's grave as being on the site of the first Mass celebrated in Australia. The gauche emphasis on the" first Mass" was in obvious ignorance of the two first Masses said by two priests either on 26th January, 1788, the Feast of St. Polycarp, or on the day after, Sexagesima Sunday.
Father Sayed Elias of the Society of St. Pius X offers the TLM in 2014
pius priestFor the first time in 1994, Mass for the real Père Receveur Commemoration was celebrated on the verandah of the Laperouse Museum by a young French priest, Father Philippe Nansenet of the Society of St. Pius X. Every year thereafter the annual February Père Receveur Commemoration has been a Mass celebrated by a priest of the same society of priests in the traditional Latin rite. This was followed by a procession to the grave for the chanting of the Salve Regina within its enclosure. In 2003-04, this writer as Convenor of the Commemoration Committee transferred the annual Père Receveur Commemoration to the District Superior of the Society of St. Pius X in Australia.

In 2008 during the February week of the papal visit to Sydney by Pope Benedict XVI Cardinal George Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, celebrated the new rite Mass as the other Père Receveur event notwithstanding that Pope's motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum of July, 2007 which explicitly confirmed the unbroken liceity of the traditional Latin rite. In his brief address Cardinal Pell misnamed Père Receveur as 'Louis' instead of 'Laurent', the same error made by the bishop at the spurious 1988 event, and made an oblique reference to the unhistorical notion that had the French arrived before the British " Perhaps our history would have been like Canada's". Lapérouse carried no instructions to annex land anywhere and recognised the British jurisdiction, having received instructions in the course of the voyage to observe what the British were doing at Botany Bay.

Though the 1988 Malabar parish priest moved elsewhere in 2004 the local parish event continues in opposition to the annual Père Receveur Commemoration. By now given the passage of time various local participants may not know that their anachronistic event originated in covert opposition to a traditional Latin rite Mass in 1988 and resumed only four years later for the same reason in 1992. Had the local Malabar parish actually been interested in an historically based commemoration in 1988 it would have collaborated with the authentic Père Receveur Commemoration from 1987 onwards.

In a 2011 41-page biography of Père Receveur the author made the following preposterous suggestion: " ... Receveur very likely celebrated or concelebrated the first Catholic Mass in Australia with Abbe Jean-André Mongez , chaplain on the Boussole ..." (Edward Duyker Pere Receveur, Franciscan scientist and voyager with Laperouse. Sydney: Dharawal Publications, 2011 p.24) Plainly the author was blithely unaware that concelebration of Mass by two or more priests, a commonplace phenomenon since the Second Vatican Council, was not an eighteenth century liturgical practice. But it is in line with the liturgical and historical ignorance that has characterised the rival Père Receveur event in 1988 and since 1992. Placing current practice in the historic past cannot be valid. The biographer made no reference to the authentic annual commemoration although he made use of this writer's published account of the first Commemoration in 1988 which was published in a collection of essays for the Australian Bicentenary by the Church Archivists' Society ( An Australian mosaic. Toowoomba, 1988 pp. 71-77)

A twenty-six year saga of true and false annual Père Receveur events represents the opposition of ephemeral church politics to historical authenticity.

The 2015 Père Receveur Commemoration will occur at 8am on Sunday 15th February next as a traditional Latin rite Mass on the verandah of the Laperouse Museum near Père Receveur's grave.

Frank Carleton

Longwarry, Victoria

[Comment Guidelines - Click to view]
Last modified on Friday, February 6, 2015