In 1788, the doomed expedition of Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse, left a collection of letters and documents with the British settlement at Sydney in Australia for delivery back to France. One such document is a letter from Pierre d’Gusteau, one of the mates aboard the French ship Astrolabe.

In it, the author writes of a curious incident near Samoa, where a series of flashing lights had been observed at night. It was assumed that the lights were some form of communication, being used to blink a simple code. d’Gusteau records the sequence, which repeated for some time, as “-.. .- -. –. . .-.” and notes that attempts to respond to the light by repeating the signal back were not recognized.

The crew of Astrolabe assumed that the lights had been at the top of an island. But according to the navigational charts sent to Paris, there was no land whatsoever nearby, with Samoa and other chains being more than a day away in every direction. Furthermore, the signal appeared like Morse code to investigators examining the records in 1968. However, the earliest Morse codes were not in use before 1844, over 50 years later, and would not reach Samoa and the surrounding islands for decades after that.

Unfortunately, shortly after leaving Sydney, Pierre d’Gusteau, the Astrolabe, and all of Lapérouse’s men vanished, never to be seen again. Their fate was not ascertained until 1826, when artifacts were found they had wrecked on an island and slowly perished. No human remains of any member of the crew were ever found, however.

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