The 18th Century Discovery
Byron, Wallis and Carteret.
After the peace of Aix la Chapelle, England felt that the dominion of the seas
imposed upon her the obligation of extending the bounds of geographical knowledge, and
thus in rapid succession Byron (1764) and Wallis and Carteret (1766-1768)
were sent forth to discover unknown shores, while France made the voyages of Verazzani
and Cartier. The consequences of this emulation were not unimportant. Bougainville
(1766-1768) completed the discovery of the Solomon Islands, which Mendana
had only partly seen, Wallis made the world acquainted with the beauties of Tahiti,
and Byron explored the unvisited coasts of Patagonia. But the fame of these
worthy mariners was soon eclipsed by Cook who sailed from the port of Plymouth
on his first voyage round the world.
To correct estimate of Cook's discoveries, it is necessary that
we should glance over the vast regions of the Pacific. Many navigators indeed, since Magellan,
had traversed that immense ocean, but the greater part of its expanse still lay buried in
What had Cooks Predecessors left him to discover?
To the north of the equator the Spaniards, sailing from Manilla to Acapulco,
still servilely followed the route which Urdaneta had pointed out, and all beyond
The regions to the south of the line were better known, but here also
maritime discoverers, with the sole exception of Tasman, had confined themselves to
the tropical waters. No one had yet tried to sail through the boundless space which to the
south of the 25th degree of latitude extended between New Zealand and America.
Of Australia only the western coast was known; the existence of Torres
Strait had long since been forgotten, and New Guinea and New Holland
were supposed to form one connected land. To the south no one knew whether Australia
and Van Diemen's Land were joined together, or severed by a channel; and the
eastern coast of the fifth part of the world still awaited a discoverer.
The boundaries of New Zealand were buried in the same obscurity.
Tasman had only visited the west coast of the northern island, which, as far as was
then known, might have extended a thousand miles farther on towards Chili. In one
word, the great geographical problem of an enormous southern continent, the existence of
which was formerly supposed necessary to form the counterpoise of the northern lands,
still remained unsolved.
The discoveries already made had indeed narrowed the limits which
during the sixteenth century were still assigned to that imaginary continent, but in the
unexplored bosom of the South Sea there yet was room enough for lands surpassing
the whole of Europe in extent.
Many of the South Sea islands discovered before Cook's
voyages, had vanished again from the memory of the world, or, according to Humboldt's
expression, "wavered, as if badly rooted on the map, for want of exact astronomical
measurements." Thus two hundred and fifty years after Magellan the Pacific
still offered an enormous field for discovery, and when Cook set sail on the 30th
of July, 1768, on his first voyage of circumnavigation, nearly one half of the
globe lay open to his researches.
Cook's first Voyage
The first service he rendered on this voyage was the discovery that the route to the
Pacific through the Strait of Le Maire and round Cape Horn was preferable to
that which until then had been followed, through the Straits of Magellan.
After having observed at Otaheite the transit of Venus
across the sun, which was one of the chief objects of the expedition, he soon after landed
on the shores of Huaheine, Ulietea, and Borabora, which had never
yet been visited by a European mariner, and gave to the whole group the name of the Society
Islands, on account of their close vicinity to each other.
Then he sailed to New Zealand, which he was the first to find
consisted of two large islands, separated by the strait which bears his name. He
spent six months on the accurate survey of the New Zealand group, and then sailed
to New Holland, the eastern coast of which he first discovered, and closely
examined in its full length of 2000 miles. He also found that the continent of Australia
was separated from New Guinea by a channel which he called "Endeavour
Strait," but to which the justice of posterity has restored or awarded the name
of Torres, its first explorer. This whole sea is so full of dangerous reefs and
shoals that for months the sounding line was scarce ever laid aside, and any less
experienced and prudent navigator must inevitably have been wrecked during these constant
cruises in such perilous waters.
Even Cook owed more than once his preservation to what may well
be called a miraculous interposition of Providence, of which I shall cite a remarkable
example. It was on the 10th of June, 1770, in the latitude of Trinity Bay.
The vessel sailed, under a fresh breeze and by clear moonlight, through a sea the depth of
which the plummet constantly indicated at 20 to 21 fathoms, so that not the least danger
was apprehended. But suddenly the depth diminished to four fathoms, and before the lead
could be heaved again the vessel struck and remained immovable, except as far as she was
heaved up and down and dashed against the rocks by the surge. The general anxiety may be
imagined, and indeed the situation was such as to warrant the most serious apprehensions.
It was found that the ship had been lifted over the ledge of a rock and lay in a hollow,
inside of the reef, where the water in some places was three or four fathoms deep and in
others hardly as many feet. The sheathing boards were knocked off and floating round the
ship in great numbers, and at last the false keel also was destroyed, while the constant
grating of the vessel against the rock seemed to announce its speedy disruption. It was
now necessary to lighten the vessel as much as possible, and soon more than 50 tons'
weight was thrown overboard.
On the following morning land was seen at the distance of eight miles;
but no islet lay between, on which, in case the vessel went to pieces, a speedy refuge
might be found. To add to their distress, the vessel drew so much water that three pumps
could hardly master it; and, finally, it was found that even the rising of the flood, on
which they mainly reckoned, was unavailing to extricate them from their perilous position.
All that could possibly be spared was now therefore cast into the sea, still more to
lighten the vessel, and thus the next tide was patiently expected, when, after incredible
exertion, the ship righted, and they got her over the ledge of the rock into deep water.
But the men were by this time so much exhausted by their uninterrupted
labor that they could not stand to the pumps more than five or six minutes at a time,
after which they threw themselves flat on the streaming deck, where they lay till others
exhausted like themselves took their places, on which they started up again and renewed
their exertions. In this desperate situation one of the midshipmen named Monkhouse
took a lower studding-sail, and, having mixed a large quantity of oakum and wool together,
stitched them down by handfuls as lightly as possible. The sail was then hauled under the
ship's bottom by means of ropes which kept it extended. When it came under the leak, the
wool and oakum, with part of the sail, were forced inwards by the pressure of the water,
and filled the crack. One pump, instead of three, was now sufficient to keep it under. In
this way they got the ship into a convenient port on the coast of New Holland,
where they repaired the injury. Here it was found that one of the holes in the
ship's bottom was almost entirely plugged by a piece of rock which had broken off and
stuck in it. This hole was so large, that, had it not been filled up in this extraordinary
manner, the vessel must undoubtedly have sunk.
With such shattered vessel thus, and a crew worn with fatigue, Cook
decided for fast return by way of Batavia and the Cape to England, where he
arrived on the 11th of June 1771.
Cook's second Voyage
Purpose of his second voyage in 1772-1775 was to finally determine the question
of the existence of a great southern continent, and to extend the geography of that part
of the globe to its utmost limits. Sir Joseph Banks and Dr. Solander had
accompanied him on his first voyage. This time John Reinhold Forster and his son George
were engaged by government to explore and collect the natural history of the countries
through which they should pass.
On the 13th of July, 1772, Cook sailed from Plymouth,
and reached the Cape without having a single man sick. Well aware how much
cleanliness and pure air contribute to health, he had neglected none of the means
necessary to insure it. Every day the beds were aired, the linen of the sailors frequently
washed, and in rainy weather fire often made between decks, to eliminate dampness and
He sailed to the south far into unknown sea, crossed it in various
directions, and after having spent 117 days on the ocean, mostly among floating
ice-fields, and without having once seen land, he steered northwards to the well-known
coast of New Zealand, where on the 25th of January, 1773, he cast anchor in Dusky
Bay. Before sailing farther on to Otaheite, Cook created a little
garden, in which European vegetable seeds were sown and left with proper
instructions to the care of the savages.
On the return voyage from Tahiti to New Zealand, where he
intended to provide himself with firewood and provisions, before advancing once more into
the high southern latitudes, he was pleased with the discovery of the small but lovely Harvey
Islands, whose green girdle of cocoa-nut palms mirrors itself in the dark blue waters.
Then again he cruised in all directions through the icy sea, over an
extent of 65' of longitude and as far as the 71st degree of southern latitude, without
having seen any land; and having thus satisfied himself of the non-existence of a southern
continent, he left those dreary regions to continue his discoveries under a less severe
He first visited Easter Island and the Marquesas, where a
new discovery received the name of Hood's Island, and on the way thence to Tahiti
added the Palisser Group to the map of the world. We now follow him to the
extensive archipelago of Espiritu Santo, first seen by Quiros in 1606,
who took it for a part of the imaginary southern continent. Since then it had only been
visited by Bougainville (1768), who however had contented himself with landing on
the Isle of Lepers, and ascertaining the fact that it did not form part of a
continent but of a considerable group of islands.
Cook on his part examined the whole archipelago in such an
accurate manner, ascertaining the situation of many of the islands and discovering such
numbers of new ones, that he justly thought he had acquired the right to rebaptize them
under the name of the New Hebrides.
From these islands he sailed for the third time to New Zealand,
and discovered on his passage New Caledonia and the romantic Norfolk Island.
Leaving New Zealand on the 10th of November, 1774, once
more to search for the southern continent, he traversed a vast extent of sea for 17 days,
from 43' to 55' 48' S. lat., when he gave up all thoughts of finding any more land in that
part of the ocean, and determined to steer directly for the west entrance of the Straits
of Magellan, with a design of coasting the southern part of Tierra del Fuego,
quite round Cape Horn to Le Maire's Straits.
Those wild, deeply indented, rocky coasts, the region of eternal storms
and fogs, form the most striking contrast to the smiling shores of the South Sea
islands. But, if in the latter the splendor of tropical vegetation enchants the eye of the
spectator, the exuberance of animal life in the Magellanic Archipelago may well
raise his astonishment. In one of the small islands near Staaten Land Cook admired
the remarkable harmony reigning among the different species of mammifera and birds. The
sea-lions occupied the greatest part of the sea-coast, the bears the inland, the shags
were posted on the highest cliffs, the penguins in such places as had the best access to
the sea, and the other birds chose more retired places. Occasionally, however, all these
animals were seen to mix together like domestic cattle and poultry in a farmyard, without
one attempting to hurt the other in the least. Even the eagles and the vultures were
frequently observed sitting together on the hills among the shags, while none of the
latter, either old or young, appeared to be disturbed at their presence. No doubt the poor
fishes had to pay for the touching union of this "happy family."
Having fully explored the southern extremity of America, we once
more see the navigator steer into the deserts of the southern Polar Ocean,
where he discovers some snow-clad isles, Bird Island, South Georgia, Sandwich Land, the
southern Thule; and finally returns to England (30th July, 1776)
after an absence of three years and seventeen days.
Cook's Third Voyage
His third voyage (1776) was undertaken for the purpose of exploring the Northern
Pacific. To the south-east of the Cape of Good Hope he discovered Prince
Edward's Islands, and then proceeded to explore Kerguelens Land, discovered
six years previously by the Frenchman of that name. This wintry island bears
neither tree nor shrub, but in the bays the gigantic seaweed form submarine forests, and
countless penguins make the dreary shores resound with their deep braying voice.
Van Diemens Land, New Zealand, and the Friendly and Society
Isles were now visited for the last time. Steering to the north, Cook
discovered in the last days of the year 1777 the Sandwich Islands,
previously known to the Spaniards but kept secret from the world, and reached on
the 7th of March, 1778, the mountainous forest-girt coast of New Albion,
along which two centuries before Drake had sailed as far as 48' N. lat. Penetrating
farther and farther to the north, he at length reached the most westerly point of the American
continent, Cape Prince of Wales, which, stretching far out into the Straits
of Behring, is only thirty-nine miles distant from the east coast of Siberia.
Both pillars of this water-gate, according to Chamisso's description, are high
mountains within sight of each other, rising abruptly from the sea on the Asiatic
side, while on the American their foot is bordered by a low alluvial plain. On the Asiatic
side the sea has its greatest depth, and the current, which sets from the south into
the channel with a rapidity of two or three knots an hour, its greatest strength. Whales
and numberless herds of walruses are seen only on the Asiatic side.
Through these famous straits, which Deshnew had first passed,
and which Behring most likely never saw, Cook penetrated into the Arctic
Ocean, examined a part of the Siberian coast, and then sailed to the opposite
shores of America, where he discovered and explored the coast of West
Georgia as far as 70'44 N. lat., until fields of ice opposed an impenetrable barrier
to his progress.
Then Cook once more steered to the south and discovered Hawaii,
the largest of the Sandwich Islands. It was here that the illustrious seaman, who
had thrice circumnavigated the globe, was doomed to fall by the club of a barbarous
No navigator has done more for the progress of geographical knowledge
than Cook. He thoroughly explored the wide Pacific with just the astrolabe and the
plummet. His excellent method of preserving the health of seamen from the murderous
attacks of the scurvy, secures him a lasting place among the benefactors of mankind. But
he not only anxiously watched over the welfare of his companions, his humanity extended a
no less salutary influence over the savages with whom he came in contact.
Vancouver and La Peyrouse
The most celebrated navigators during the last quarter of the eighteenth century were Vancouver
and La Peyrouse.
Vancouver, who had accompanied Cook on his last and fatal
voyage, gained his chief laurels (1790) by thoroughly exploring the north-west
coast of America, which his illustrious friend had merely sketched in its most
important outlines. Vancouver began his hydrographical labors at Cape Mendocino,
examined the Straits of Juan de Fuca, and, having convinced himself of the
nonexistence of a passage to the eastward, accurately investigated the labyrinth of bays,
isles, sounds, and inlets, extending between 50' and 60' N. lat., thus establishing the
important fact of the uninterrupted continuation of the American continent in these parts.
Vancouver's Island will transmit his name to the latest posterity, and British
Columbia remembers him as the first navigator that accurately mapped her shores.
The fame of La Peyrouse is owing more to his misfortunes than to
his eminent services. After having distinguished himself as a naval officer, he was sent
by the equally unfortunate Louis XVI on the voyage of discovery from which he was
never to return. On the coast of Tartary and in the Japanese seas he
examined a part of the world which up to this time no European had visited, and,
after having corrected many geographical errors, sailed to Botany Bay, whence he
forwarded his last dispatches (7th Feb. 1788) to Europe. With the intention of
sailing through Torres' Straits to the Gulf of Carpentaria, he left the
newborn English colony, but disappeared in the trackless ocean, and years and years passed
on without solving the mystery of his fate.
At length, in 1826, Captain Dillon, an Englishman, was
informed by Martin Bushart, a Prussian sailor whom he found settled on the Island
of Tikopia, that many years since two large ships bad been wrecked on the neighboring Island
of Vanikoro. Having brought this intelligence to Calcutta, he was sent out by
the East India Company in the "Research" to make further inquiries
on the scene of the catastrophe. On the 13th of Sept., 1827, Dillon anchored
at Vanikoro, and, having collected the most interesting relics of the shipwreck,
left it after a few weeks.
These facts became known at Hobart Town to the French circumnavigator
Dumont d'Urville, who immediately resolved to sail to Vanikoro. He
arrived there on the 22nd Feb., 1828, but at first found it very difficult to
persuade the suspicious natives to point out to him the remains of the wrecked ship, until
the offer of a piece of red cloth effectually overcame their scruples. One of the boldest
immediately jumped into a boat and. offered to guide them on condition of receiving the
proffered reward. The bargain was gladly struck, and the Frenchmen, piloted by the
native, eagerly pushed off from shore.
The coral reef which forms an enormous girdle round Vanikoro
approaches the land opposite to the village of Paiou, so that the distance between
them is hardly a mile. There, in a channel dividing the breakers, the savage caused the
boat to stop, and made signs to the Frenchmen to look down to the bottom, where they saw
anchors, cannons, and other objects scattered about and overgrown with corals. No doubt
now remained, and with deep emotion they gazed on these last memorials of the unfortunate
expedition of La Peyrouse. Metal alone had been able to resist the tooth of time,
the rolling waters, or the gnawing shipworm; all wood-work was gone.
I have already stated that on D'Urville's arrival he found the
natives extremely distrustful and shy, answering all his questions by negations. It was
evident that their conduct towards La Peyrouse had been anything but hospitable,
and that they now feared the tardy vengeance of the white men. But, finding themselves
treated with invariable kindness, their fears gradually gave way, and thus it became
possible to gather some information about the catastrophe from some old men who had
witnessed it, and from the most intelligent of the chiefs.
After a dark and stormy night the islanders saw early on the following
morning an enormous pirogue stranded on the coral reef on the south side of the island.
The surf soon destroyed the ship, and but a small number of the crew reached the shore in
a boat. On the following day a second large pirogue stranded opposite Paiou. But
this wreck lying on the lee-side of the island, less exposed to the surf, and resting on a
more even ground, remained a longer time without going to pieces. The whole of the crew
escaped in the boats to Paiou, where they built a small vessel, and, after a stay
of five months, once more embarked and were never beard of since. Most likely they had
steered towards New Ireland with the intention of ultimately reaching the Moluccas
or the Philippine Islands, and perished on some unknown reef.
The unhealthy condition of D'Urville's crew prevented him from
extending his researches any further along the western coasts of the Solomon Islands.
That the stranded vessels were those of La Peyrouse is beyond all doubt; for years
before and after no other large vessels had been lost in those seas. The heavy cannons
could only have belonged to ships of war such as La Peyrouse commanded, and several
of the instruments collected by Captain Dillon evidently belonged to a scientific
Before D'Urville left Vanikoro he resolved to raise a
simple monument to the memory of his unfortunate countrymen, a four-sided pyramid resting
on a square base. Neither nails nor iron clasps fastened the coral blocks together, for
fear of awakening the cupidity of the savages, and, if they have kept their word to honor
the Papalangi monument as they would a temple erected to their own gods, it
still reminds the navigator whom chance may lead to that secluded island of the renown and
tragical end of the ill-fated La Peyrouse.
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