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Explorers of the Pacific

Several Spanish and English navigators had explored the Pacific after Magellan's voyage, but this vast ocean was still largely unknown to Europeans in 1600. In the 1600's and 1700's, Dutch, English, and French navigators sailed throughout the Pacific. They discovered many islands. European voyagers also hoped to find the mysterious Terra Australis Incognita (Unknown Southern Continent). The Europeans of the time believed this legendary large and fertile continent lay in the South Pacific as a counterweight to the northern continents of Europe and Asia.

After 1750, two developments made long Pacific voyages safer than they had been. First, sailors realized that lemons and other fresh fruits and vegetables would prevent scurvy. This disease, which is caused by a lack of vitamin C, had been responsible for many illnesses and deaths on earlier voyages. Captains now tried to have supplies of these foods on hand for their crews. Second, in the late 1700's, navigators began to use the chronometer, a device that enabled them to determine longitude more accurately. As a result, it was possible for them to pinpoint their position at sea and to establish the exact location of newly found islands.

In the early 1600's, the Dutch began to establish control over what is now Indonesia. This area became the starting point for Dutch voyages of exploration in the Pacific. From 1606 to 1636, Willem Jansz (WIHL uhm YAHNS) and other Dutch navigators reached the coast of Australia, but they did not establish colonies there. In 1642 and 1643, the Dutch navigator Abel Janszoon Tasman (AH buhl YAHN sohn TAZ muhn) reached the island now called Tasmania, which is named after him, and sighted New Zealand. In 1644, he made a voyage during which he explored Australia's northern and western coasts.

During the second half of the 1700's, the French and the British were the most active in exploring the Pacific. In 1766, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville (lwee ahn TWAHN duh boo gahn VEEL) began what would be the first French voyage around the world. In January 1768, Bougainville entered the Pacific by way of the Strait of Magellan. In April, he reached the island of Tahiti, which had been visited the year before by Samuel Wallis, a British explorer. Bougainville's later account of the island's people and climate made Tahiti seem like an earthly paradise to many Europeans.

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Bougainville was the first European to see several islands in the Pacific, including the island in the Solomon group now named after him. In addition, among Bougainville's crew was probably the first woman to sail around the world. This young Frenchwoman, named Jeanne Baret (zhahn bah RAY), sailed with Bougainville disguised as a male servant to one of the scientists on the expedition. Her true identity was not revealed until after the expedition had reached Tahiti.

The greatest explorer of the Pacific was James Cook, a British naval officer who made three long voyages from 1768 to 1779. These voyages provided much scientific information about the waters and islands of the Pacific and contributed to European colonization of Australia and other territories. Cook's first voyage was mainly a scientific expedition, but Cook also had orders from the British Navy to try to find the Unknown Southern Continent. He did not find it, but he did explore New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia.

Cook was instructed to look for the Unknown Southern Continent during his second voyage as well. In 1773 and 1774, he crossed the Antarctic Circle and went farther south than any other explorer up to that time. But he could not find an Unknown Southern Continent. During his third voyage, Cook set out to look for an outlet of the Northwest Passage in the northern Pacific. In 1778, he sailed north through the Bering Strait until ice blocked his way. He found no outlet. The following year, Cook was killed in a dispute with the local peoples on the island of Hawaii.

Explorers of the Pacific (an online library)


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