European Exploration of the South Pacific

Spanish conquistador Vasco Nunez de Balboa in 1509 had found the Pacific Ocean after having crossed the isthm of Panama. It was Fernao Magelhaes (Magellan) who in 1520, after passing the Magellan Straits, christened the Ocean to be the Pacific one. He was also the first European to traverse it; unaware of its dimension, the Magellan's crew suffered from famine. On Guam they could restock provisions. Magellan then continued to the Philippines.
New Guinea was first sighted by Portuguese Antonio de Abreu in 1511 or 1512; fellow Portuguese Jorge de Meneses was the first European on record to set foot on New Guinea.
Cristovao Mendonca is believed to be the first European to sight Australia, in 1522. Spaniard Luis Vaez de Torres sailed through the Torres Straits, separating Australia and New Zealand, in 1606; in the same year, Dutchman Willem Janszoon also sailed through the Torres Straits; he is widely credited with the (European) discovery of Australia. Another Dutchman, Abel Tasman in 1642 circumnavigated Australia, disproving the theory that Australia would be connected to Antarctica. Tasman also sighted New Zealand, Tonga and Fiji (1643).
Of course, circumnavigators in the succession of Magellan - Sir Francis Drake 1579 and Olivier van Noort 1599, traversed the South Pacific, in westerly direction. Dutchman Willem Schouten followed them in 1616, another Dutchman, Jacob Roggeveen in 1722; he is credited with the European discovery of Easter Island and Samoa.
While the Dutch and English undertook most journeys into the South Pacific from either Cape Hoorn or from Batavia, the Spanish established their line of communication from Mexico to the Philippines (which administratively were placed under Mexico). In 1627, a Spanish expedition visited Hawaii. By the early 18th century, while quite a number of journeys through the South Pacific had been undertaken, there were still considerable blind spots on the map. The islands of the South Pacific, for most European navigators, were necessary stopovers on a lengthy, burdensome and largely unprofitable stage of their journey to the Indies or China. Not only that, a number of islands were inhabited by cannibals; the reefs were risky, too.
Tahiti was found in 1767, by Englishman Samuel Wallis. The later 18th century saw a renewed interest in exploration of the South Pacific; in the endeavour, the English (James Cook et al.) and the French (Bougainville, la Perouse) competed with each other. James Cook was responsible for reviding the old prejudice of (all) the inhabitants of the Pacific islands being hostile and uncivilized; his description of friendly savages influenced the British government in her decision to settle Australia.

General History, from Torres Strait Research Authority
A History of Exploration and Research on the Great Barrier Reef, from AIMS, scroll down for 1600
DOCUMENTS 1642 Tasman ontmoet Maoris (1642, Tasman meets Maoris), from Nationaalarchief

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on June 25th 2003, last revised on November 14th 2004

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