Late European Discovery in the Pacific

With Magellan’s travels in the Pacific in 1521, the Philippines were “discovered,” giving a new route to the rich (Spice) islands of the Eastern Pacific for the Spanish or other white explorers to travel.

It was hoped the missing continent Terra Australis Incognita would still be discovered for the Europeans coming into the Pacific round the southern American extremity of Magellan’s Strait. Alvaro de Mendana from Peru led an expedition from his country in 1567 and he “discovered” the Solomons’ Ontong Java.

He also reached Honiara, which he declared Point Cross the capital, and where he raised the emblem of the Christian Cross denoting, he claimed, the land for Christian Spain.

The Seven Years War (1756-63) had seen France and Britain in regular enmity until a treaty between the two major European nations was signed. Their continuing battles kept them out of the search for the missing great south land of most maritime explorers. However there were still voyages of discovery undertaken for well-endowed powers.

The next visionary in our region, seeking the legendary southern continent still believed to be in our hemisphere, was Pedro de Quiros. Portuguese Pedro de Quiros chose a more southerly course than Mendana and in so doing “discovered” our Torres Group — and the large Island of Espiritu Santo on entering Big Bay thereon. Quiros was in no doubt he had found the legendary, and longed for, Austrialia del Espiritu Santo. The island even appeared such as a continent would and contained many of the botanical species sought by Europeans. Quiros named his newly found land and place for future settlement New Jerusalem and the river entering Big Bay the Jordan.

So far I’ve not mentioned Jean-François la Pérouse. Captain James Cook’s explorations decided there was no new continent to be discovered and by 1780 Sydney was preparing to receive the First Fleet (in 1788). France (now out of the Seven Years War) had sent La Pérouse to the South-West Pacific to look at what Britain was doing in Australia and New Zealand and La Pérouse had sailed off from Sydney in the direction of the Solomons, never to be seen again. Peter Dillon in 1828 established the truth of the la Pérouse Vanikoro grounding of the French ships. He found that the German and his Fijian wife and an Indian seaman he had left at Tikopia on his first visit were still there, 140 miles from Vanikoro.

Possibly the greatest success of all belongs to Louis Antoine de Bougainville. But his geatest achievement was the charting of much of Tahiti as well as the Solomons and his research of islands and coastal features of the New Hebrides. Giving his name to the major francophone secondary school in Port Vila was a fitting tribute to the efforts of the great French voyager from his French masters.

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