Until the middle of the eighteenth century, marine explorations across the South Seas were searching for new economic resources. But then the British set out to determine, once and for all, the character of the South Seas and the Antarctic region. On his first voyage (1768–1771), James Cook circumnavigated New Zealand and mapped the eastern coast of Australia. On his second voyage (1772–1775), he sailed back and across the South Seas in order to find terra australis — does it, or does it not, exist? In the event, he three times crossed the Antarctic Circle (66º34’ south), traveled farther south than anyone before, laid claim to several previously unknown islands [item 38], and came within 75 miles of Antarctica before being turned back by the ice [items 37 and 39]. The primary map from the official report of the voyage compares Cook’s achievements with those of previous explorers [item 36]. Together with his third voyage (1776–1779) [section 2], Cook changed forever the map of the world.
36. James Cook
“A Chart of the Southern Hemisphere; shewing the Tracks of some of the most distinguished Navigators”
In: A Voyage towards the South Pole, and round the World. Performed in His Majesty’s Ships the Resolution and Adventure, in the Years 1772, 1773, 1774, and 1775 (London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1777), opp. 1
Cook recorded his taking possession of South Georgia in his journal for January 17, 1775: “I landed in three different places, displayed our colours, and took possession of the country in his Majesty’s name, under a discharge of small arms. . . . The head of the bay, as well as two places on each side, was terminated by perpendicular ice-cliffs of considerable height. Pieces were continually breaking off, and floating out to sea; and a great fall happened while we were in the bay, which made a noise like a cannon. The inner parts of the country were not less savage and horrible.”
38. James Cook
“Baye de la Possession dans l’Isle de la Géorgie Australe”
From: Voyage dans l’hémisphère austral, et autour du monde, fait sur les vaisseaux de roi, l’Aventure et la Résolution, en 1772, 1773, 1774, et 1775 (Paris: Pancoucke, 1778), pl. 64
The U.S. Congress dispatched the Exploring Expedition (often abbreviated as “U.S.Ex.Ex.”), commanded by Charles Wilkes (1798–1877), to extend U.S. influence throughout the basin of the Pacific Ocean, to advance commerce and resource exploitation (especially seal and whale hunting), and to advance the systematic scientific study of the ocean. Among many achievements, the crew and scientists aboard Vincennes, Peacock, Porpoise and Flying Fish made the first observations of the coastline of Antarctica, finally proving the existence of the continent. However, the heavy pack ice and icebergs prevented any landings. Wilkes’ ships charted some 1,000 km (620 miles) of the coastline before being blocked by a tongue of ice (now known as the Shackleton Ice Shelf) stretching into the sea. Wilkes’ official chart includes five profiles of the observed coast taken from the Vincennes and the Peacock . The results of the Exploring Expedition were quickly disseminated in atlases and school books, such as S. A. Mitchell’s school atlas .