Examination of the Pacific Ocean.


The discovery of the Pacific Ocean gave rise to a thousand hopes. It was believed at first that on its coasts would be found a fairy-land, where gold and silver were used in making the commonest utensils, and the greater part of the expeditions sent there, had no other object than that of extorting from the natives, to obtain their riches, or to cruize in the most frequented parts to intercept and plunder ships as they returned to Europe, with their valuable cargoes; and strange to say, all this was authorized by their government. Thus, no sooner was this ocean known than it became the scene of frightful crimes, fire and plunder devastated its shores, until a reaction took place, and science and art extended their happy influence everywhere, and inspired the government with sentiments of compassion and humanity. It was then discovered that it was better to cultivate the relations of commerce with the inhabitants of foreign countries than to ruin them; and better to instil into them a taste for the arts than to rob them. Consequently, violence and plunder gave place to enterprises sufficiently venturesome, but better adapted to advance the good of mankind. Some parts of Australia and New Zealand were then known, but they were unconnected; no one had yet defined the precise outline of those countries. It was believed that they were connected with a great southern continent, and this idea having been received with enthusiasm, new expeditions successively departed from England, under the command of Wallis, Carteret, and the celebrated Cook.

Nothing can be more interesting than the accounts of these navigators. An inexpressible charm and freshness of colouring prevails throughout their descriptions. They speak of pure skies, magnificent vegetation, delightful climates, the balmy wind, groups of islands, inhabited by people who know no want but that of so limited a cultivation as to have nothing to send to the people of Europe. Everything is described in rich and varied colours. The engravings which accompany these productions, although coarse, afford ample details and a thousand particulars which convey to us the character of those distant lands, with an exactness which the most elegant and finished pictures of our modern artists do not possess.

But, it is strange that no one, from Magellan to Cook, attempted a new route; it would seem as if they each determined to follow the same inconvenient and circuitous path which had been adopted by their predecessors; that no desire of renown, no love of adventure, induced any one to deviate from their tracks. After having doubled Cape Horn, all steered to the northward along the coast as far as the isthmus of Panama: then going westward, they crossed the ocean towards the Marianne islands, leaving the Sandwich islands either to the northward or southward. The similarity of these routes to that of Magellan does not stop here. We know that this hardy seaman perished in a strife with the natives of the Philippine islands; and that in consequence of mutiny among the crew of his vessel, one[1] only of the ships composing his expedition returned to Spain. Likewise, of the most remarkable expeditions which took place after the death of Magellan, none returned complete to port, and in the mutinies which occurred in them the greater part of their leaders perished. Loaisa, Delcano, Saavedra, Villalobos, Le Maire, Mendana, all fell by the hands of their crews. It may be seen also that none of these navigators attempted to determine his positions with exactness. Thus, Mendana, after placing the Solomon Islands 5° too far to the eastward, could not find them again; while others made the dangerous archipelago, a vast continent, the extent of which was many thousands of square miles.

It was the celebrated Captain Cook who first corrected these errors. Cook was the first who constructed a good geographical chart of the Pacific ocean; the number and extent of his voyages; the correctness of his charts; his humane conduct towards the natives of the islands which he visited; and the important changes which he introduced into the provisioning of his crew, opened new destinies to the navigation of these seas: the first from Magellan, who forsook the former tracks, he traced out new passages and sought new countries, which claim for him a place by the side of Magellan and Columbus.

The example of Cook was worth following; but, nothwitstanding this, like the navigators who followed Magellan, all those who succeeded Cook adhered to his track. They stopped at the Polynesian islands, (a description of which he had already given,) and left us in a state of entire ignorance concerning a large number of islands to which their predecessor had not devoted his attention. We have not yet had a good chart of the Feejee islands, nor of the Navigator’s group, nor of many islands of the Caroline group, nor the extensive coast of Papua, nor the archipelago of the Louisiade. La Peyrouse, D’Entrecasteaux, and their successors, have taught us nothing that we do not find in the voyages of their predecessors. Some of these navigators had not even the good taste to correct the errors of the old charts. The Russian navigator, Lizianski, remained several days at the Marquesas, without attempting to make a chart of those islands; while Kotzebue passed near two islands in the night, of which he knew nothing, and did not think fit to examine. In fact, even now there are more than 200 islands, visited by whalers, that are not to be found on any chart; and this sea, so full of shoals and unknown islands, is nearly everywhere dangerous to navigate.

Nevertheless, the greater part of the known islands of the Pacific, contains a considerable population to whom the articles of our manufacture become every day more necessary. France, England, and the United States, send whalers among them every year. In 1814, there were thirty English ships which returned with 8,999 tons of oil and spermaceti: thirty-four sailed in 1816, and returned with 10,332 tons; in 1821, fifty-five ships, manned with 1,396 seamen, returned with 14,398 tons; and in 1823, fifty-nine ships, containing 1,536 men, returned with 17,689 tons. In France this employment which, during the Revolution, was not followed at all, sends now from fifteen to twenty ships to the Pacific. Even the number of the American ships is augmented. At present, the whalers from the United States in the Pacific, amount to 460 sail, which collect together 172,000 tons, the tenth part of the whole tonnage of that country. The produce which the United States obtain each year from that part of the world, is, besides an inexhaustible source of profit for their commerce;—spices, cochineal, sandal wood, and at housand other costly articles, the trade of which generally returnsgood profits.

As those most interested in the commercial explorations of the South Sea, the Americans ought to endeavour to remove the numerous impediments to navigation there, which they are now about to do. They are at present fitting out one of the most important expeditions which have yet gone to the Pacific. This expedition, consisting of several vessels, and conducted by the most distinguished officers of the American navy, has for its principal object the visiting of places least known, to examine and lay down precisely every island or rock which may either be a source of profit or danger to commerce; and to take the necessary measures at every anchorage, to recover from slavery the unfortunate seamen which may be detained as prisoners[2] among the natives. In some of these islands men of the United States and of the civilized states of Europe, profiting by the advantage of their education, exercise a tyrannical authority[3] over the inoffensive natives. The expedition will put a stop to these abuses, by removing from these countries the scourge of such men, and delivering the unfortunate foreigners from the severities of the natives. But the work of the American expedition will not end there. Science will form the leading feature of its operations. The most distinguished men of America are to accompany the voyage, and in this respect no expedition, since the days of Cook, has promised so much. Each important branch of science will have its professor: geology, meteorology, zoology, the temperature of the air, the state of the barometer, the phenomena of electricity, the direction of the winds and currents, their force and extent, meteoric stones, &c., will each be studied with care. The natural history of the Polynesian islands, although so much written on, leaves much to be described. It is not yet known distinctly by what process these islanders cure their fish and preserve their insects, which subjects will be carefully studied. The same of the fossil rocks and mountains, their height and conformation; the rising or depression of the coasts, &c.; the animals and plants, &c., the tides; and, in fact, the character of the natives of the Pacific generally, their manners, monuments, language, antiquities, religious ceremonies; the names and the number of their deities; their forms of government and system of navigation; their attainments in astronomy; the division of their calendar; their mode of tatooing, and their laws concerning property. All these branches will become equally the particular object of study, with the view, not only of extending the field of knowledge, but of cementing still more firmly the foundation of that which is already acquired. [The foregoing is from the “Annales Maritimes,” and refers, we believe, to the same expedition to which we alluded in p. 753 of our volume for 1836. We trust that the report which reached us a few days ago about its being abandoned is without foundation. Truly our American friends take no little time to get their steam up, but we are still in hopes that the bright promises so long held out will be fulfilled.—Ed.N.M.]

[1] [This was the first ship that circumnavigated the globe: her name was “Victory.”–Ed. N.M.]

[2] The number of these unfortunate persons is considerable, the greater part being English and Americans. Cast away by storms on the islands, they are retained as prisoners, and in some, undergo much privation and cruel treatment.

[3] These men, like the former, belonged mostly to shipwrecked whalers. On this subject, Reynolds reports that one of these men behaved in the most shameful manner to a missionary, because he refused to obey him in expunging the ninth commandment from the Decalogue.