Cook's expeditions were followed by a number of expeditions that were sponsored by various governments. Their work was largely a refinement of Cook's. Vancouver, Perouse, D'Urville, Wilkes, and others continued to fix the positions of islands and report their cultural and natural features. However, within a few years after Cook's death, the native cultures in many places had been dealt a shattering blow by a constantly growing tide of whalers, traders, missionaries, and blackbirders.
The whalers were the first to arrive. Even before Cook's last voyage, London whalers were reported off the coast of Peru. About 1800, American and European whalers were operating in the waters between New Zealand and Australia, and by 1819 off the northeastern coasts of Japan. Their effect was felt everywhere from New Zealand to the Hawaiian Islands. These whalers, operating out of New England, the ports of England, and France, for the most part, were a long way from their home ports and required fresh provisions that they secured from the natives of the Pacific islands. In return for the various products of "civilization," the natives sold the whalers firewood, fresh vegetables, pork, beef, potatoes, sugar cane, and fresh water. The New England whaling industry had received a setback during the Revolutionary War, but, in 1791, seven New England whalers rounded the Horn. In spite of a further setback during the War of 1812, the number of American whalers in the Pacific continued to increase. In 1818, eleven whalers were reported at one time in Kealakekua Bay and twenty-three in Honolulu harbor. The whalers moved from one group of islands to another as the whaling grounds changed and as they received better treatment in other islands. The number of whalers stopping at any one island varied greatly from year to year. In the year 1844, 490 whalers stopped in the Hawaiian Islands, 220 in 1851, and 549 in 1859.
The impact of the whalers contributed to the breakdown of native cultural patterns. There is a saying that the sailors hung their morals on the Horn as they passed. The natives were introduced to new vices, and venereal disease began to reduce the population of most islands. The time required to prepare supplies for ships diverted natives from their normal cultural patterns. The chiefs acquired a taste for foreign goods, which was to keep them bankrupt. This extravagance led to further exactions on their people. The natives who served on ships as seamen returned to their homes with acquired habits that were greatly deplored by the missionaries.
The Chinese trade brought merchants to the Pacific. As a result of the voyages of Cook and Vancouver to the northwest coast of North America, British, French, and American vessels picked up furs, especially the sea otter and seal, along the coast of northwest North America and sold them at Canton. These ships, coming from distant ports, required supplies. The Hawaiian Islands were well located to furnish supplies for northbound vessels as well as for those on the run to China. In 1791 it was discovered that the Hawaiian Islands could supply sandalwood, which was highly prized in China. For a brief period, until the sandalwood ran out, the mountains were combed by Hawaiians searching for it. When the Hawaiian sandalwood gave out the traders moved to other islands in other parts of the Pacific where it grew.
Besides sandalwood, other Pacific products found markets. Tortoise shell and sea cucumbers (also known as bêche-de-mer, trepang, dri, and Holothuria) were collected and sold in China. The Royal Navy found excellent pine spars in New Zealand. New Zealand also exported dried human heads for European collectors. Captains would select the heads and specify the tattooed designs desired on the dried head when it would be picked up some months later on the return voyage. About 1800, Tahiti began to export salted pork to the convict colony in New South Wales. From about 1850, copra, coconut oil, and coir were important exports of the Pacific islands. As a result of the American Civil War some of the Pacific islands, such as the Fiji, had an opportunity to develop cotton exports. However, cotton raised in the Pacific was unable to compete with cheaper American cotton. The first Europeans found sugar cane widely distributed throughout the Pacific, and there was some export soon after Cook's voyages. The industry did not become important in any of the islands until it was put on a plantation basis.
These commercial activities contributed to the breakdown of the native way of life. Everywhere the people were taken from their accustomed tasks to perform duties so that their chiefs could purchase foreign luxuries. The raising of agricultural products for sale to the whalers and traders kept them from their normal pursuits. The traders also contributed to the spread of new diseases and vices. The introduction of plantations in many islands meant the loss of land to the natives.