French and English interest in the Pacific

French and English interest in the Pacific was revived by a group known variously as filibusters, sea rovers, freebooters, and pirates, late in the seventeenth century. During the numerous wars of this period both England and France commissioned their sailors to raid Spanish shipping in the Americas. During intervals of peace, these sailors, who had developed experience and knowledge of the best means for despoiling the Spanish New World, continued their activities unofficially. Although many of the expeditions were poorly recorded, some of the freebooters were prolifically literate and inspired general interest in the Pacific. It has been estimated that there were over one hundred English and French voyages into the Pacific between 1695 and 1726.

William Dampier, who appeared in the Pacific at different times as a buccaneer, officer of the Royal Navy, and merchant navigator, touched many parts of the ocean during his career (Fig. 20). He visited Guam, the Philippines, Australia, New Guinea, New Ireland, and New Britain, where he discovered the passage between New Britain and New Guinea that bears his name. The accounts he published concerning his voyages not only provided much detailed information, which was widely read, but also caused a flood of South Sea novels. This interest led directly to the great French and English scientific voyages of the nineteenth century. Dampier's description of native life on idyllic Pacific islands aided the development of the European version of the "noble savage," a concept that continues to influence thinking and policies concerning Pacific problems. In the Second World War, many an American soldier was disappointed when he did not find life in the Pacific as it had been pictured in a long line of literature inspired by Dampier.

The French were first attracted to the Pacific by the opportunities for Spanish loot. These activities contributed some additional knowledge concerning the Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego, but the voyages seldom extended west of the Galapagos. Information thus gained was put to use in more peaceful activities. Frondac in 1709 took advantage of the north Pacific westerlies on his return to France from a trading voyage to China. He was followed by other French vessels engaging in the Chinese trade. Explorations of Lozier Bouvet, during 1738 and 1739, in search of the southern continent resulted in the discovery of what is now known as Bouvet Island, but at the time this was thought to be actually part of Terra Australis. This discovery influenced Captain Cook's southern exploration.

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