The 18th Century Search for the Blue Nile

James Cook's Second Voyage

After his return to England and a short interlude, Cook was chosen to circumnavigate and explore Antarctica. On this voyage, he charted present-day Tonga, Easter Island, New Caledonia, the South Sandwich Islands and South Georgia, and disproved the existence of Terra Australis, a fabled southern continent (Finnis, 129). He had no rivals on his second voyage, and his achievement was recognized on his return with honors such as an audience with the king, election to royal society, and award of a Copley medal (Thomas, 3). Cook’s reflections on his second voyage reflect his modesty and show the significance of his second voyage.

“I had now made the circuit of the Southern Ocean in a high Latitude and traversed it in such a manner as to leave not the least room for the Possibility of there being a continent, unless near the Pole and out of the reach of Navigation; by twice visiting the Pacific Tropical Sea, I had not only settled the situation of some old discoveries but made there many new ones and left, I conceive, very little to be done even in that part. Thus I flatter myself that the intention of the Voyage has in every respect been fully Answered, the Southern Hemisphere sufficiently explored and a final end put to the searching after a Southern Continent, which has at times ingrossed the attention of some of the Maritime Powers for near two Centuries past and the Geographers of all ages. [Journals, p. 414]