Home > The Pacific before Cook

The Pacific before Cook


On 25 September, 1513, Vasev Nunez de Balboa became the first European man to sight the Pacific Ocean. With a chosen band of soldiers he crossed the Isthmus of Panama, and from the summit of the Sierras made the discovery.

Balboa and his party descended to the beach of the Gulf of San Miguel, and named this great expanse the Mar del Sur - the Great South Sea. He claimed it, and all the continents and islands it washed, for the King of Spain.

The Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan (Fernao de Magalhaes) was appointed Captain-General of a Spanish expedition to find a shorter route to the Spice Islands via South America. The Magellan Strait was discovered, and on 28 November 1520 three ships of the expedition passed through to enter the Great South Sea. Magellan completed the first crossing of the Mar del Sur by reaching the Philippines. He renamed it Mar Pacifico - the peaceful sea. Magellan was the man of the century, but it was left to Sebastian del Cano to get a lot of the credit for completing the voyage home in the Vittoria.

Two and a half centuries later, Pierre Antoine Veron, the astronomer with Bougainville's expedition, 1766-9, was able to make a fairly accurate observation of the size of the Pacific from east to west.

In 1573, when privateering, Francis Drake sighted the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Mar Pacific to the west from the highest point of the Sierras, or, the Isthmus of Panama. In 1577 he became the first man to circumnavigate the world in his own ship - the Golden Hind. He entered the Pacific via the Magellan Straits, was driven south to Cape Horn and then probed the west coast of America.

William Dampier circumnavigated the globe three times in his wanderings and official voyages. He referred to Mar Pacifico as the Pacific Ocean in his published journals, which became an immediate and lasting success.

It was left to Cook to unlock the remaining secrets of Balboa's Mar del Sur. He had a mountain of evidence before him in the journals and charts of previous explorers. He went on to prove in his three voyages of discovery that he was the greatest navigator the world has known. Cook's real memorial is shown on the map of the world - the Pacific Ocean.

Stamp Issues

Panama 1906 1c Balboa  
Cook Islands 1975 Pacific Explorers Issue  
    1c Balboa Stamp
    5c Magellan Stamp
    10c del Cano and Vittoria Stamp
Great Britain 1973 British Explorers  
    5p Sir Francis Drake  
Qatar 1967 Famous Navigator Ships  
    1r Golden Hind  
New Hebrides 1968 Bicentenary of Bougainville's voyage Stamp Stamp Stamp
Australia 1967 Navigator issue  
    5s William Dampier  
    7s 6d Captain Cook Stamp

Book of reference:
Explorations of the Pacific by J.C. Beaglehole

Doug Gibson

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 372, volume 8, number 3 (1985).

Sort by:
profile photo
Very interesting.
By Fred swan on 12/7/2016 1:45:00 PM Like:1 DisLike:0

Unsolicited e-mail warning

It has come to our attention that spam mailers (senders of bulk unsolicited e-mail) have been forging their mail with this domain as the point of origin. As a matter of policy, we do not send out e-mail from our domain name. If you have received an email that appears to be from "@CaptainCookSociety.com" it was forged and sent without our consent, knowledge, or the use of our servers.