Discoveries and Acquisitions in the Pacific


In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. Discoveries and Acquisitions in the Pacific is Number 139 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The study is largely historical, and has three sections: “The Great Age of Exploration (To About 1648);” “Transition, 1648−1787;” and “Recent Colonization and Partition, From About 1787 to the Present Day.” A detailed chronology precedes the main text. The first section covers the major early Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and English explorers of the Pacific, including Balboa, Magellan, Drake, Cavendish, Lemaire, Schouten, and others. The second section covers Russian activities in the North Pacific and the voyages and discoveries of Byron, Wallis, Carteret, Bougainville, Cook, La Pérouse, and others. The concluding section contains brief summaries of the colonization and settlement activities of the British, French, Germans, Americans, and Japanese. The study notes that for most of the 19th century “Britain, secure in the possession of Australia, and more lately in that of New Zealand, and in her undisputed control of the sea and the colonial world in general for so many years after the Congress of Vienna, did not in these years take much share in the partition of the Pacific islands.” This changed after 1871, however, as the new German Empire began establishing colonies in the Pacific, prompting Britain to make “haste to define her claims in various regions where they had been left unfixed.”

Last updated: October 19, 2015