When reenacting or acting as a historical interpreter, its good to have a few historical dates and stories to share. This series will publish a few.
January 17, 1773 – HMS Resolution, under the command of James Cook, became the first vessel to cross the Antarctic Circle.
The Royal Society and the government were eager to establish the existence of a large land mass south of south of Australia (Terra Australis) so they directed James Cook to conduct a search of the southern oceans. It was during this voyage that Cook discovered both New Zealand and the very inhospitable continent of Antarctica. Expecting to find a vast fertile landmass, Cook’s ship HMS Resolution, crossed the Antarctic Circle on 17 January 1773 to find there was no Terra Australis flowing with milk and honey south of Australia; if there was a polar land mass, and Cook thought there probably was, it was a terrain of barren ice and no-one would want to go there, as there could be no trade and no profit.
In the 18th Century, science was seen as the means of promoting trade which in turn would bring wealth which would benefit the whole country. The logic was simple: the more territory Britain controlled which contained valuable raw materials the bigger the trade and the wealthier the country would become, especially as the same controlled territory would be a secure market for British manufactured goods.
Thus, as Adam Smith extolled in Wealth of Nations, a nation’s prosperity depended upon defeating trade rivals; seizing control of profitable raw materials and markets; securing trade routes; encouraging a large merchant marine; financing a strong navy; building state of the art ships; developing new technologies to improve effective navigation and discovery; and being constantly looking for new and commercial natural products. As the 18th century progressed Britain expanded its trade by doing most of the above, and eventually doing it better that their main trade rivals Holland, France and Spain. This was Cook’s real aim in exploring the southern oceans and he certainly succeeded in finding Tahiti, New Zealand, and various Polynesian islands but the reality of Antarctica was a bit of a shock to the learned Royal Society.