The Pacific ocean is the largest body of water in the world. The total area of the Pacific Ocean is estimated at 163,000,000 km or nearly 40 per cent of the whole water extent of the world. It extends from the Southern Ocean (latitude 40d.S) to the Bering Strait ie. practically to the Arctic Ocean. It divides the Old and New Worlds and is roughly bisected by the 170d.W longitude meridian; greatest breadth 16,000 km; length 11,000 km. This ocean is usually divided into two sections, the North Pacific which extends south to the equator and the South Pacific which extends from the equator southward. The South Pacific is illustrated on a stamp from Cook Islands issued for the South Pacific Conference in 1969 (Scott 265); illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1

The history of discovery and navigation of the Pacific probably dates back before the days of written history. However, Balboa is recorded as the first European to see the Pacific, viewing it in 1513 from a mountain in Darien, Panama. Magellan sailed through the strait bearing his name in 1520 and gave the name to the ocean. History also recalls such names as Tasman, Drake, Bering and Vancouver. However, it was Captain James Cook (1728-1778) who brought scientific method into discovery; his lunar observations, plus the first use of the chronometer, made longitude-finding accurate; his careful preparations and his zeal for cleanliness made long voyages possible.

James Cook was born on October 27, 1728 in Yorkshire, the son for a farm labourer. Apprenticed to a ship owner in Whitby, he studied mathematics and navigation and enlisted as an able seaman in the British navy at age 28 becoming a ship’s master in 4 years. Cook soon earned a master’s warrant; from 1759-67 he charted parts of the St Lawrence River, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Captain Cook’s signature was featured on a British stamp issued in 1968 (Scott 567) as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2

Because of the accuracy of his charts and observations Cook was chosen in 1769 to master the H.M.S. “Endeavour” and travel with an astronomer of the Royal Society, to Tahiti to observe the transit of the planet Venus across the Sun, and then to search for the supposed “Terra Australis” (the unknown Southern Land). A botanical party led by Joseph Banks went along as passengers. The “Transit of Venus” was depicted on a Norfolk Island stamp issued in 1969 (Scott 122) featured in Figure 3.

Figure 3

Having made the observations and explored the neighbouring Society Islands, Cook headed south till he sighted New Zealand. He made an accurate first survey of its 2,400 miles of coast, proving that it was not part of a Southern continent. Cook’s actual chart of New Zealand was depicted on a stamp from a set of four, issued by New Zealand in 1969, Scott 434, depicted in Figure 4.

Figure 4

Cook then travelled to the east coast of Australia, but just missed Bass Strait. He mapped the east coast of Australia, which he annexed under the name of New South Wales. Cook successfully navigated through the Great Barrier Reef although the ship struck a reef and had to be beached and repaired. He then sailed through Torres Strait and the Coral Sea to visit Batavia for repairs and supplies before returning home.

In July 1772 Cook went on another search for the Southern Continent in command of the converted collier H.M.S. “Resolution”, accompanied by Capt. Tobias Furneaux in the H.M.S. “Adventure”. He sailed Southeast from the Cape at the end of November. In three Antarctic cruises (Atlantic-Indian ocean sector Dec.1772-March 1773; Pacific sector Nov. 1773: Dec. 1774 and Atlantic sector, Jan-Feb.1775); he completely dissipated the old continental theory. The Australian Antarctic Territory issued a stamp in 1972 featuring Cook and commemorating the circumnavigation of Antarctica (Scott L21-2) as shown in Figure 5. The stamp shows two important instruments carried by Cook on the voyage, the Ramsden sextant and the Knight azimuth compass.

Figure 5

In between these cruises he made further visits to New Zealand (off which the ships parted, Oct. 30, 1773) and made an astonishing series of discoveries and rediscoveries mainly on a great tropical sweep, Feb-Oct 1774, that took in Easter Island, the Marquesas, the Society Islands, Niue, Tonga, the New Hebrides. Norfolk Island and a number of smaller islands. On the last part of the this second voyage, he discovered and charted the icy Sandwich Islands and the South Georgia Group, before returning to England in 1775. This voyage was notable, not merely for his masterly technique in Antarctic navigation and in preserving the health of his seamen, hut, also for its proof of the value of the chronometer as an aid to finding longitude. Cook’s chronometer, is depicted on Pitcairn lslands 1969 (Scott 08) in Figure 6. In later years this instrument was installed in the H.M.S. Bounty at Captain Bligh’s request. After changing bands many times, the chronometer was presented to the United Service Museum, Scotland Yard, where it now rests. This second voyage was possibly the greatest voyage ever made.

Figure 6

In 1776, in command of the “Resolution” and “Discovery” Cook, again using the chronometer, was sent to search for the supposed North West Passage from the Pacific to Europe. He visited the mid-Pacific discovering the Cook Islands and the Hawaiian Group, before reaching the American coast at about Oregon. Cook then made the American coast working up it, and around the Aleutian Islands. Through the Bering Straight until pack ice turned him back. Canada issued two stamps in 1978 (Scott 463-4), as featured in Figure 6 that commemorated Cook’s visit to Nootka Sound on the Canadian Coast. Sailing back to the Hawaiian Islands Cook was at first welcomed, but, later he went ashore because of trouble about a missing ship’s cutter There at Kealakekua Bay he was killed by the Hawaiian islanders and his body burnt on the 14th February, 1779. Cook’s death bi-centenary was depicted on stamps issued in 1979 by Cook Islands (Scott 510-13a); Maldives (Scott 750-57); Niue (Scott 251-4a); and Norfolk Island (Scott 242-3); featured in Figure 7 is Scott 242, which traces this third journey of Captain Cook. The pair of stamps gives some idea of the magnitude of the Pacific Ocean and the scope of Cook’s third voyage. Captain James Cook had found the map of the Pacific half fantasy, and left it, though incomplete, basically correct.

Figure 7

I hope readers of this article will be able to visit Pacific Explorer 2005, the F.I.P. stamp exhibition being held in the Convention Centre, Darling Harbour, Sydney, from the 21st to 24th of this month. There will be thematic exhibits on show displaying various topics that will make for interesting viewing. Perhaps you will even be enticed to take up this most enjoyable and rewarding section of the stamp hobby.

Reference work for this article was both Colliers and the New Age Encyclopaedia. I used the American Topical Association Captain Cook check List, 1990 courtesy of Messrs B. Sandford and M. Glicksman.