Discovery of Australia and New Zealand

Discovery of Australia and New Zealand

Australia is the last human part of the world to be discovered by European seafarers. Until the modern age, when Asia, Africa and America were already known, the conviction persisted that somewhere in the southern hemisphere there had to be a large, unknown part of the world, which cartographers called Terra Australis Incognita in Latin.

This thought was partly nourished by the belief that there must be a balance between the land masses of the continents in order to prevent the earth from tipping over. The Spaniards QUEIROS and TORRES as well as the Dutch ABEL TASMAN had already come very close to Australia. ABEL TASMAN was traveling on behalf of the Dutch governor of the colonial center of Batavia (now Djakarta), VAN DIEMEN, when he discovered the coasts of Tasmania (which he called Van Diemens Land) and New Zealand in 1642. The existence of the great unknown continent was limited by these sea voyages to an area south of the 50th parallel. It was also clear that it had to be in the South Pacific between South America in the east and Africa in the west.


JAMES COOK finally proved the existence of Australia as an island continent with three scientific voyages. The idea of ​​a continent reaching to the South Pole thus turned out to be an illusion.

JAMES COOK grew up as the son of a worker in Yorkshire. As a boy he decided to become a seaman and independently learned navigation and surveying on small North Sea ships . In 1755 he became a member of the English Navy. He participated in the measurement of the St. Lawrence River in Canada. He earned an excellent reputation for accuracy as a surveyor and cartographer.

COOK was created by scientists at the Royal Society commissioned to observe a very rare event in the South Pacific in 1769: the movement of Venus over the sun. From COOK’s observations it was hoped to be able to calculate the distance between the sun and earth more precisely. He was also given secret instructions to look for the southern continent.

On his first voyage (1768-1771) COOK went on the ship Endeavor in 1768 . He sailed across the Atlantic to the southwest, along the South American coast to Cape Horn, in order to observe and record the fauna and the way of life of the people of Tierra del Fuego. He continued the journey to carry out the observations of the sun and Venus in Tahiti. For this purpose he had a fortified observation station, Point Venus, built on Tahiti.

On resuming the course to the west, he encountered New Zealand and Australia. According to indexdotcom, he carefully recorded all of his observations (such as a description of the kangaroo and its locomotion) and made accurate maps of the coasts of New Zealand and the east coast of Australia. For biological research he had bottles of alcohol on board, which made it possible to preserve newly discovered marine animals, plants and insects and bring them to England.

The second voyage (1772-1775) brought COOK with the ships Resolution and Adventure to Antarctica. He suspected land behind the pack ice he saw. His journey proved that there was no contiguous continent that reached down to the South Pole, but rather the island continent of Australia, which he discovered. During the second voyage he explored the islands of the Pacific, u. a. the Easter Island and the New Hebrides.

The mission of his third voyage (1776-1779) was to find a sea route from the northern Pacific to the northern coast of North America. COOK sailed with the Resolution and the Discovery around the Cape of Good Hope in the Pacific to Tahiti. He examined the Alaskan coast and the Bering Strait, where the ice eventually blocked the ships from continuing. COOK sailed back south to Hawaii. Here he died in 1779 in an argument with natives.

COOK differed from previous discoverers in its accuracy and scientific approach. With his skills as a surveyor and cartographer, he himself brought the best prerequisites for profitable research. His ships were equipped with the best equipment for scientific purposes. A group of botanical draftsmen was part of the expedition and captured newly discovered plants in pictures.

COOK treated his team with a great sense of responsibility. With special dietary instructions he managed to prevent scurvy, a typical vitamin deficiency disease among seafarers.


The English navigator MATTHEW FLINDERS carried out a complete circumnavigation of Australia from 1801 to 1803 and made maps of the previously unknown coastal areas. The Flinders Mountains in South Australia and the Flinders River in Queensland are named after him.

Discovery of Australia and New Zealand