Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Historical note 2, The Great Europan Explorers all Missed It!

We'll learn later that a Russian explorer named Bellingshausen finally did discover the island.

Though quite large, New Island managed to remain undiscovered until the 19th Century. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to sail into the Indian Ocean in the late 15th Century, followed by the Dutch who eventually discovered parts of Australia and Tasmania. They soon learned that once they rounded Africa's Cape of Good Hope, they could make good time by using the dependable Roaring Forties trade winds, which normally kept them far to the south of the island.

Soon, naval and merchant ships from Spain, France, Germany and Britain, as well as a few pirates, learned to use this well-known sea lane. For 190 years these ships passed within 200 miles of the island's southern coast, and not a one charted or laid claim to New Island.

But one came close: In 1791, George Vancouver (or some of his crew) may have sighted the 3500-foot-tall ramparts of North Cape as their ship was hauling east toward the Pacific Ocean. A mate's diary claims Vancouver had penciled in the notation "mountainous island" on his chart, but the chart has since been lost.

Next History Note: Discovery by Convicts