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Build your guide

Select your chapters, build your own digital guide to Oceania: Early encounters, and then download or email it.

Start now

Early contact

European explorers began venturing into the vast Pacific around 500 years ago. By then, they had developed the ships and techniques to voyage long distances across the open ocean.

The explorers set off in search of the ‘Great Southern Continent’ – a place they believed must exist to balance the weight of northern-hemisphere land. They imagined this place to be rich in resources.

The first contact between Europeans and Pacific peoples in the 1700s and 1800s sparked a range of responses, from curiosity and friendship to misunderstanding and violence. The objects in this section recall these extraordinary times, before widespread European settlement of the Pacific.

In this chapter:

  • Portrait of Captain James Cook
    Into the 'South Seas'

    By the 1700s, the burgeoning rational sciences spurred explorers' wish to showcase 'natural and artificial curiosities' from exotic lands.

  • Omai a native of Ulaietea
    Discovering Europe

    Europeans' presence prompted Pacific people to travel back with them to Europe.