Fiji – Abel Tasman, the distinguished Dutch Navigator, was the first European to discover Fiji on February 6, 1643. In 1774 Captain James Cook sighted Vatoa, or Turtle Island, from the deck of HMS Resolution. The full extent of the archipelago was only charted later by an irascible lieutenant of Cook’s: Lieutenant William Bligh, after the infamous mutiny.

William Bligh was the first European to fully chart the Fiji chain of islands when he sailed through them in 1789 in what still ranks as one of the finest feats of seamanship, ever. He sailed a small boat, overloaded with men and short on provisions, about four thousand miles across open water. It took them forty-one days and when they arrived in New Holland, on the west coast of Australia, they looked so worn and sick that the women who saw them burst into tears. In his official account of the mutiny, he said that the men preferred to be treated like kings by the women of Tahiti, than to work for His Majesty onboard a ship. Not surprisingly, the Lords of the Admiralty believed him.

He had an understated style of writing. The day the mutineers cast him adrift, he said, ‘we bore away across a sea where the navigation is but little known, in a small boat, twenty-three feet long from stem to stern, deep laden with eighteen men. I was happy, however, to see that everyone seemed better satisfied with our situation than myself.’

And in another passage: ‘At daybreak the gale increased; the sun rose very fiery and red, a sure indication of a severe gale of wind. At eight it blew a violent storm, and the sea ran very high, so that between the seas the sail was becalmed, and when on the top of the sea it was too much to have set; but we could not venture to take in the sail, for we were in very imminent danger and distress, the sea curling over the stern of the boat, which obliged us to bale with all our might. A situation more distressing has, perhaps, seldom been experienced.’

Charles Darwin followed Bligh in his voyages on HMS Adventure and Beagle, between 1826 and 1836

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