Table of Contents / Explorers
Magellan Strait
Pacific Ocean
Spice Islands

Samuel Wallis, 1728–1795 / Philip Carteret, d. 1796

Expedition (1766–1768, 1766–1769): Two ships (Dolphin, Swallow), 236 men
Charge (by the British Admiralty): To explore the South Pacific and search for the elusive Southern Continent (Terra Australis)
Accomplishments: Discovered Tahiti (Wallis) and Pitcairn Island (Carteret), rediscovered the Solomon Islands (Carteret)

Legacy of Wallis’s and Carteret’s names: Wallis Islands, Carteret Islands

[Click on the images below for high resolution versions.]

Hawkesworth, John. An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the Order of His Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere and Successively Performed by Commodore Byron, Captain Wallis, Captain Carteret, and Captain Cook, in the Dolphin, the Swallow, and the Endeavor, Drawn Up from the Journals Which Were Kept by the Several Commanders, and from the Papers of Joseph Banks, Esq. 3 vols. London, 1773. [Rare Books Division]
Volume 1 contains:

  • Wallis’s An Account of the Voyage Round the World, in the Years MDCCLXVI, MDCCLXVII, and MDCCLXVIII [pp. 361–522]
  • Carteret’s An Account of the Voyage Round the World, in the Years MDCCLXVI, MDCCLXVII, MDCCLXVIII, and MDCCLXIX [pp. 523–676]

A captain in the British Navy, Wallis commanded warships off the coast of Canada and in the English Channel during the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763). During that same period, Carteret participated in naval engagements in the Mediterranean and then served as first lieutenant on the Dolphin under the command of John Byron, circumnavigating the world in 1766. The two men were appointed by the British Admiralty to jointly lead an expedition of discovery into the South Pacific Ocean for the main purpose of searching for the theoretical landmass thought to occupy much of the southern hemisphere. (For more on this “continent,” see the Terra Australis box in the Pacific Ocean section.)

Wallis, commanding the Dolphin, and Carteret, the Swallow, departed from Plymouth, England, on August 22, 1766. (Carteret had only been back for three months after his voyage with Byron.) The disparity between the two ships soon became apparent: the Dolphin was well-stocked and sheathed with copper; the Swallow was hastily supplied and bore a very thin sheathing over its bottom. By the time the ships reached the Strait of Magellan in December, Carteret saw two options: (1) to give Wallis his best men and supplies and send the Swallow back to England with the sick men, during which voyage Carteret would explore the eastern coast of Patagonia; or, (2) if his previous Pacific experience was deemed necessary to the success of the mission, to abandon the Swallow and serve on the Dolphin as Wallis’s first lieutenant. Instead, Wallis felt they should follow their orders as best they could.
            From December 17, 1766, through April 11, 1767, the ships methodically explored the maze of bays and inlets of the Strait, in perpetual danger of shipwreck, Wallis wrote in his narrative. He was able to debunk the myth of the Patagonian giants, determining that the natives were tall but not exaggeratedly so. (For more on this, see the Patagonian Giants box in the Strait of Magellan section.) About the Fuegians who lived further on in the Strait (perhaps the Yahgan), he noted a remarkable quality:

Their perfect indifference to everything they saw. . . . When they left us and embarked in their canoes, they hoisted a seal skin for a sail, and steered for the southern shore, where we saw many of their hovels; and we remarked that not one of them looked behind, either at us or at the ship, so little impression had the wonders they had seen made upon their minds, and so much did they appear absorbed in the present, without any habitual exercise of their power to reflect upon the past. [Hawkesworth, vol. 1, p. 392]

Just before entering the Pacific, strong winds and currents separated the Dolphin and Swallow, and they never found each other again, continuing on as solo expeditions.

Bonne, Rigobert, 1727–1794. “Carte de l’Isle o-Taïti.” Copperplate map, with added color, 23 × 34 cm. Probably issued in R. Bonne and N. Desmarest’s Atlas encyclopédique (Paris, 1787–1788). [Historic Maps Collection]

Based on the more thorough surveying of James Cook during his stay in Tahiti on his first voyage to the Pacific, the map bears an inset showing Matavai Bay, Wallis’s Port Royal Harbour, where he anchored in June 1767. The bay is located at the top of the island. This is where some would say that Europe first found paradise in the Pacific.

“A Representation of the Attack of Captain Wallis in the Dolphin by the Natives of Otaheite.” Plate no. 21 [i.e., 22], from vol. 1 of Hawkesworth’s An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the Order of His Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere . . . (London, 1773). [Rare Books Division]

[24 June 1767] At six o’clock the next morning, we began to warp the ship up the harbor, and soon after, a great number of canoes came upon her stern. As I perceived they had hogs, fowl, and fruit on board, I ordered the gunner, and two midshipmen, to purchase them for knives, nails, beads, and other trinkets. . . . By eight o’clock, the number of canoes was greatly increased, and those that came last were double, of a very large size, with twelve or fifteen stout men in each. I observed, with some concern, that they appeared to be furnished rather for war than trade, having very little on board except round pebble stones. . . . [T]here was a universal shout from all the canoes, which at once moved towards the ship, and a shower of stones poured into her on every side. . . . When the great guns began to fire, there were not less than three hundred canoes about the ship, having on board at least two thousand men; many thousands were also upon the shore. . . . Among the canoes that were coming toward the bow, there was one which appeared to have some Chief aboard, as it was by signals made from her, that the others had been called together: it happened that a shot, fired from the guns forward, hit this canoe so full as to cut it asunder. As soon as this was observed by the rest, they dispersed with such haste that in half an hour there was not a single canoe to be seen. . . . [pp. 443–45]

Wallis’s northwestward route took him out into an open, little-known section of the South Pacific. In early June 1767, the Dolphin encountered some of the Tuamotus, securing fresh water and food, sighted Tahiti on the 18th, entered Matavai Bay (Wallis’s Port Royal Harbour) on the 23rd, and anchored there the next morning. (See the accompanying illustration and Wallis’s description of what transpired in this first European encounter with Tahitians.) Wallis named the island King George III’s Island, after the English king. He was not well during most of the month spent there and went ashore only two times, but he was able to establish friendly relations with the islanders and their queen, who was reluctant to see them leave (July 27). All of the sailors had recovered their health, and though many had enjoyed the charms of the native women, Wallis was quick to point out that no one had contracted or spread venereal disease, which Captain James Cook would find prevalent in 1769. (Wallis felt that the French were to blame. See Bougainville in the Explorers section.) His very positive report of the island and its society—“The climate here appears to be very good, and the island to be one of the most healthy as well as delightful spots in the world” [Hawkesworth, vol. 1, p. 488]—based mostly on scouting parties’ descriptions, began Tahiti’s rise to paradisiacal status in European minds.
            Instead of pursuing Terra Australis in the depth of the southern hemisphere’s winter, and finding his ship leaky and almost rudderless, Wallis decided a month later to begin heading home, via Tinian (in today’s Marianas), Batavia, and the Cape of Good Hope. He encountered other smaller islands along the way, but none could compare to Tahiti. The Dolphin arrived back in England on May 20, 1768. Having introduced sauerkraut and other vitamin C–rich foods into his crew’s diet, Wallis avoided losing any men to scurvy, a remarkable accomplishment for his time. (Several men died, however, from fever in Batavia, which was notorious for disease.)
            Wallis recovered slowly from anxiety and fatigue from the voyage, but went on to command other ships. He later was promoted to commissioner of the navy (1782–1783, 1787–1795), a title he still held at his death.

“A Representation of the Surrender of the Island of Otaheite to Captain Wallis by the Supposed Queen Oberea.” Plate no. 22 [i.e., 23], from vol. 1 of Hawkesworth’s An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the Order of His Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere . . . (London, 1773). [Rare Books Division]

This exact scene is not described by Wallis. In fact, he was quite sick and weak when they arrived at Tahiti and did not set foot on the island until two weeks later. Seeing his condition, the queen ordered her people to carry him to her house, where young girls were instructed to massage his body. When he was ready to leave, the queen offered to have him carried again, but he refused and chose to walk. Even then, the queen took him by the arm and literally lifted him over areas of water or mud on the way back to the ship. [pp. 462–64]

“The Queen of Otaheite taking leave of Capn. Wallis.” From vol. 3 of David Henry’s An Historical Account of All the Voyages Round the World, Performed by English Navigators . . . (London, 1774). [Cotsen Collection]

An imaginative scene, as this teary leave-taking actually occurred aboard ship.

After losing sight of the Dolphin near the Pacific entrance to the Strait of Magellan in April 1767, Carteret sailed the Swallow northward to Masafuera (Más Afuera in the Juan Fernández group), where he had been with Byron two years before. Fresh water, food (goats, seals), and wood were abundant; the carpenters worked on ship repairs. From there, Carteret took a westerly route into the Pacific Ocean, eventually reaching, after several months, Pitcairn Island, which he named after the young crewman who had sighted it first. (The island would figure importantly in the HMS Bounty mutiny in 1789.)
           Men began succumbing to scurvy, the scourge of long naval voyages where fresh fruits and vegetables (i.e., vitamin C) were unavailable. Carteret, therefore, decided to take a northwesterly course to catch trade winds that might bring them to some land. On August 5, near longitude 177° E (from Greenwich, England), he detected a change in the ocean current to the south and conjectured (correctly) that it indicated a passage between New Zealand and New Holland (Australia). Soon afterward, they reached a group of islands that Carteret named Queen Charlotte’s Islands: they were the “lost” Solomon Islands of the Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendaña de Neira. (For more about the Solomons, see Mendaña/Queirós in the Explorers section.) Two hundred years after Mendaña, Carteret’s crew experienced similar bloody conflicts with the islanders and were unable to stay. And so Carteret, himself sick in bed, had to pass up the opportunity to refresh his ship’s supplies with the islands’ rich bounty of coconuts, bananas, and other fruits and vegetables.

Bénard, Robert, b. 1734. “Carte et vues de l’Isle Pitcairn.” Copperplate map (and views), with added color, 10 × 25 cm. on sheet 25 × 30 cm. From John Hawkesworth’s Relation de voyages entrepris par ordre . . . et successivement exécutés par le commodore Byron, le capitaine Carteret, le capitaine Wallis et le capitaine Cook . . . (Paris, 1774). [Historic Maps Collection]

We continued our course westward till the evening of Thursday the 2d of July [1767], when we discovered land to the northward of us. Upon approaching it the next day, it appeared like a great rock rising out of the sea: it was not more than five miles in circumference, and seemed to be uninhabited; it was, however, covered with trees, and we saw a small stream of fresh water running down one side of it. I would have landed upon it, but the surf, which at this season broke upon it with great violence, rendered it impossible. . . . [I]t having been discovered by a young gentleman, son to Major Pitcairn of the marines, who was unfortunately lost in the Aurora, we called it Pitcairn’s Island. [Hawkesworth, vol. 1, p. 561]

The mutineers of the HMS Bounty would find this information about a remote, uninhabited (but inhabitable) island useful when they sought a place to hide from the British Admiralty in 1779.


Hogg, Alexander, fl. 1778–1819. “Queen Charlotte’s Islands.” Copperplate map, with added color, 21 × 33 cm. From George William Anderson’s A New, Authentic and Complete Collection of Voyages Around the World, Undertaken and Performed by Royal Authority . . . (London, 1784). [Historic Maps Collection]

The scurvy still continued to make great progress among us, and those hands that were not rendered useless by disease, were worn down by excessive labour; our vessel, which at best was a dull sailer, had been long in so bad a condition that she would not work; and on the 10th [August 1767], to render our condition still more distressful and alarming, she sprung a leak in the bows, which being under water it was impossible to get at while we were at sea. Such was our situation, when on the 12th, at break of day, we discovered land: the sudden transport of hope and joy which this inspired can perhaps be equalled only by that which a criminal feels who hears the cry of a reprieve at the place of execution. The land proved to be a cluster of islands, of which I counted seven, and believe there were many more. [Hawkesworth, vol. 1, p. 568]

These were the Solomon Islands, lost on charts since their “discovery” in 1568 by the Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendaña de Neira. (For more on the Solomons, see Mendaña/Queirós in the Explorers section.)

From the middle of August through November 1767, the Swallow continued westward toward Mindanao in the Philippines, discovering a strait between New Britain and New Ireland and investigating the Admiralty Islands. Where possible, Carteret sought to improve upon the descriptions of the area given by the English buccaneer-explorer William Dampier over half a century before. (See Dampier in the Explorers section.) Carteret reached Makasar, a Dutch colony on the island of Celebes (today’s Ujung Pandang of South Sulawesi, Indonesia), on December 15, where he was detained for four months owing to Dutch apprehensions about this British intrusion. During this period, extensive repairs were made to the Swallow, and men recovered from sickness. Carteret then made long stopovers on the way home in Batavia and Cape Town, South Africa, before arriving in England on March 20, 1769. Severely hampered by ship and crew (more than half of his original crew had perished along the way), he had accomplished a remarkable circumnavigation of the world.
            Perhaps because of his complaints to the Admiralty about the condition of the Swallow, Carteret received little favor upon his return, and he remained in poor health. His bitterness increased with John Hawkesworth’s changes to his journal in the published account of the voyage. (James Cook had a similar reaction to Hawkesworth’s rendition of his first voyage in the same publication.) Eventually, Carteret received another command and retired in 1794 as a rear-admiral.

Hogg, Alexander, fl. 1778–1819. “A Chart of Capt’n Carteret’s Discoveries at New Britain, with Part of Capt’n Cook’s Passage thro Endeavour Streights, & of Capt’n Dampier’s Tract & Discoveries in 1699, & 1700, at New Guinea & New Britain.” Copperplate map, with added color, 14 × 36 cm. From George William Anderson’s A New, Authentic and Complete Collection of Voyages Around the World, Undertaken and Performed by Royal Authority . . . (London, 1784). [Historic Maps Collection]

A useful map for tracking the routes of the English explorers William Dampier, Philip Carteret, and James Cook in the waters and islands around New Guinea. Their combined “new” discoveries are marked in blue.

Table of Contents / Explorers
Magellan Strait
Pacific Ocean
Spice Islands