The Coveted Pacific Coast

Enter Cook and the British

North to Alaska

View Multimedia - Changing Boundaries

Caption: View Multimedia - Changing Boundaries

Bad weather forced Cook to remain offshore, and he did not see land again until Alaska. Here he went along the coast to Bering Strait, but soon came up against a veritable wall of ice, which caused him to turn back without having found the entrance to the Northwest Passage. He was eventually killed at the beginning of the following year by Natives in the Hawaiian Islands but the other members of his expedition were able to return to England. After this extraordinary reconnaissance of the Pacific, the existence of a Northwest Passage between Nootka and Alaska was seriously challenged. Unlike the Russians and the Spanish, who kept the findings of their explorations secret, the British, in 1784, published an account as well as excellent maps of Cook's voyage. They understood that making their discoveries public gave them a considerable advantage in the event of any future dispute.

This openness was, moreover, part of a new trend that had appeared in the Age of Reason and was to reach its apogee with the Pacific explorations: recognition of the principle by which the security of ships and their occupants transcended issues of national boundaries. A nation that disseminated its scientific and cartographical knowledge for the benefit of others increased its prestige considerably.