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Voyages: Scientific Circumnavigations 1679 to 1859
    Captain Cook's SecondVoyage 1772-1775

Cook wrote:
"That there may be a continent, or large tract of land, near the pole, I will not deny; on the contrary, I am of the opinion that there is; and it is probable that we have seen a part of it."

He made the excellent suggestion however, that such land could "afford no better retreat for birds, or any other animals, than the ice itself, with which it must be wholly covered."

Cook was correct on both counts. There was indeed a large tract of land at the pole (Antarctica comprises 8.9% of the earth’s land); and when the whole interior was finally explored in 1958 during the International Geophysical Year, the largest land animals found by the explorers were lice. Cook’s conjectures about the great southern continent may have been influenced by his survey of the Isle of Georgia, in the South Atlantic Ocean.


The success that Cook had in circumnavigating Antarctica is stunning. He describes his summation of the mission:

"I had now made the circuit of the Southern Ocean… as to leave not the least room for the possibility of there being a continent, unless near the pole, and out of the reach of navigation…"

Cook defined the parameters of the great southern continent sufficiently for most purposes. He proved that its extent was limited toward the pole, and he erased the dream that it might have useful value, which may have been possible had it extended into more navigable latitudes.



"Possession Bay in the Island of South Georgia."

from An Account of the Voyages
... in the Southern Hemisphere ... by Captain Cook.
London: Printed for W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1773.

Cook: Page 12 of 16. The second voyage.
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