“Reversed for me our grandsire's fate of yore,-
He had no rest at sea, nor I on shore." (George Gordon, 6th Lord Byron)”
|Contemporary map maker Alexander Hogg's imagination of Byron's meeting with the Patagonians in 1765|
|The wreck of HMS "Wager" in 1739, frontispiece of Byron's:|
"Narrative of the Hon. John Byron;
Being an Account of the Shipwreck of The Wager;
and the Subsequent Adventures of Her Crew"
The possibility of a yet undiscovered continent haunted geographers, explorers and imperialists since Antiquity and, naturally, it was one of the mission objectives for the captains of every seafaring European nation on a voyage to the Pacific to discover Terra Australis. John Byron’s “Dolphin”, originally a survey ship and pressed into service as a 6th rate frigate during the Seven Years’ War, was no exception. Tasked with finding and taking possession of lands hitherto undiscovered by other European powers, such as the formal seizure of uninhabited parts of the Falklands in the name of King George III, was well within the scope of his Admiralty orders. Actually, “Dolphin” was at the lower end of the food chain of vessels commanded by reasonably well connected senior post captains like Byron. And it might have been his sheer desire to go out and explore along with his considerable experience in Southern Atlantic and Pacific water that he was chosen for the mission. The first milestone in “Dolphin’s” voyage around the world was allegedly to establish a British base in these waters, to watch shipping along the sea routes between the world’s two largest oceans, but that might well be mid-19th and 20th century hindsight. Following up from van Diemen’s and Tasman’s discoveries from the 17th century and trying to find “Terra Australis” before the Spanish or the French did, namely Bougainville, was, in all probability, the main reason for Byron’s circumnavigation in 1765 and Bougainville sailed for pretty much the same reasons – finding it before their English rivals did. Both seafarers discovered tropical paradises out in the Pacific, Bougainville in Tahiti, Byron among the Gilbert Islands, one of them, Nikunau was often called “Byron Island” during the 19th century, and both would serve 15 years later on the North American station when their countries were at each other’s throats again. Bougainville quite successfully during the Battle of the Chesapeake in 1781 and at least able to get away from France’s decisive defeat at the Saintes in 1782. Byron though, then a Vice-Admiral, was not quite so lucky, but managed at least to acquire a memorable nickname.
|Jean-François Hue (1751-1823): "Battle of Grenada"|
And more about “Foul-weather Jack Byron on: