Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/217

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I. The Search for the 'Terra Australis.'

THE search for the supposed great southern continent roused interest in the South Polar area, even earlier than the commercial need for the Northeast or Northwest Passage directed the attention of the European nations to the Arctic seas. Long before Hudson had started the northern whale fishery, or Barents had discovered Spitzbergen, or Willoughby had set out on that 'new and strange navigation' which, according to Milton, was intended to save England from the commercial ruin threatened by foreign competition, Arabian, Dutch and Spanish sailors had searched for a continent in the great southern sea.

Belief in the existence of this 'Terra Australis' dates from the time of the earliest classical geographies. They regarded it as a corollary of the spherical shape of the earth; for it was thought that terrestrial equilibrium could only be maintained by two land masses acting as counterpoises to the land of the old world. The existence of America was therefore predicted as the necessary western antipodes, and a great southern continent was assumed as the southern antipodes. The land that Ptolemy represented as connecting Africa and southeastern Asia and closing the Indian Ocean as a Mediterranean Sea, was regarded as part of the northern shore of this southern continent. Faith in this 'Terra Australis' has survived in spite of the repeated failures to prove its existence; for more than two and twenty centuries the supposed limits of this land have receded as geographical research advanced southward. One of the geographical results of the Indian expedition of Alexander the Great was the separation of Ceylon from the southern continent. Ptolemy's land connection between southern Africa and eastern Asia was pushed backward by the Arabian sailors who reached Australia. Confirmation of the theory was however claimed by the discovery of Terra del Fuego and Australia; but the passage of Drake's Straits and Tasman's voyage along the southern coast of Australia showed that both areas were bounded southward by the sea. Then it was asserted that New Zealand was part of the southern continent, and de Bougainville was sent in 1763 to discover colonizable parts of it, so that France might replace her lost American possessions by new settlements in the south. The French expedition, however, was disappointed