Saturday, April 5, 2014

Jacob Roggeveen and the Easter Island

Map of Jacob Roggeveen's voyage in 1722
On April 5, 1722, Dutch seafarer Jacob Roggeveen is the first European to discover the Polynesian island Rapa Nui, which he names Easter Island.

Arend Roggeveen was an accomplished scholar and teacher in mathematics, astronomy, and navigational theory. He managed to obtain a charter from the States-General of the United Netherlands in order to head towards the South Sea in 1675. Unfortunately, he failed to find financial aids. However, he did manage to motivate his sons, Jacob and Jan to continue his dreams before passing away in 1679.

Jacob Roggeveen grew up to a very accomplished and wealthy man with several professional titles as well. He was a doctor of law, a notary of Middleburg, and Council of Justice member in Batavia in today's Jakarta for the Dutch East India Company. At the age of 62, Roggeveen approached the Dutch West India Company to propose making an exploratory voyage to the unknown regions of the Pacific Ocean, and thus reviving his father's dreams. He was supported and promoted by his brother Jan, a merchant who also helped to prepare the journey.

Jacob Roggeveen
(1659 – 1729)
In August, 1721, the expedition departed and Roggeveen guided his crew to the Falkland Islands and around Cape Horn. They sailed towards Chile's coast and anchored in the Juan Fernández Islands until 17 March, 1722. During the break, the expedition took their time to clean, repair, and resupply before pushing into the unknown parts of the Pacific Ocean. They sailed on y west-northwest course for over 1,500 miles and finally saw a coastline, which they mistook for the fabled Southland. On this day, Roggeveen and his crew discovered Easter Island.

Unfortunately, the first exploration of Easter Island and the interaction with some of the estimated 3,000 inhabitants caused some friction and several deaths. Furtherly, Roggenveen reported "remarkable, tall, stone figures, a good 30 feet in height", the island had rich soil and a good climate and "all the country was under cultivation". The expedition proceeded west and sighted Bora Bora and Maupiti of the Society Islands and most of the Samoan Islands. Shortly after, they reached the Dutch East India post of today's Java. By then, the crew faced dire straits. One ship got lost and at least half of the crew diseased. The bad luck continued, when the expedition reached Batavia. The Dutch East India Company immediately seized the ships and their cargoes and arrested Roggeveen and his men for violating the company’s monopoly in the area. Roggeveen and his men were able to return to the Netherlands in 1723.

The explorer started settling in Middleburg again, but somehow, all of the original writings of his Pacific voyage, documenting his discoveries, had disappeared. A copy of the lost journal, made by scribes of the Dutch East India Company in Batavia, was finally found in 1836 in a bundle of papers among the archives of the Dutch West India Company in Middleburg. Published in 1838, this journal gave the world the first authoritative account of the expedition. During the 18th century, three further expeditions (Felipe González de Ahedo, James Cook, Jean-François de Galaup de La Pérouse) encountered the mystery of Easter Island.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a documentary on the age of discovery.



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