The eighteenth century was truly that of the discovery of the Pacific, even though it had been often crossed before and such voyagers as Mendaña, Quiros, and Tasman had explored important parts of it. Circumnavigations of the earth had also grown frequent before 1700, though most earlier navigators crossed the Pacific by the proven route, intent on quickly reaching the Orient. But the eighteenth century brought a quickened interest in both trade and geographical discovery for science’s sake. Dampier, Roggeveen, Bering, Anson, Byron, Wallis, Carteret, and especially Cook each added something to the knowledge of the great ocean.

The question here is, what contribution did Commodore John Byron, grandfather of the poet, make? According to Gallagher and such previous writers as Carrington and Beaglehole, he made very little. Lord Egmont of the Admiralty sent him in 1764 with two ships to relocate something earlier reported and named Pepys Island near the Falklands, and, as it turned out, really a part of that group. Byron’s orders were next to enter the Pacific through Magellan’s Strait and sail northward to Drake’s New Albion. Somewhere above this California coast he was commanded to seek a route into Hudson’s Bay; these latter instructions proving that the old Strait of Anián belief died hard. If, after searching, Byron decided no feasible passage to Hudson’s Bay existed, he should cross the Pacific to Asia and return home via the Cape of Good Hope.

Byron carried out a limited part of the instructions and was back in England in twenty-two months, his principal accomplishment being the setting of a speed record. He went through the motions of obeying orders around the Falklands, but, once in the Pacific, paid no attention to New Albion and Hudson’s Bay. The fact that the passage between them did not exist by any practical standard was no excuse: he did not know this and wished only to cross the Pacific as fast as possible. In crossing, he discovered only insignificant islands; the matter on which he had set his heart was the rediscovery of the Solomons, visited by Mendaña in 1568 and since lost. He missed the Solomons, but even they would have been no great discovery and were of small value until World War II gave them strategic importance.

Gallagher concludes, no doubt rightly, that the commodore did not try hard to carry out orders. Byron had what seemed to him good reasons for not doing so, but these are not very convincing when checked against other evidence, notably the log of Patrick Mouat who commanded the sister ship. Byron was given to exaggerating bad weather and general hardships, showing some of his grandson’s poetic flair in describing his troubles.

While not a Byron enthusiast, Gallagher nevertheless feels that the voyage showed more than merely negative results. The commodore, if lacking the qualities of a true explorer, was still a competent officer and navigator. He did accurately chart the position of the Falklands, even though Bougainville had been there ahead of him. His report on the Pacific interested the Admiralty and guaranteed the early sending of the more important Wallis expedition, an expedition Byron had some share in planning. His voyage marked the beginning of British governmental activity in the Pacific, and the discoveries by Cook and Vancouver were continuations of the exploration he started.

Hispanists will find their interest represented by Byron’s activities in the Falklands and Patagonia and his partial chart of Magellan’s Strait, which is reproduced. He also visited Saipan and Tinian in the Marianas, but encountered no Spaniards on either island at the time.

Gallagher follows a plan familiar to readers of the Hakluyt series. After a considerable, and able, introduction of his own, he prints first the commodore’s orders and then his journal. This journal, 128 pages long, furnishes mostly latitudes, longitudes, directions, and weather reports, but sometimes departs from these routine matters to give interesting details about the places visited.

An entertaining feature of the appendix is an article, “The Patagonian Giants,” by Dr. Helen Wallis of the British Museum Map Room. Dr. Wallis, after reviewing reports by travellers from Magellan’s Pigafetta to Charles Darwin, inclines to agree that the Patagonian Indians are somewhat above the average human height.