Great Explorers – Samuel Wallis

Samuel Wallis (23 April 1728 – 21 January 1795 in London) was a British naval officer and explorer of the Pacific Ocean. He made the first recorded visit by a European navigator to Tahiti.

  • Born: 23 April 1723
    Fentenwoon, Cornwall
  • Died: 21 January 1795 (aged 71)
    Devonshire Street, London
  • Allegiance: Kingdom of Great Britain
  • Service/branch: Royal Navy
  • Years of service: c.1748–1795
  • Rank: Captain
  • Commands held: HMS Swan
    HMS Port Mahon
    HMS Prince of Orange
    HMS Dolphin
    HMS Torbay
    HMS Dublin
    HMS Queen
  • Known for: Pacific exploration
  • Battles/wars: Seven Years’ War
    Action of 8 June 1755
    Louisbourg Expedition
    Siege of Louisbourg
    Capture of Belle Île
    American Revolutionary War
  • Spouse(s): Betty Hearle
  • Other work: Extra Commissioner of the Navy
Samuel Wallis

Wallis was born at Fenteroon Farm, near Camelford, Cornwall. He served under John Byron, and in 1757 was promoted to captain and was given the command of HMS Dolphin as commander of an expedition accompanied by Philip Carteret on HMS Swallow with an assignment to circumnavigate the globe. As was reported in the press, he was also tasked with discovering the Southern Continent. The two ships were parted by a storm shortly after sailing through the Strait of Magellan. In June 1767, the expedition made the first European landfall on Tahiti, which he named “King George the Third’s Island” in honour of the King. Wallis himself was ill and remained in his cabin so lieutenant Tobias Furneaux was the first to set foot, hoisting a pennant and turning a turf, taking possession in the name of His Majesty. He described Tahiti as having a very good climate and the island being ‘one of the most healthy as well as delightful spots in the world’.

Dolphin stayed in Matavai Bay in Tahiti for over a month. Wallis went on to name or rename five more islands in the Society Islands and six atolls in the Tuamotu Islands, as well as confirming the locations of Rongerik and Rongelap in the Marshall Islands. He renamed the Polynesian island of Uvea as Wallis after himself, before reaching Tinian in the Mariana Islands. He continued to Batavia, where many of the crew died from dysentery, then via the Cape of Good Hope to England, arriving in May 1768.

Following his return in England, Wallis was able to pass on useful information to James Cook, who was due to depart shortly for the Pacific, and some of the crew from the Dolphin sailed with Cook. Although Cook carried an official report of Wallis’s circumnavigation, it is not known whether the two met prior to Cook’s departure in August 1768.

In 1780 Wallis was appointed an Extra Commissioner of the Navy.

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