The first trips toward Polynesia took place in the 16th century, but it is only in the 18th century that Europeans really discovered these islands and took an interest in them. In 1722, Dutchman Jacob Roggeveen, in a journey that brought him to Easter Island, sailed across the Tuamotu and reached Maupiti, the Westermost island in the archipelago.
In 1765, English Admiral John Byron completed the charting of the remaining Tuamotu islands. Tahiti though remained off the map and it was only in 1767 that Samuel Wallis was the first one to land on the island of Tahiti aboard the " Dolphin ". One week after the Dolphin's arrival, uneven fights started between islanders on canoes and Europeans with canons, but at the end both sides engaged in trading food for metal objects such as nails and hatchets. The sailors were discovering a world without sexual prejudices, where displays of affection were part of normal life, thence perhaps the image of a sexual paradise that has for so long inflamed Western imaginations. Wallis spent only a few weeks and his stop was soon forgotten.
A year later, The first French explorer of the Pacific, Bougainville arrived in Tahiti with the crews of " la Boudeuse " and of " l’Etoile ". There was no fighting with the Tahitians; to the contrary his men and him, who spent only 9 days in Tahiti, enjoyed the pleasant way of life in the islands, and named Tahiti the " New Cythere ". They contributed this way to the myth of the earthly Paradise that French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau described in his work.
In 1769 on the " Endeavour " , in 1773 , and in 1777 on the " Resolution " and the " Discovery", three expeditions were lead by James Cook who, assisted by Banks, Solander, Forster (three botanists), Green (astronomer), Parkinson (artist), William Hodges, John Webber, (painters), increased the knowledge about the islands of the South Pacific.
Meanwhile in 1772, a ship under the command of Spanish Don Domingo de Boenechea arrived from Peru, moored near Tautira in Tahiti Iti and claimed the island for Spain. In 1774 he started a first settlement but his attempt failed.
1787 to 1789, is when the famous Bounty expedition took place. It was lead by Captain William Bligh, it was originally intended to bring Tahitian breadfruit trees to the Carribeans. It was during this expedition that a mutinybroke out, due in part to the difficult conditions of the journey, which lasted almost a year, but mostly due to Bligh's tyranical personality. These mutiny lead by Fletcher Christian had for consequences the various fate of the various groups of sailors. Bligh and his loyal sailors were able, against all odds, to reach Timor on a long boat after a 45-day journey and then returned to England. Found later, some of the mutineers were hung and some were pardoned. Others who escaped the man hunt settled on the island of Pitcairn where the only survivor, John Adams, was found in 1808 by whale hunters.