Posts Tagged ‘Australian History’

On the 12th of April 1769 Cook wrote: “and at 6 AM it (Tahiti) bore from SSW to WBN being little wind and calm several of the Natives came off to us in their Canoes, but more to look at us than any thing else we could not prevail with any of them to come on board – and some would not come near the ship” 

Despite the distance travelled, Cook and his crew arrive in good health.  Thanks to an unusual combination of food and drink. So wrote Cook as he dropped anchor:  “At this time we had but very few men upon the Sick list and these had but slite complaints, the Ships compney had in general been very healthy owing in a great measure to the Sour krout, Portable Soup and Malt…”.

So with a full compliment of crew and civilians, Cook approached the island of Tahiti for the all-important observation of the Transit of Venus. Here we get a glimpse of an Englishman, in his own words, as he “meets the locals”…. 

And it appears to be exactly as we would like to imagine, an idyllic meeting on a blue ocean, surrounding a beautiful tropical island…

“We had no sooner come to an Anchor in Royal Bay as before Mentioned than a great number of the natives in their canoes came off to the Ship and brought with them Cocoa-nuts, &ca and these they seem’d to set a great Value upon- amongest those that came off to the Ship was an elderly Man whose Name was is Owhaa, him the Gentlemen that had been here before in the Dolphin kne ow and had often spoke of him as one that had been of service to them, this man, / together with some others / I took on board / and made much of him thinking that he might on some occasion be of use to us”

The last comment indicates that Cook was there for a purpose (the Transit of Venus and future discovery for the Crown), not as an individual intent on “experiencing the color and nuances of a new culture”…

“1769 Friday Apl 14th This morning we had a great many canoes about the Ship, the Most of them came from the westward but brought nothing with them but a few Cocoa-nuts &Ca  Two that appear’d to be Chiefs we had on board together with several others for it was a hard matter to keep them out of the Ship.  As they clime like Munkeys, but it was still harder to keep them from Stealing but every thing that came within their reach, in this they are prodiges expert” 

The ever logical Lieutenant Cook quickly apprised the situation, and realising their stay would not be short drafted a list of regulations for the behavior of his people. Namely…

RULES to be observ’d by every person in or belonging to His Majestys Bark the Endevour, for the better establishing a regular and uniform Trade for Provisions, &c:a with the Inhabitants of Georges Island —

st To endeavour by every fair means to cultivate a friendship with the Natives and to treat them with all imaginable humanity —

d A proper person or persons will be appointed to trade with the Natives for all manner of Provisions, Fruit, and other productions of the earth; and no officer or Seaman or other person belonging to the Ship, excepting such as are so appointed, shall Trade or offer to Trade for any sort of Provisions, Fruit or other Productions of the earth, unless they have my leave so to do —

d Every person employ’d a shore on any duty what soever is strictly to attend to the same, and if by neglect he looseth any of his Arms or working tools, or suffers them to be stole, the full Value thereof will be charge’d againest his pay, according to the Custom of the Navy in such cases- and ^ he shall recive such farther punishment as the nature of the offence may deserve —

th The same penalty will be inflicted upon every person who is found to imbezzle, trade or offer to trade with any of the Ships ^ Stores of what nature so everunless they

th No Sort of Iron, or any thing that is made of Iron, or any sort of Cloth or other usefull or necessary articles are to be given in exchange for any thing but provisions —


Illustration by Alberto Salinas

Soon after establishing a camp, Cook set out for a look-see, accompanies by Mr Banks and others, leaving thirteen marines and a petty officer to guard the tent.

Cook and his company had not gone far when there was conflict back at the tent.  One of the locals took a fancy to one of the petty officers’ muskets and took to purloining it. The midshipman petty officer ordered the marines to fire on the crowd of more than a hundred. After a pursuit the thief was shot dead, but apparently no one else was injured.

Lieutenant Cook was not impressed with the conduct of the petty officer and had to use all of his powers of persuasion in an attempt to calm the locals and proceed with his mission. But he succeeded and later at the fort the transit of the planet Venus across the sun’s disk was observed with great success by Dr. Solander and Mr. Green.

Stage 1 of Lieutenant Cook’s mission had been a success. And now it was time to depart for much greater glory….


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“I first set out of England on this voyage at the beginning of the year 1679, in the Loyal Merchant of London, bound for Jamaica…” 

So starts Captain William Dampier in his book A New Voyage Around The World, which describes his first circumnavigation of the World.

Dampier was a character of the age, variously described as a buccaneer, explorer, sea captain, author and scientific observer. From our point of view he is a man who is to contribute greatly to the unveiling of the Great Southern Land.

Dampier was born in 1652, the son of a farmer near Yeovil, south west of London. Some 20 years or so later we find him on the other side of the world cutting and loading log-wood on the Bay of Campeachy in the present day Gulf of Mexico. Not satisfied with life there, in 1679 he sets sail on a grand adventure that will lead to his first circumnavigation of the World. Importantly he would popularise this voyage in his very successful book A New Voyage Around The World which regales stories of his travels and numerous buccaneering adventures.

It was in fact the very success of his journals that propel him into our journey of discovery. The British Admiralty become aware of his experience in the Pacific and seek his advice on the exploration of this part of the World. In 1699 they provide him with the command of the Roebuck and a commission to explore the east coast of New Holland (the name the Dutch had given to our Great Southern Land, Australia).

So at the age of 47 Dampier, Englishman and buccaneer, is at the helm of the Roeback, and at the centre of our journey of discovery.

However, not all goes well, supporting a view that perhaps notoriety, not talent put him in command of this expedition. He sets off late in the season in 1699 traveling via the Cape of Good Hope and the roaring forties. It is soon clear, however, that the 21-gun ship was not up the task of such an arduous trip, nor did he have good relations with his crew, actually having to clap one of his lieutenants into irons on the way. Scurvy follows, as well as chronic water shortages not making for a happy time when he reaches the coast of Western Australia.

But despite all of this Dampier pushes on, following the Western Australian coast north to Roebuck Bay near modern day Broome, then heading for Timor.

From January to April 1700 he follows the North Coast of New Guinea and during this time discovers New Britain. But instead of heading to explore the east coast of Australia he heads homeward, the cause, the poor state of the Roeback. In fact Dampier and his crew barely makes the volcanic Ascension Island in the mid Atlantic. Soon after their arrival their ship flounders and sinks. Dampier and sixty men have to wait two months until they are rescued.

Although in reality doing little more than previous visitors (like the accidental visitor Dirk Hartog) Dampier does popularise the exploration of the Pacific, again publishing a book of his journeys, A Voyage to New Holland in 1703 and 1709 (Part 2). Dampier’s visit also produces the first detailed observations of Australian flora and fauna. But other than this, the voyage is not much of a success, and falls well short of the goal of exploring the east coast of Australia.

Dampier himself was disappointed in what he saw. Viewing this new land as a mixture of dangerous shoals and reefs surrounding a barren land inhabited by ‘the miserablest people in the world’.

On Dampier’s return to England things did not get much better. He was court martialed for his treatment of Lieutenant Fisher (who he had clapped in irons), found guilty, fined all his pay and declared to be “not a fit person to be employed as commander of any of His Majesty’s ships.”

However, this did not stop Dampier. With the outbreak of the Spanish War of Succession his buccaneering experience again puts him to the fore with the Admiralty. Sought out as because of his knowledge of the Pacific and experience as a privateer he is given command of a ship the St. George in 1703. From there he fades from our story of discovery, but he will still circumnavigate the world another two times.

Dampier’s role in the exploration of the Great Southern Land is indirect, but significant. His ability with the pen, along with his scientific observations, inspires his fellow countrymen to join in the exploration of the Pacific. Once again, here come the English…and they are serious this time…


Books by William Dampier

  • A New Voyage Round the World, (1697)
  • Voyages and Descriptions, (1699)
  • A Supplement of the Voyage Round the World
  • The Campeachy Voyages
  • A Discourse of Winds
  • A Voyage to New Holland, (Part 1 1703, Part 2 1709)

Wikipedia provides the following interesting list on the impact of William Dampier:

  • His observations and analysis of natural history helped Charles Darwin’s and Alexander von Humboldt’s development of their theories,
  • He made innovations in navigation technology that were studied by James Cook and Horatio Nelson.
  • Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, was inspired by accounts of real-life castaway Alexander Selkirk, a crew-member on Dampier’s voyages.[5]
  • His reports on breadfruit led to William Bligh’s ill-fated voyage in HMS Bounty.
  • He is cited over a thousand times in the Oxford English Dictionary notably on words such as ‘barbecue’, ‘avocado’, ‘chopsticks’ and ‘sub-species’. That is not to say he coined the words, but his use of them in his writings is the first known example in English.
  • His travel journals depicting Panama influenced the undertaking of the ill-fated Darien Scheme, leading to the Act of Union of 1707.
  • His notes on the fauna and flora of northwestern Australia were studied by naturalist and scientist Joseph Banks, who made further studies during the first voyage with Captain James Cook. This helped lead to the naming of and colonization of Botany Bay and the founding of modern Australia.
  • He is mentioned in the Gabriel García Márquez short story The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship.
  • Jonathan Swift explicitly mentions Dampier in his Gulliver’s Travels as a mariner comparable to Lemuel Gulliver.
  • He is believed to have influenced the writing of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”.

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So where are the English in this History of Australia?

They have been notably absent from the Discovery story, particularly when many think  it was the Englishman Captain Cook who actually discovered Australia. In fact an estimated  54 European ships precede Cook’s so called “discovery” in 1770.

Well, the time has finally come. Enter the English, if ever so briefly. Although the Englishmen in question may wish it was not so. Meaning, John Brook, Commander of a 500 tonne British East India vessel and his crew of some 130 men.

The year is 1622 and he is at the helm of the Tryall, a ship that soon is to become the Great Southern Land’s oldest known shipwreck. So to our story….

Loaded with silver from Plymouth, Brooks is on his way to the East Indies from Plymouth. It is the ship’s maiden voyage and the early days of the English trying out the new Brouwer route to the East Indies. His ship we know is only the second British ship to try out this route.

It is clear Brooks and his crew are inexperienced as they stop in Cape Town, not just for supplies, but to ask the locals basically, “How do we get to the East Indies?” Not happy with a verbal answer, they recruit a solution.  Brooks locates and appoints an experienced First Mate, Thomas Bright and sets off east with the “roaring forties” at their backs.

Then the fun begins. After mistaking Barrow Island for the mainland they find themselves too far east. There are varying accounts of the cause – incompetence, or the the typical challenge of trying to work out their exact longitude.

Fate struck in the dead of night of the 25th of May. The Tryall crashes into submerged rocks some 30 km from Montebello Islands. In the dead of night there begins a mad scramble for a skiff and longboat. Brook’s immediately takes command of the skiff (filled with silver?) and Bright takes to the longboat. Over 90 of the 133 souls are left to perish as the two boats set sail into the night. But they do not head for the nearby Great Southern Land, but rather they head north. Amazingly some weeks later in early July both boats arrived in Batavia some 1200 km away. A feat of endurance and perseverance by both Brooks and Bright.

Today the submerged rocks are now known as the Tryal Rocks, and for some 300 years after their exact location had been a point of controversy amongst mariners.

The English have finally entered our story of discovery, but have not quite managed to set foot on their future domain. But we do know one thing…finally the English are coming…

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Dirk Hartog died in 1621 lasting a short 41 years on this earth. In that brief time he sailed the world and became the second white man to step foot on the mysterious Great Southern Land.

So how did this man from humble stock in the far distant Netherlands end up in our story of discovery?

You could say from the combination of a directive of Dutch colonial administrator Hendrik Brouwer and a little “hot air”. Well, not quite!

In 1611 Hendrik Brouwer devised a new route to Batavia (Java) for the Dutch East India Company – one that cut the sail time from South Africa by half – from 12 months to a mere 6 months.  This route took advantage of the “roaring forties” deep in the southern hemisphere – these strong westerly winds existed between 40 and 50 degrees south in close proximity to South Africa.  This route made the then common route to Batavia via the African coast line and Ceylon redundant and to an extent made a collision with the Great Southern land inevitable (calculating longitude was an imprecise science at this time).

Young Dirk Hartog came from a seafaring family and cut his stripes as the Captain of a small trading Vessel the Dolphyn from around 1615. He soon joined the (Dutch) United East India Company (established in 1602 to trade in Spices in East Asia) and eventually was appointed to command the ship the Eendracht on a voyage from the Netherlands via South Africa to Batavia.

The first leg of his journey of discovery commenced on the 23rd January 1616 from the Netherlands. On the way to South Africa he was blown off course and separated from the other ships in his fleet. This is a similar fate, we believe, that could have beset him on the second leg (or a miscalculation of longitude), as he followed the now proscribed southerly Brouwer route to Batavia.

Pushed forward by the roaring forties past where he should have headed North, the Captain of the Eendracht came upon athe tip of a small island on 25 October 1616 just off the coast of today’s Western Australia. The island was approximately 80 km long and 14 km wide and uninhabited. It was a barren island pummelled by the vast Indian Ocean.

Hartog landed at the northern end of the island, now known as Cape Inscription. For three days he explore, but found little. One action that left a mark on history was his leaving a commemorative plate that recorded his visit. It was carefully attached to a wooden post (the plate was retrieved some 40 years later by another Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh).

Suitably unimpressed by what he had seen Hartog  headed North, charting the coast line to the North West Cape.  From there he proceeded to Macassar with his cargo of money (where he lost 15 men in an altercation with the locals) and then visited other trading centres in the East Indies returning home in 1618.

This second visit by a European explorer had its significance. Following quickly from the William Janszoon the Great Southern Land was finally being revealed….

SIDE NOTE: The Eendracht

This is a little note for the often unsung hero of these adventures. The ship. In this case the Eendracht. She was built in 1655 destined for the Navy of the United Provinces (precursor of the Netherlands). In 1665 she served in the Second Anglo-Dutch war where she boasted 73 guns and a crew of 200, engaging the British in the Battle of Lowestoft. But the Eendracht only just outlasted Dirk Hartog. She managed only two trips from the Port of Texel in the Netherlands to the East Indies. On the 13 May 1622 on a local voyage west off Ambon Island she was wrecked with a cargo of coins – to this day she has not been discovered. In the ships honour, up until the end of the 19th century, the coast of Australia parallel to Dirk Hartogs Island was affectionately called Eendrachtsland.  As well for a brief time the Great Southern land was labelled on maps as tLandt van de Eendracht (the Land of the Eendracht).

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Janzoon Voyage of DiscoverySo we come to 1603 and a Dutchman named Willem Janszoon. In the last years before the formation of the Dutch East India Company he set sail for the East Indies as the captain of the Duyfken.

This ship was a lightly armed Barque 65 feet in length with a 110 tonne displacement and shallow draft. Her career was to be short (1595 to 1608), but noteworthy in terms of our historical journey.

By the time of Janszoon’s departure in 1603 she had already sailed twice from the Netherlands to the Dutch East Indies, been engaged in a naval battle with the Portuguese and undertaken a voyage of exploration where she got separated from the fleet, finding her way home alone in early 1603.

However, the plucky little Duyfken founder her way into the history books when Janszoon was sent to search for other outlets of trade in the East Indies. He was to sail the Duyfken beyond the ends of the known lands, to the east and south. The Duyfken’s shallow draught (some eight feet) made her perfect for coastal exploration.

DuyfkenSo in 1605, the Duyfken sailed under the command of Willhelm Janszoon from the trading port of Bantam in modern day Indonesia towards the west coast of New Guinea. Janszoon took with him a hand picked crew for this voyage to unknown lands.

Reaching New Guinea, they encountered a densely wooded land. The dependable Duyfken followed the coast and at one point they dropped anchor in an inlet and sent a boat crew to shore to explore and forage. It was then they were attacked by natives who fired arrows relentlessly at Janszoon’s  crew. In response the crew  raised their muskets, fired and fell back towards their boat loosing with eight dead. Despite the set back, the Duyfken and crew pressed on along the coast. However, they ran into difficulty when they met an opposing current running from the east around the New Guinea coast, forcing them to turn south east.

Very soon they encountered a totally different landscape. For mile after mile after mile they charted a barren land, without colour and, seemingly, people.

But it is finally here, in 1606, we have our first authenticated European sighting of the Great Southern Land. Janszoon and his crew had inadvertently sailed south and were following the west coast of the Australia’s York Peninsular.

Over the following days they charted some 300 miles of coastline until running low on supplies they decided to turn about at Cape Keerweer (Cape Turnaround). They sailed back up coast reaching the mouth of the Batavia River. Again they were met with trouble. Desperate for food and supplies they sent a longboat ashore, but again they were met by local natives. This time they did not wait for an attack and fired, leading to the natives retaliating and spearing one of the oarsmen.

It was here that Janszoon, now with less than half of his original crew, decided enough was enough. They were low on supplies and the surrounding lands offered little in sustenance, but a lot of trouble. It was time to turn for home. However, they were still a long way from a friendly shore.

Despite the situation, the crew rallied under Janszoon, and headed to the closest port, that of Aru.

Finally, Europeans had made it to the shores of the Great Southern Land…and Janszoon was not finished yet…he was to return…

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Dutch Bavaria 17th CenturyWe have reached the early 1600’s on our journey in search of the Land Down Under…

No longer is Asia a lonely place for Europeans. The seas are gradually being tamed, but what of the locals and the competition?

The year 1602 is especially significant for it bought a new power into the Indian Ocean. And it came came forth with all the fury of an angry storm sweeping across the Indian Ocean..

This was the year the Dutch East India Company was created. This company was effectively granted what could be called “extra governmental authority”. It was a government within a government, created for national, political and economic purposes. Perhaps the first ever private army, fully owned and operated by the Dutch public.

The Dutch East India Company charter presented the company with a monopoly over trade in the Indian Ocean, with the rights to make war and peace, administer justice, coin money and levy troops. With huge profits to be made controlling the trade between East and West  (spices, opium, Chinese porcelain etc.) armed protection became a feature of the Dutch East India Company (and the British East India Company). Indeed,the company soon controlled an armed force that dwarfed the one back at home.

It was estimated that at its height the Dutch East India Company possessed some 50,000 civilian employees, an army of 40 warships, up to 20,000 sailors and perhaps 10,000 solders.

The Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, as it was known locally, was granted a 21 year monopoly on trade in the Indian Ocean. The rational for such a monopoly, it must be said, was sound. Single voyages were high risk, and such risks were best shared. Also, prices need to be managed. To much product at one time could see prices tumble. So supply and demand needed to be balanced.

So in 1602 stock was issued for the first time. This raised some 6.5m guilders from the public (a huge sum) with the company also able to issue bonds to finance its short term funding requirements (creating a template for the modern stock exchange) .

Within a few years Dutch Trading Posts began to be established across Asia. The first was in Indonesia.

By 1610 it was thought necessary to appoint a Governor General for Asia, and soon after the Dutch East India Company began to flex its muscle to achieve its economic ambitions.  In Jakarta they expelled Banten forces at gun point to establish Batavia and a centre for the companies activities in Asia. They also deported the native inhabitants of the Banda Islands (source of nutmeg) with an ambition of using slave labour.

By the mid 1600’s the Company was well on the way to dominating Indian Ocean trade, with trading posts established from Iran, to India, South Africa and Siam (Thailand), to name but a few…

With the scent of profit in the air, the waters north of the Great Southern Land were transforming into an economic and political battleground. Not a time for the faint hearted, nor for the locals, caught on the wrong side of the ledger…

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Torres Passage

So here we are in the year 1600….

Has Australia been discovered by Europeans already? Are we all done with this search for the Land Down Under?

The Portuguese are the most likely discovers’ at this stage you must say. But exactly when did it happen and who was it?

And if they did why have they not announced such a momentous achievement to the world?  Why is not some dashing Portuguese discoverer hailed as a hero in the texts of the time?  One argument regarding Portuguese silence is that this discovery was treated as a state secret. Too valuable to share with their competitors. Sharing routes of expeditions to the East was severely punished at the time.

But if no one has reached the shores of Australia, how do we explain the following description by Cornelius Wytfliet of this Great Southern Land in  “Descriptionis Ptolemaicae Augmentum”, published in 1598:

“The “Australis Terra” is the most southern of all lands, and is separated from New Guinea by a narrow strait. Its shores are hitherto but little known, since after one voyage and another, that route has been deserted, and seldom is the country visited unless when sailors are driven there by storms. The “Australis Terra’ begins at two or three degrees from the equator, and is maintained by some to be of so great an extent, that if it were thoroughly explored, it would be regarded as a fifth part of the world.”

It is within reason that Australia had been accidentally visited during the sixteenth century and this is supported by the Dieppe maps to an certain extent. One French map of dated 1542, presents an outline that might support at least one Portuguese ship sailing from Cape York to Tasmania.

So in the year 1600 we have boastful claims of seamen and privateers, a few intriguing charts and the statement of Cornelius Wytfliet as milestones of achievement.

However, let’s  move into a new century. Here, surely, we are bound to find a  seaman we can be more confidently say sailed within sight of, or strode ashore on, this Great Southern Land.

Enter Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, a Spanish seaman with an unshakable belief in the existence of the Great Southern Land. In 1598 he petitioned King Phillip III of Spain to commission an expedition to find this mythical continent. Successful in gaining the King’s assent, he sails three ships from Peru in 1605 to claim this continent for Spain and the Church. Second in command was Luis de Torres.

All was not well, however, on Quiros’s ship. During the voyage it appears Quiros’s crew mutinies, and he is forced  to sail back to Peru, leaving Torres in command of the remaining two ships.

Torres was known as an able seaman. He apparently searched for his lost commander and then sailed towards the southern coast of New Guinea through the strait that now bear his name. Intriguingly, he did seem to know of the strait – that it would lead him back to the open seas and to eventually the Philippines. This knowledge again leads to the prospect that someone, most likely the Portuguese, has previously circumnavigated New Guinea and charted their voyage.

But  did Torres hug the New Guinea coast line, or venture along the Australian Coast line further to the south? Strong arguments exist; based on the prevailing winds (north east trade winds) that he is likely to have sailed through the Endeavour Straight, past Thursday Island. This would have put him in sight of Cape York, the northern tip of Australia.

Torres did not claim to discovery Australia. If he saw it he did not recognise his find. Indeed, much of his account of his trip gathered dusk in the Spanish archives and his voyage achieved little celebration. That is until by various hands, it is likely his notes found there way in the 1760’s to Joseph Banks and then to Captain Cook .

On the other hand, Torres’s disappearing Captain Quiros, announced in 1610 that he had discovered the large southern continent. In doing so he proclaimed it “Austrialia del Espiritu Santo” (in honour of Phillip III, a member of the “House of Austria”).

So is Torres our discoverer? Or, at least first European to sight Australia?  Well, the argument although not conclusive, is sound.

However, you get that sneaking feeling, that just by knowing the strait between New Guinea and Australia existed, that those Portuguese had probably been there before.  And if the trade wind logic applies to Torres, well it must apply to the Portuguese as well.

I am suspecting we may never know…but let’s keep searching anyway ….

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