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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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The Victoria

With their East African and Indian positions established the Portuguese continue to the east, past India reaching Sumatra, Borneo, the Celebes, Java and then the Spice Islands (Moluccas). It is 1511 in our voyage of discovery.

However, the Spanish are not idle. Following the discovery of America by Columbus, they are pushing their explorations westward at the same time.

Enter Magellan, who presents his plan to the Spanish King Charles V of a westerly trip to reach Asia and the Spice Islands (a voyage previously rejected by the Portuguese King). It is accepted and he sets off with five ships in 1519. This trip results in the first circumnavigation of the globe (albeit at the cost of three of the ships, Magellan himself and the majority of his crew).

Magellan’s expedition reaches the vicinity of the Spice Islands (with well established Portuguese trade and trading establishments) and commences a dispute over their respective “spheres of influence”. Some years prior Pope Alexander VI.  had arbitrated an agreement between each party generously bestowing one-half of the undiscovered world upon the Spanish, and the other half upon the Portuguese (Treaty of Tordesillas). As luck would have it however, the claims overlap at the valuable Spice Islands.

This come to a head when the surviving ships of Magellan’s fleet reach the Moluccas in 1521. The Spanish claim that these islands are within its own hemisphere. The Portuguese disagree.  Inevitable conflict begins between the two.

Nova GuineaThen in 1527, Fernand Cortez, the conqueror of Mexico, sends an armed fleet from New Spain led by Alvaro de Saavedra. On leaving the Spice Islands, well laden with goods, he runs many leagues along the Northern Coast of New Guinea.

Around the same time, Jorge de Menezes from Portugal pulls his ship to the shore of New Guinea to wait out a fierce storm. He names where he stops Ilhas dos Papuas .

By 1530 both Spain and Portugal  were as close as Papua New Guinea…and the British and Dutch were still yet to come…

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Portuguese PleetThe legacy of Henry the Navigator continues as the Portuguese  creep tentatively down the west coast of Africa during the latter half of the 15th century.

But the year 1497 marks a turning point. This is the year Vasco de Gama departs Lisbon with a fleet of four ships,  a crew of 170 men and an ambition to reach the Indian ocean and India itself.

After several months of sailing he pulls wide and south, gets favorable winds and passes around the Cape. In this part of the voyage he undertakes one of the longest trips out of sight of land. Some three months. However, with determination and perseverance he finally enters the Indian ocean.

But in these waters he is not alone.

Whilst these waters are new to Europeans, a complex set of Muslim trading routes crisscross the Indian ocean. And so, inevitably, old habits and prejudices ebb into these waters.  De Gama is barely into the Indian ocean when he undertakes blatant acts of piracy against unarmed Muslim traders as he passes up the East Coast of Africa. He also comes into conflict with the natives of Mozambique and Mombassa in his search for stores and supplies. De Gama’s conduct from here on in is closer to the behavior of  pirates and corsairs, as opposed to glorious explorers.

In May 1498 de Gama reaches Calicut in India with the aid of a local pilot. Here he comes into conflict with the Zamorin of Calicut and the intrigues of local Moorish traders, the latter being threatened by the Portuguese trade ambitions. A tenuous trading outpost is established before he departs for Portugal (all the men left behind to man this post are destined to be murdered).

It takes some two years for de Gama to return to Lisbon where the King hails him a hero.  But in truth he arrives with many of his crew lost to the hardships of the voyage, few goods of value and further acts of piracy under his belt (on the return voyage he attacks, burns and sinks the Miri – a ship transporting wealthy Muslin merchants).

So, despite the inglorious nature of their advances, the Portuguese & Europe is one step closer to discovering the “land down under”… the only question is who would be first?

The race has begun…

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Black-death

Let’s move our story of discovery to the 14th century. It is a tumultuous period in Europe’s history and comes as a shock to the increasingly prosperous and ordered population.

In the preceding centuries Europe has experienced a rapid growth in population. Political stability is on the rise with fewer Viking and Arab raids and Feudalism has brought some order to society.

However, if you walk about Europe in 1300 all is not well. Some 75 million people now live off a land that is not increasing in productivity (for example England’s population had grown seven fold in three hundred years).  There are signs of population stress. More and more marginal land is cropped and is now essential to the survival of more and more people.

Life is delicately poised – particularly for the common person – who is very much tied to the produce of the their land. Then climate change strikes. When there is so little margin for error. Enter the Little Ice Age . Longer winters, higher rain fall and shortening ripening periods starts around 1315 and sets the stage for famine in 1317 the Great Famine. It strikes when the communities reserves are depleted. Seed grain is eaten as opposed to sown, animals are slaughtered, children  abandoned,  and the old died followed by the young, then by the healthy.

Can things get worse? Oh yes they can! Let’s hear Michael Platiensis words about 1337:

“At the beginning of October… twelve Genoese galleys . . . entered the harbor of Messina. In their bones they bore so virulent a disease that anyone who only spoke to them was seized by a mortal illness and in no manner could evade death. The infection spread to everyone who had any contact with the diseased. Those infected felt themselves penetrated by a pain throughout their whole bodies and, so to say, undermined. Then there developed on the thighs or upper arms a boil about the size of a lentil … This infected the whole body, and penetrated it so that the patient violently vomited blood. This vomiting of blood continued without intermission for three days, there being no means of healing it, and then the patient expired… Soon the corpses were lying forsaken in the houses. No ecclesiastic, no son, no father and no relation dared to enter, but they hired servants with high wages to bury the dead.”

The Black Death decimates Europe’s population killing some 30% of the population a few short years. The Dead litter the countryside. And a new nursery rhyme is born:

Ring around the rosie,
A pocketful of posie,
Ashes, ashes
All fall down!

But as always, there are unintended consequences to this calamity. The path this disease takes to Europe is the Silk Road. The life blood of trade with the far East. As it ravages this key trade route we also see the disintegration of the Mongol Empire starting from the 1330’s.  Chaos from the break down of established order derails eastern trade (which had been rendered largely safe by the stability of the Mongol Empire). Soon access to the riches of the East are at risk. And an alternative must be found!

One option is for Europe to turn to the sea – where they can themselves pursue the tales of the wealth to be had from trading with far off lands…

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Marco PoloThe last byte introduced the logical argument for a Southern Land. Let’s move to more earthly and tactile experiences.

We commence our physical journey of the discovery & colonisation of the Great Southern Land in an unusual place, in Lyon, where Friar Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, (c.1180-1252) becomes one of the first great explorers to write of lands outside Christendom.

It’s the start of the 13th century. A time of Crusades, Kings and Moorish conflict on the Iberian peninsula.

This is the time when Giovanni Carpine sets off in 1245 to Mongolia and the Court of the Great Khan. Tasked with delivering a letter to the Great Khan by Pope Innocent IV, he makes a  3000 miles journey into unknown lands across Rus and into Mongolia (when he is well into his 60’s).

It is an arduous journey of great hardships traveling north of the Caspian sea. It’s an amazing feat of endurance. But it is what he does on his return that counts. He writes a book, Historia Mongolorum based on his travels. In it he describes the Tartar peoples, the lands, the customs and even how to wage war on them. This is one of the first books to open the eyes of many to the world outside Europe.

William of Rubruck follows soon after and similarly travels to, and  writes of, crossing the whole of central Asia traveling to far away Mongolia.  Although, it must be said, not all of the observations written of were necessarily accurate, or there was some “tongue in the cheek” employed by locals in the stories they told him.

Take for example this story repeated by  Friar Rubruck…

“On one occasion there sat by me a priest from Cathay, wearing a rede material of a very fine hue, and when I asked him where he got such as colour from, he told me that in the eatern district of Cathay there are lofty crags in which dwell creatures having in every respect human form except that do not bend their knees but walk hopping… they are but a cubit high and the woke of their small bodies is covered with hairs… when men go hunting them they carry withy them… very intoxicating mean (mead), and they set traps among the rocks in the shape of cups and they fill them with mean…”

It gets better… so continues William of Rubruck…

“…(then) these animals come out of the caves and toast the drink and they cry out “Chinchin;” from this shout they got their name, for they are called Chinchins. Then they assemble in vast numbers and drink the mean and, becoming intoxicated, they fall asleep… the hunters… bind them hand and foot as they sleep. NExt they open a vein in their necks and… extract three or four drops of blood… and that blood, so I am told is most valuable for dying purple.”

(Before European Hegemony, JL Abu-Lughod, p 162)

Soon it is Marco Polo’s turn to open peoples eyes to what lies out of Christendom. He journeys far and wide throughout Asia for over 20 years, ending up at the court of Kublai Khan in far distant China. His book Travels, like Giovanni Carpine ‘s book, helps Europe in later years lift the shroud of darkness on the outside world.

Europe is reaching out. The spirit of exploration is beginning…

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The notion of Terra Australis, the Great Southern Land, was first introduced by Aristotle in his work  Meteorologica, circa 350 BC. For Aristotle “there must be a region bearing the same relation to the southern pole as the place we live in bears to our pole”.

As opposed to the observations of travelers, it was a deemed a matter of physics that land be somewhat distributed evenly around the globe.   This was the time when such concepts as the spheric nature of the world was developed and that one could reach the east by traveling west.

This was reinforced by works of other classical writers, for example Ptolemy (1st century AD). He introduced and developed concepts and principles of mapping with his influencial book Geographia, as well as presented the Indian Ocean enclosed on the south by land.

In 1477, around the time of the first European push into the Atlantic, 500 copies of Ptolemy’s book was published in Bologna and further printings occurred in Italy and Germany thus spreading the ideas of Ptolemy.

An example of this “southern land” is shown in the Ulm map 1482 where the Indian Ocean  bounded by the land known as Terra Incognita (the “unknown land”).

So it is by deduction, rather than exploration that there is the first hint of Terra Australis. But one thing is clear:  Terra Australis, from the earliest of times, has  manifested itself in the human psyche of discovery. And no one was going to let it go until it was found…explored…and more…

Our journey of discovery begins…


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