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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