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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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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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Vasco de Gama had barely returned from his journey to India when, in 1505 a man of the name Binot de Gonneville wanders into the town of Honfleur, France.

He tells a fantastic tale that ends with him running his ship aground nearby (to avoid English pirates) and having to walk many miles back to town on foot. His story covers the two years since he set sail from this very port in his 100 tonne ship the Hope and 170 men. And it all leads to a climactic claim:

“I, Binot de Gonneville, have discovered the great Austral land!”

R H Major in History of Early Voyages to Terra Australis, 1859 summarises de Gonnerville’s  journey:

de Gonneville, who commanded her, weighed anchor in the month of June 1503, and doubled the Cape of Good Hope, where he was assailed by a furious tempest, which made him lose his route, and abandoned him to the wearisome calm of an unknown sea”.

“Not knowing what course to steer, the sight of some birds coming from the south determined them to sail in that direction in the hope of finding land.”

“They remained six months at this land; after which the crew of the ship refused to proceed further, and Gonneville was obliged to return to France. When near home, he was attacked by an English corsair, and plundered of every thing; so that his journals and descriptions were entirely lost. On arriving in port, he made a declaration of all that had happened in the voyage to the Admiralty, which declaration was dated July the 19th, 1505, and was signed by the principal officers of the ship.

This journey was largely forgotten until Jean Paulmier de Courtonne in 1663 wrote of de Gonneville in his book the Memoirs Concerning the Establishment of a Christian Mission in the Austral Land. This claim of discovery tapped into French patriotism, stimulating a new French interest in the ocean exploration. Again it shows the power of the mythology of the Great Southern Land to stir exploration.

So, was it the French who actually discovered this mythical southern land?

No, more likely he reached the southern coast of Brazil somewhere near Santa Catarina. De Gonneville, in fact, returned with a local Indian ESSOMERICQ who was baptised on the return ship and went on to live into his 90’s as a prominent citizen of Honfleur (subsequently adopted by Gonneville).

But de Gonnerville’s story, although discounted even at the time, was one of the first accounts of the discovering down under- only adding to the myth of the Great Southern Land…

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Henry

It is 1417 when Prince Henry, son of King João of Portugal, accepts the governorship of the Order of Christ. This order, set up in 1319 following the suppression of the Templar’s by Pope Clement in 1311, provides the resources for Prince Henry to change the future of ocean going exploration.

Following the conquest of Ceuta  in Northern Africa, Henry begins a personal mission to extend the reach of the Holy Faith of Jesus Christ. With his spurs won in battle, he is pushes for further expansion. The Azores, the Canary Islands and more specifically down the West African coast. But he first sets his sights on going past Cape Bojador, just south of the Canaries, whose reefs and currents are the limit of previous expeditions. Finally Henry’s urgings (and promises of rewards) drive Gil Eannes (originally his household servant) past this psychological barrier hence opening up the rest of the Atlantic African coast.

In the 1420’s, with an increasing mercantile motive, Henry drives Portuguese exploration down the coast of Africa at the same time bringing cartographers and instrument makers to the town of  Sagres in southern Portugal to boulster the expeditions he sponsors.

Soon after, his brother, Prince Pedro returns from a wide ranging European trip, with a copy of Marco Polo’s Travels which he translates for Henry. Does it excite him with a vision to reach India and far of lands? The truth is unclear. But we do know Henry continues to use his resources to innovate and seed the exploration of West Africa. He adopts the use of the caravel as his vehicle of exploration and in 1444 a vessel finally returns with 200 slaves – a hint of the wealth to come.

Sierra LeoneHowever, by the time of Henry’s death in 1460 Portugal has probably only reached as far as Sierra Leone.

But Portugal is about to launch forth into the oceans with even more vigor…

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CeutaWhat has Ceuta, northern Africa, barely 20 km across the straight of Gibraltar got to do with the Discovery of Terra Australis?

Let’s find out…

In 1400 Ceuta is an exotic port town of  “walled palaces and gardens”, busy with the activities of “merchants, officials and navigators”.  This vibrant Moorish port city is a melting pot of cultures with  peoples from such exotic places as Ethiopia, Alexandria, Syria and more doing business within its walls.

So why, in 1415, in one of the first expansionary oceanic expeditions of Europe, is a fleet  of some 200 Portuguese ships and 50,000 men sailing to this city with war on their minds?

The reasons are many-fold. Residual tensions from the Moorish invasion of Europe certainly still existed, with both sides alternately trading with each other across the Mediterranean as well as undertaking open acts of piracy. Portugal at this time is locked out of any African claim by an agreement in 1291 between Castile and Aragon (at that time it made no claims) and yet it is increasingly reliant on trade and the supply of cereals from Northern Africa for its survival. Ceuta, it is thought is also an excellent defensive position against the Moors, as well as providing excellent access to the profits of Saharan and Mediterranean trade.

So, with all of the above on their minds, and after much debate and urging by some of the younger, more hot headed fidalgos mancebos (nobles) there commences six years of preparations for this attack. This includes the building of a great fleet of more than 200 ships, powering the growth of the country’s ship building expertise.

Finally, in 1415, the Portuguese King  launches his seaboard attack. Catching Ceuta by surprise, it takes no more than a day to drive out the Moors and sack the city. Soon after the victors gather in a general council and debate if the city should be held or abandoned (leading some weight to the argument that this was little more than “robbery and a corsair adventure” and the winning of spurs by the son’s of King John I).

In the end the council decides to hold the city and so Portugal appoints its first overseas Governor, the Count of Viana, leaving with him a force of a little more than 2,500 men. Soon the surrounding Muslim’s besiege Ceuta, but against the odd, the Count manages to hold the city. From here the Portuguese begin to tentatively explore and trade along the Northern Atlantic African Coast, also  providing a base for noble born Portuguese corsairs to attack local Muslim traders (a long held custom of both sides).

So, for the first time, sea-born power delivers Portugal (and Europe) its first overseas beach-head in Africa. And a stage for one of King John’s sons to launch his career…

Enter, Henry the Navigator…who would launch the Portuguese into the unknown…


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JohnI-Portugal

We move our story to Portugal where, around 1400, fundamental changes are shaping its future.
Over the latter years of the 14th century depopulation (particularly of its rural areas) and a significant deflation of  the Portuguese currency occurs, reshaping the population after the devastation of  the Black Death.

The Portuguese begin to move into towns and towards the coast leading to the rise of future great cities such as Lisbon and Oporto. As the population crowds towards the foreshores  there is the realisation that the ocean is to be their future bread basket – providing not only the fish to feed them, but the potential for trade, profits and wealth.

Coastal trade grows and becomes a central part to economic life. One of the outcomes is innovation in the methods of trade. The first is a prototype of maritime insurance sponsored by King Dinas I (a keen trader himself with  his own trading fleet). When introduced this scheme proscribed the payment of a percentage of each cargo to cover future unexpected losses. Royal patronage and encouragement is soon turned to shipbuilding. Subsidies are provided for the local manufacture of ships in   Lisbon and Oporto.

With this royal support sea trade  flourishes, reaching even further afield, embracing the English and creating long term close ties (reinforced by the Treaty of Windsor in 1373 between the two countries).  By 1410 a wide variety of goods are routinely being traded -wine, olive oil, dates jewels, pearls.  The Portuguese reach out further with the King’s ships traveling to such places as Norway, Flanders and Genoa. All this is fine, but something more fundamental is happening; and you have to look into the holds of the ships to discover it. What you see is grain and cereals. At this time Portuguese ships increasingly carrying food staples back to Portugal.

Sea trade is now essential to feed the population (likely driven by the increasing urbanisation and movement to the coast of the population). And feeding a country is always central to political stability. Indeed, soon the King mandates that returning ships must bring products such as cereals back to Portugal on return trips as opposed to higher value goods.

So with sea born trade and trade is here to stay, Portugal increasingly transforms itself into a seafaring nation, investing in all of the required skills to allow its merchants to venture deeper and deeper into the unknown Atlantic ocean.

But trouble lies ahead… with increasing reliance on the seas, comes insecurity…

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