Mapping Australia – Part Three

Here Come The Dutch…

In Part Three of this look at the mapping of Australia we have reached the 17th century and the arrival of Dutch explorers.

If you have not seen them yet please check out these links for Part One and Part Two .

It’s the 17th century. But only just. In 1605 Willem Jansz (aka Janszoon) sailed his ship Duyfken along most of the west facing side of what is now known as the Cape York peninsula. (That’s the fairly big pointy bit that sticks out at the top of the east coast of Australia). By this time the Dutch were well established just to the north of Australia where the Dutch East Indies company had traded from its base, in what we now call Jakarta, since 1602. Willem Jansz charted about 300 km of coastline – See his map below. However the Cape York peninsula along with the first part of the western coast only begin to appear on official maps in 1630. The charts made by these explorers were really the property of the company and would have been available when possible to other Dutch sailors. 

Willem Jansz map, of what is now Cape York, from 1606

On 26 February 1606, Jansz landed near what is now the town of Weipa. This is the first recorded European landfall on the Australian continent. Although Jansz became the first person to chart the coast of Australia, he actually thought it was a southerly extension of New Guinea. The reason being that he had not sailed through the Torres Strait. Jansz’s ship was actually in the Torres Strait in February 1606, a few months before Spanish explorer Luís Vaéz de Torres sailed through it. While Jansz is famous for his discoveries it is the Spaniard’s name that goes to that strategic stretch of water. Jansz is said to have found the people of this new land inhospitable and several of his men were killed on various shore expeditions. These were the first fateful recorded contacts between Aborigines and Europeans. 

It is worth noting that most (if not all) early maps of Australia show Cape York almost attached to New Guinea and this continued long after Torres sailed through that body of water that bears his name. (We shall see more of this in later posts.) All the way in fact till Cook sailed up the east coast and through the same Torres Strait. But that was still an almost incomprehensible one hundred and sixty four years after Jansz’s landings. That’s 164 years later! Still hard for me to believe as I type… Anyway, back to the Dutch…

Such was the power and wealth of the Dutch East Indies Company at that time, that it was guaranteed there would be plenty of (mainly Dutch) ships heading in that general direction and exploring the region. 

The sightings of Cape York were predictable (at some point) as they were only just south of the East Indies. But the early sightings of the West coast of Australia were as much by accident as design…

Hitting the West Coast (literally in some cases)

It was suggested that the quickest way that Dutch ships could reach Java was to head east after passing the Cape (South Africa) then turn north at a certain longitude. Great if you got it right. But back then (as any good sailor will tell you) calculating longitude was still far from accurate. Consequently many ships headed too far east and hit the west coast of Australia. Some quite literally; getting wrecked!  So most of the discoveries that followed were, strictly speaking, accidental. Also they were not mapped for several decades in most cases, but they were used as naval charts to aid other Dutch sailors.

Dirk Hartog made the first sightings (and landing) of the west coast of Australia in 1616 – an incredible 154 years before Cook’s landing in the east coast. Hartog was the first European to suggest to have found a continent there. On 26th October 1616 he landed at what is now known as Cape Inscription, on what is still called Dirk Hartog Island. Before departing, Hartog left behind an inscribed pewter plate affixed to a post. This plate was discovered and replaced by Willem de Vlamingh (in 1696) and the original was taken to the Amsterdam where it is on display in the Rijksmuseum. Hartog’s plate was inscribed with the following:

1616, on the 25th October, arrived here the ship Eendracht of
Amsterdam; the upper merchant, Gilles Mibais of Luyck; Captain Dirk
Hartog of Amsterdam; the 27th ditto set sail for Bantam; undermerchant
Jan Stein, upper steersman, Pieter Doekes from Bil, A[nn]o 1616

Willem de Vlamingh’s plate replicated Hartog’s text and added some more. This later plate eventually made its way to Shipwrecks Galleries of the Maritime Museum in Fremantle. And don’t I suddenly feel a complete fool for not going to that museum while we were visiting Fremantle in January of this year!? Damn!

Plenty more Dutch visits followed Hartog during that century, charting virtually the whole of the west coast and parts of Australia’s northern coast. Most notably perhaps, Frederik De Houtman. In 1619 Houtman in his ship Dordrecht, and Jacob d’Edel, in another ship (Amsterdam) sighted land on the Australian coast near the Swan river estuary (present-day Perth). After sailing northwards along the coast they made landfall in Eendrachtsland – previous been named by Hartog – and then returned to Batavia.

Another notable charting of the west coast came eight years later when Gerrit De Witt’s ship (Vianen) was meant to return from Batavia to Europe but was blown too far south and encountered the northwest coast. De Witt then charted 370km of the northwest coast. The year was 1627. 

It was another early visit to the new continent that did little to inspire. De Witt reported “a foul and barren shore, green fields. and very wild, barbarous inhabitants.” The crew reported seeing indigenous Australians. Probably the first European sighting of Indigenous Australians in Western Australia.

First Map Showing West Coast Australia

The Hondius World Map by Jodocus Hondius the younger (1594 – 1629) is the earliest printed map to show the recent Dutch explorations on the West Coast of Australia. This map was thought to have been issued in 1625. It clearly shows Dirk Hartog’s discoveries.

The Hondius World Map c.1625
Detail of Hondius World Map showing west coast of Australia

Hats off to the Dutch 

The Dutch were extraordinary sailors, navigators and cartographers. They were of course very well funded in the 17th century by what was then the largest company on the planet; the legendary Dutch East Indies Company. Where the Dutch fell down was their inability or, perhaps more apt, their greater reluctance to wage wars on their European neighbours and far off native peoples. I say “greater” when comparing to the British, French and Spanish, of course. All three of these nations at this time were feverishly trying to expand their empires and were not averse to a bit of maritime fisticuffs and human slaughter. Any one (or all 3) of those nations would have been in a semi-perpetual state of war during the 17th and 19th centuries. (You could even skip the “semi” when it comes to Britain and France!)

That’s not to say that the Dutch never got involved in naval battles and other wars in general. They did. They enjoyed the odd scuffle on the world stage but they just never had the same appetite for it as the main three European empire builders. They were primarily explorers interested in business rather than conquering, subjugating local native populations and pillaging. If the Dutch had the same capacity to kick arse that the French and British had no qualms in displaying back then, perhaps most of the world would be speaking that strange language they speak in Amsterdam. Yet here in the 21st century their language is barely spoken at all outside of Holland (The Netherlands). But the Dutch did stake a claim on the giant continent down-under when they named it New Holland. And that’s how it appeared on maps for many years to come. 

None other than Captain James Cook himself confirmed the importance of the early explorations of Australia by the Dutch. On 22nd August 1770 he wrote this in his journal:

I therefore may find no more upon the Eastern coast of New Holland and on the Western side I can make no new discovery, the honour of which belongs to the Dutch navigators.”

Putting It All Together.

Meanwhile a guy called Hessel Gerritsz was employed as a cartographer by the Dutch East Indies Company. Between 1617 and 1632 Gerritsz constantly updated maps of the coastline based on the many records of the Dutch sailors. The map of Australia’s western coastline gradually took shape. Meanwhile the collective, unpublished charts of the East Indies company sailors were slowly taking shape. (More on Gerritsz’s work to come later..)

Henricus Hondius’s map of India and the East Indies published in 1633
Willem Jansz Blaeu’s map of India and East Indies c.1635

The Hondius map of the East Indies as well as a world map he produced was one of the first to be published showing parts of Australia (parts of the west coast and western Cape York peninsula). The map by Willem Jansz Blaeu was published several years later and almost identical to the Hondius map. This level of detail remained largely unchanged until in 1627, an adventurous explorer who had been blown off course to the most south-westerly point in Australia, decided to keep heading east. That was the first known sighting of the south coast of Australia. And that’s where we will continue in Part Four…

Quite a long post this one. However, please don’t forget to “like”, share with friends & family and also subscribe/follow via email or twitter. Thanks. 

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