History of Holland > Holland on sea history > The Dutch voyages for the discovery of the South-land

The Dutch voyages for the discovery of the South-land


Although it is quite true that the south-east- and east-coasts of the Australian continent were not discovered by Dutch ships, still it is an undoubted fact that, so far as is known up to now, the whole of the Australian coast-line from Prince of Wales Island and York Peninsula and along the Gulf of Carpentaria, the north- and north-west-coast of Australia then following, the whole of the west-coast, and the south-coast down to the islands of St. Fran├žois and St. Pieter (133 degrees 30' E. L. Greenwich) were in the 17th century discovered by vessels belonging to the Netherlands.

We now come to the question of the object which the Dutch authorities had in view in arranging for the expeditions that ultimately led to these discoveries.

In answering this question we shall have to distinguish between two different categories of voyages: among the voyages undertaken by Netherlanders that have led to discoveries on the coasts of Australia, there are some which were not begun with the express purpose of going in search of unknown lands; but there are others also that were undertaken expressly with this end in view. Of course the second class only can be called exploratory expeditions in a more restricted sense - the voyages of the first category became voyages of discovery through accidental circumstances.

The discoveries on the west- and south-west coasts of Australia down to Tasman's time all bore an accidental character. Eendrachtsland was discovered by accident in the year 1616, and after that time a number of Dutch ships unexpectedly touched at those shores, thus continually shedding additional, though always imperfect light on the question of the conformation of the coast-line. How was it, we may ask, that it was especially after 1616 that this coast was so often touched at, whereas there had never been question of this before that time? The question thus put admits of avery positive answer.

When the Netherlanders set sail for India for the first time, they naturally took the route which they knew to be followed by the Portuguese. After doubling the Cape of Good Hope, they directly continued their voyage on a north-eastern course, along the west-coast, or close by the east-coast, of Madagascar, and then tried to reach India coming from the west. To this route there were grave objections both as regards the winds prevailing in those latitudes, the intense heat soon encountered, the great number of "shallows or foul islands," etc. Besides, the voyage was apt to last very long.

In 1611, however, certain ships going from the Netherlands to India followed another route: directly after leaving the Cape they ran on an eastern course (in about 36 degrees S. Lat.) for a considerable time, after which they tried to navigate to Java on a northerly course. The commander of these ships, the subsequent Governor-General Hendrik Brouwer, wrote to the Managers of the Dutch East-India Company about "this fairway" in highly laudatory terms. They adopted the idea suggested by Brouwer, ofhenceforth prescribing this route in the instructions for the commanders and skippers sailing for the Indies, leaving them a certain scope certainly as regards the latitude in which the said easterly course was to be followed, and the degree of longitude up to which it was to be kept. As early as the beginning of 1613 such a route was enjoined on the ships' captains by the Managers of the Dutch East-India Company. The ship Eendracht also was directed to follow this course: she ran so far to eastward as to come upon the west-coast of Australia, and the same thing happened to subsequent vessels.

Although in the sense thus indicated we must here speak of acczdental discoveries on the west-coast, yet the Dutch authorities were fully aware of the importance of such discoveries. As early as 1618, the Managers of the Dutch East-India Company were considering the possibility of "discovering the Southern Lands in passing," and in a letter of September 9, 1620, with reference to "the discovery of a vast land, situated south of Java by the ship Eendracht", etc., they expressly enjoined the G.-G. and Counc. to dispatch a ship for the purpose of "resuming this work with some hope of success." The lands discovered were to be mapped out, and efforts made to ascertain "the situation and condition of the country, its productions, what commodities it yields, the character of the natives, their mode of life, etc."

The Managers had not preached to deaf ears: the direction of the Company's affairs in India was at that time in the hands of Jan Pieterzoon Coen, who, being himself strongly disposed in favour of extending the Dutch connections with the East, eagerly embraced the idea thus suggested, as is proved by the instructions, dated September 29, 1622, for the ships Haring and Hazewind, "destined for the discovery of the South-land". Thus we see that one of the projects contemplated by the Dutch authorities certainly was the dispatching of ships also to the west-coast of Australia for the purpose of further discovery and of definitely ascertaining the real state of affairs there.

But not for the purpose of further discovery exclusively, although this continued to be "the principal end in view." The instructions of September 29, 1622, also point to other motives that led the Netherlanders to reckon also with regions to be first discovered, in carrying out their colonial policy. The commanders of this expedition were "specially to inquire what minerals, such as gold, silver, tin, iron, lead and copper, what precious stones, pearls, vegetables, animals and fruits, these lands yield and produce"; - the commercial interests of the Dutch East-India Company - and what was more natural in the case of a trading corporation? - were to take a foremost place. Wherever possible, also political connections were to be formed, and the countries discovered "to be taken possession of". The authorities were even considering the idea of at some future date "planting colonies" in some of the regions eventually to be discovered.

Here we have the colonial policy of the Dutch East-India Company of the period to its full extent: commerce, increase of territory, colonies. And these ideas were at the bottom of most of the voyages of discovery to the north-coast of Australia before Tasman, and of Tasman's voyages themselves. The celebrated voyage of the ship Duifken (1605-6) bears a character of intentionality, and if we bear in mind that the same ship's voyage of 1602 had for its professed object the extension of the Company's mercantile connections, we need not be in doubt as to this being equally the motive or one of the motives of the expedition on which she was dispatched in 1605-1606. We know, moreover, that New Guinea was then reported "to yield abundance of gold." The three principles of colonial policy just mentioned also underlay the voyage undertaken by Jan Carstensz in 1623; for we know that this commander got the instructions drawn up for the ships Haring and Hazewind, but not then carried into effect, since these ships did not sail on their ordained expedition. These principles are found set forth with more amplitude than anywhere else in the instructions drawn up for Tasman and his coadjutors in 1642 and 1644. The voyages, then planned, were to be undertaken "for the enlargement, increase and improvement of the Dutch East India Company's standing and commerce in the East."

In the instructions for Tasman's voyage of 1644 the G.-G. and Counc., who drew them up, could still refer to "the express commands of the 'Heeren Maijoores" to "attempt the discovery of Nova Guinea and other unknown Eastern and Southern lands." And it is a fact certainly, that in the first half of the seventeenth century the Governors-General who planned these exploratory voyages were in their endeavours supported by the Managers of the Dutch East-India Company in the mother country: it was especially Jan Pieterszoon Coen (1619-1623 and 1627-1629), Hendrik Broulwer (1632-1636) and Antonio van Diemen (1636-1645), who were most efficiently backed in their efforts for this purpose by their principals at home. Among these Governors-General Van Diemen holds the foremost place as regards the furtherance of discoveries by Netherlanders in the Far East: in the Pacific and on, "the mainland coasts of Australia." It is, with complete justice, therefore, that a foreign author mentions the name of Van Diemen as "a name which will ever rank among the greatest promotors of maritime discovery".

And this same eminent manager of the Company's interests in India lived to see at the end of his official career far narrower views about colonial policy not only take root in the mother-country (where isolated opinions that way had found utterance long before), but even get the upper hand in the Company's councils. Van Diemen's policy came ultimately to be condemned in the Netherlands, whatever homage might there be paid to his eminent talents, whatever acknowledgment vouchsafed to his great merits! It may almost be called a matter of course that great differences of opinions were bound surely, if slowly, to crop up between the Managers on one hand, and able Governors-General on the other, touching the line of conduct to be followed by the Netherlanders in the East. The Managers were in the first place the directors of a trading company: they hardly looked beyond the requirements of a purely mercantile policy.

Eminent Governors-General on the contrary were conscious of being more than this: they were not only the representatives of a body of merchants, they were also the rulers of a colonial empire which in the East was looked up to with dread, with hatred also sometimes, to be sure, but at the same time with respect and awe! There lay the ultimate cause of the fundamental difference of opinion respecting the colonial policy to be followed. Van Diemen dreamt a bold dream of Dutch supremacy in the East and of the East India Company's mastery "of the opulent Indian trade." To this end he deemed necessary: "harassing of the enemy, continuation and extension of trade, together with the discovering or new lands."

But if he had lived to read the missive, his grand projects would have received an effectual damper as he perused the letter addressed to him by the Lords Managers, on September 9, 1645, and containing the passage following: "We see that Your Worships have again taken up the further exploration of the coast of Nova Guinea in hopes of discovering silver- and gold-mines there. We do not expect great things of the continuation of such explorations, which more and more burden the Company's resources, since they require increase of yachts and of sailors. Enough has been discovered for the Company to carry on trade, provided the latter be attended with success. We do not consider it part of our task to seek out gold- and silver-mines for the Company, and having found such, to try to derive profit from the same; such things involve a good deal more, demanding excessive expenditure and large numbers of hands...These plans of Your Worships somewhat aim beyond our mark. The gold- and silver-mines that will best serve the Company's turn, have already been found, which we deem to be our trade over the whole of India..."

Is it wonderful that, where the supreme authorities of the Dutch East-India Company regarded matters in this light, there was no longer question of exploratory voyages of any importance? The period of the great voyages of discovery undertaken by Netherlanders, accordingly terminates with Van Diemen's death. It is true that occasionally voyages of this nature were planned; that Australia - not to go further afield - was also visited now and then in later times, but such visits either bore an incidental character, or formed part of expeditions undertaken for other purposes, the occasion being then used to "obtain once for all some full and reliable information touching the situation and coast-lines" of lands previously discovered.