History of Holland > Holland on sea history > The Netherlands and Dutch seamen on the coast of Australia

The Netherlands and Dutch seamen on the coast of Australia

The discovery of Arnhemsland must beyond any doubt be credited to the voyage of the yacht Arnhem, commanded by Van Colster or Van Coolsteerdt, which took place in 1623. Since the Journal and the charts of this voyage are no longer available, we are without the most important data for determining with certainty between what degrees of longitude the Arnhemsland then discovered was situated.

To westward of it must be sought Van Diemens− and Maria's−land, touched at in 1636 by Pieter Pieterszoon with the ships Cleen Amsterdam and Wesell). There can be no doubt that Pieterszoon must have sailed far enough to westward to have passed Dundas Strait, and to have reached the western extremity of Melville Island (Roode hoek = red point). He took Dundas Strait to be not a strait, but a bay, and accordingly looked upon Melville Island not as an island, but as a portion of the mainland (Van Diemensland).

In the course of these two voyages of 1623 and 1636, therefore, the whole of the north−west coast from Melville Bay to Melville Island was surveyed by Dutch ships. But in the absence of charts made on these voyages it is impossible for us to say with certainty, whether the coastline can have been traced with correctness. On this point also more light is thrown by the well−known chart of 1644, in which the results of Tasman's voyages are recorded. Tasman sailed along the whole of the coast, but in this case too, his observations were not on all points accurate. Thus the situation of Wessel−eiland and the islets south of it, with respect to the mainland, is not given correctly by him; nor has he apprehended the real character of Dundas Strait and of Van Diemen's Gulf, so that also according to him Melville island forms part of the mainland. But for the rest Tasman's chart also in this case approximately reproduces the coast−line with so much correctness, that we find it quite easy to point out on the maps of our time the results of the Dutch voyages of discovery in this part of the Australian coast.

Far more accurate, however, than Tasman's chart is the chart which in 1705 was made of the voyage of the ships Vossenbosch, de Waijer and Nova−Hollandia, commanded by Maarten van Delft. This chart may at the same time be of service to elucidate Tasman's discoveries and those of his predecessors. It is to be regretted, therefore, that it only embraces a comparatively small portion of the north−west coast, namely the part extending from the west−coast of Bathurst island and the western extremity of Melville island to the eastern part of Coburg peninsula and Croker−island. This time again the real character of Dundas Strait and Van Diemens Gulf were not ascertained.

The Netherlands on the West- and South-West coast of Autralia
In the year 1616 the Dutch ship Eendracht, commanded by Dirk Hartogs on her voyage from the Cape of Good Hope to Batavia
unexpectedly touched at "divers islands, but uninhabited" and thus for the first time surveyed part of the west−coas of Australia. As early as 1619 this coast, thus accidentally discovered, was known by the name of Eendrachtsland or Land van de Eendracht.

Whence all those names? The answer to this question, and at the same time various other new features, are furnished by the chart of Hessel Gerritsz. of 1627 and by the one dated 1618, in which corrections have been introduced after date. The 1627 chart is specially interesting. Gerritsz., at the time cartographer in ordinary to the Dutch East-India Company, has "put together this chart of the Landt van d'Eendracht from the journals and drawings of the Steersmen", which means that he availed himself of authentic data. He acquitted himself of the task to admiration, and has given a very lucid survey of the (accidental) discoveries made by the Dutch on the west−coast of Australia.

In this chart of 1627 the Land of d'Eendracht takes up a good deal of space. To the north it is found bounded by the "Willemsrivier", discovered in July 1618 by the ship Mauritius, commanded by Willem Janszoon. According to the chart this "river" is in about 21 degrees 45' S. Lat., but there are no reliable data concerning this point. If we compare Hessel Gerritsz's chart with those on which about 1700 the results of Willem De Vlamingh's expedition of 1696−1697 were recorded we readily come to the conclusion that the ship Mauritius must have been in the vicinity of Vlaming Head (N.W. Cape) on the Exmouth Gulf. From Willem Janszoon's statements it also appears that on this occasion in 22 degrees an "island (was) discovered, and a landing effected." The island extended N.N.E. and S.S.W. on the west−side.

The land−spit west of Exmouth Gulf may very possibly have been mistaken for an island. From this point then the Eendrachtsland of the old Dutch navigators begins to extend southward. To the question, how far it was held to extend, I answer that in the widest sense of the term ('t Land van Eendracht or the South−land, it reached as far as the South−coast, at all events past the Perth of our day). In a more restricted sense it extended to about 25 degrees S. Lat. In the latter sense it included the entrance to Shark Bay, afterwards entered by Dampier, and Dirk Hartogs island, likewise discovered by Dirk Hartogs.

More to southward we find in the chart of 1627 I. d'Edels landt, made in July 1619 by the ships Dordrecht and Amsterdam, commanded by Frederik De Houtman and Jacob Dedel. To the north of Dedelsland the coast is rendered difficult of access by reefs, the so−called (Frederik De) Houtmans−Abrolhos (now known as the Houtman Rocks), also discovered on this occasion.

To the south, in about 32 degrees S. Lat. Dedelsland is bounded by the Landt van de Leeuwin, surveyed in 1622. Looking at the coast more closely still, we find in about 29 degrees 30, S. Lat. the name Tortelduyff (Turtle Dove Island), to the south of Houtmans Abrolhos, an addition to the chart dating from about 1624.

So much for the highly interesting chart of Hessel Gerritsz of the year 1627. If we compare with it the revised edition of the 1618 chart, we are struck by the increase of our forefathers' knowledge of the south−west coast. This revised edition gives the entire coast−line down to the islands of St. François and St. Pieter (133 degrees 30' E. Long. Greenwich), still figuring in the maps of our day: the Land of Pieter Nuyts, discovered by the ship het Gulden Zeepaard in 1627.

North of Willemsrivier, this so−called 1618 chart has still another addition, viz. G. F. De Witsland, discovered in 1628 by the ship Vianen commanded by G. F. De Witt. In this case, too, it is difficult to determine exactly the longitudes between which the coast−line thus designated is situated. But with great distinctness the chart exhibits the chain of islands of which the Monte Bello and tha Barrow islands are the principal, and besides, certain islands of the Dampier Archipelago, afterwards so called after the celebrated English navigator. I would have these observations looked upon as hints towards the more accurate determination of the site of this De Wit's land, and they may be of the more value since the small scale of the chart renders an exact determination of it exceedingly difficult.

In Gerritsz's chart of 1627, as well as in the so−called 1618 one, we are struck by the fact, that on the west−coast the coast−line shows breaks in various places: De Witt's land is not connected with the coast of Willems−rivier; the coast−line of Eendrachtsland does not run on; there is uncertainty as regards what is now called Shark−bay; the coast facing Houtmans Abrolhos is a conjectural one only; the coast−line facing Tortelduyf is even altogether wanting; Dedelsland and 't Land van de Leeuwin are not marked by unbroken lines. This fragmentary knowledge sufficiently accounts for the fact, that about the middle of the seventeenth century navigators were constantly faced by the problem of the real character of the South−land: was it one vast continent or a complex of islands? And the question would not have been so repeatedly asked, if the line of
the west−coast had been more accurately known.

Tasman and Visscher did a great deal towards the solution of this problem, since in their voyage of 1644 they also skirted and mapped out the entire line of the West−coast of what since 1644 has borne the name of Nieuw−Nederland, Nova Hollandia, or New Holland, from Bathurst Island to a point south of the Tropic of Capricorn. In this case also certain mistakes were committed: they failed, for instance, to recognise the real character of Bathurst Island, which, like Melville Island, they looked upon as forming part of the mainland; but if we make due allowance for the imperfection of their means of observation, we are bound to say that the coast−line has by them been mapped out with remarkable accuracy.

About fifteen years after the west−coast was more accurately mapped out also, to the south of the tropic of Capricorn. In the year 1658 Samuel Volekersen with the ship de Wakende Boei (Floating Buoy), and Aucke Pieters Jonck with the ship Emeloord surveyed a portion of the west−coast, and the charts then made have been preserved. The coast−line from a point near the Tortelduyf down to past Rottenest (the large island on which Volkertsen did not confer a name, preferring to "leave the naming to the pleasure of the Hon. Lord Governor−General") and the present Perth, were surveyed with special care. In the same year the ship Elburg, commanded by Jacob Peereboom, brought in further reports about the Land van de Leeuwin, where she had been at anchor "in Lat. 33 degrees 14' South, under a projecting point" (in Geographe Bay?).

The surveying of the lines of the west−coast was finally brought to a close by the exploratory voyage of Willem De Vlamingh in 1696−1697 with the ships Geelvink, Nijptang, and het Wezeltje. A remarkable chart referring to this voyage, here reproduced, as well as the Isaac de Graaff chart of circa 1700, give an excellent survey of the expedition. The whole coast−line from the so−called Willemsrivier (N.W. Cape) to a point south of Rottenest, Garden−island and Perth, was now mapped out. And that, too, with great accuracy. Thus, for instance, the true situation of the belt of islands enclosing Shark Bay was this time observed with unerring exactitude, and Shark Bay itself actually discovered, though its discovery is usually credited to Dampier (August, 1699).