Maritime Exploration: The Dutch – 1606-1620

Replica of the Duyfken

Since the early days in 1595 when the Dutch negotiated trade agreements with the merchants of Banda, the company intended expanding its trading operations in the Far East. Their initial step was to turn to New Guinea and with this in mind the yacht Duyfken (Little Dove) was sent to Ceram to obtain more information on Isla del Oro (Gold Island), the rumoured island of the Portuguese where gold could be found. The expedition was launched on the arrival of the 2nd fleet from the Netherlands to Banda. The Plenary Council on board the Gelderlandt dispatched the Duyfken on 10th May, 1602.

Admiral Wolphert Harmensz gave skipper, Willem Cornelisz Schouten, and uppersteersman, Klass Gaeff, instructions to take the Duyfken to Ceram. This was done but no further information than that which was already known was obtained and the Duyfken returned to the Netherlands in February 1603 with the rest of the fleet on its return journey. The Duyfken was again chosen as the vessel in which a second expedition would be undertaken, though this time the Dutch intended to seek the Isla del Oro themselves. After an eight month stay in the Roads of Texel, the Duyfken set sail for the Indies on 18th December, 1603. Her skipper was Willem Janszoon.

Willem Jansz (Duyfken) 1606
Willem Janszoon enjoyed a successful career in the service of the United East India Company (VOC). He was born about 1570 and at the age of 25 was Master of the yacht Duyfken (right) which sailed with three other ships in 1595 to the East Indies when trade between the Netherlands and Banda began. In December 1599 he made a return trip to the East Indies as steersman to Vice-Admiral Jacob Willemsz, Master of the Hollandia. His third voyage to the East was made in 1601 as skipper of the Lam, one of three ships in the fleet of Joris van Spilbergen. This journey preceded that of the Duyfken in which he discovered the north coast of Australia in 1606. On returning to the Netherlands he was given command of the West-Friesland which was lost in a storm off Mauritius. He then captained the Madagascar and in November 1607 successfully repelled two English ships trying to trade with the Japanese. Between 1609 and 1617 Jansz served as captain and steersman variously on the Eendracht, Delft, Orangie, Mauritius and Zeelandia. During this time he also served a term as Governor of the Indonesian island of Solor until the Dutch withdrew from the island.

In 1619 he was made a Councillor of the East Indies and took part in the seige of Jacatra which was taken on 30th May, 1619. At that time he commanded the Wapen van Amsterdam. In 1620 he captured four English East Indiamen whilst they were loading trade goods. They were the Dragon, Bear, Rose and Expedition. In August 1621 he was appointed Admiral which he remained until he accepted the Governorship of Banda. He returned to sea at his own request in 1627 as Admiral of a fleet of eight ships. In December of the following year he returned to the Netherlands completing a lifelong career with the VOC.

Jansz boarded the flagship anchored in Banda Roads upon his arrival at Banda and plans for the voyage were finalised. Jansz was instructed by Pieter de Carpentre (right) to explore the coast of New Guinea. Where possible contact was to be made with the natives. On 18th November 1605 the Duyfken set sail. After calling at Aru, Jansz continued sailing east, sighting the coast of New Guinea and following it in a south-easterly direction. On numerous occasions he sent parties ashore – one such party of eight men was wiped out by hostile Papuan natives. With his crew greatly depleted, Jansz continued on his journey. Not realising that beyond a group of islands and shoals he passed lay Torres Strait, Jansz pressed on until he sighted what he thought was more of the coast of New Guinea. In fact he was now following the coast of Australia south along Cape York Peninsula.

On 26 February 1606, he made landfall at the Pennefather River on the western shore of Cape York in Queensland, near the modern town of Weipa. This is the first recorded European landfall on the Australian continent. Janszoon proceeded to chart some 320 km of the coastline, which he thought was a southerly extension of New Guinea. Throughout the month of March 1606 he searched in vain for a passage to the south of New Guinea not realising that he had already passed it. While investigating a river, Jansz’ party was attacked by members of the Wik natives and a crew member was killed. Not willing to risk further loss of life and leave his vessel undermanned, Jansz sailed the Duyfken only a further 40 kilometres south before tuning back. The turning point was named Point Keerweer (Turnabout) and is recognised as the first Australian coastal feature to be named by Europeans. The Gulf of Carpentaria was later named after Pieter de Carpentre.

Mouth of the Pennefather River, near Point Keerweer

The results of the expedition, though disappointing in that no new trading partners were found, raised hopes that such prospective partners may exist in the vast area to the south which Jansz had touched. As a result of the expedition, it was generally believed that New Guinea and Australia were connected, though Torres sailed through the strait which separated the two lands just three months after Jansz had left the area. The significance of the fact that Torres had recorded sailing from west to east through waters south of New Guinea was to remain unnoticed until 1762 when English hydrographer Alexander Dalrymple realised the truth. It was Dalrymple’s observance which led Cook, in 1770, to search for a passage in Torres Strait, which he found and named Endeavour Strait.

Brouwer’s Route (Rode Leeuw) 1610
During the first ten years of trading the the East Indies, all Dutch vessels followed the path of Vasco de Gama along the coast of Africa to Table Bay and then through the Straits of Madagascar. In 1610, the Commander of the Rode Leeuw (Red Lion) and the Gouda, Henderick Brouwer, discovered that by sailing in an easterly direction and then north after leaving the Cape, many weeks were saved as the prevailing westerlies known as the Roaring Forties blew his ships onward. They reached Batavia five months and 24 days after leaving Texel, compared to the average duration of 12 months on the traditional route. On 17th December 1611, Brouwer wrote to the Managers of the VOC informing them of his discovery.

” … whereas we ran 800 miljen to Eastward, mostly in 360 of Southern Latitude, where we had a steady westerly wind for 28 days … For several reasons we consider this route the best which has been used east of the Cape Bone Esperance (Cape of Good Hope) to this day, firstly, the preservation of the cargo of the ships as well as the provisions, because they keep cool for a longer time, in contrast with the route inside or outside Madagascar to northward, where one reaches the heat very soon. We also feel that our people will keep fit longer in the cool than in the heat of the equator … On this route you do not have to fear any encounter with shallows or dangerous islands.”

Little did Brouwer know that just over the horizon from the point where he had turned north were some of the most dangerous and treacherous stretches of coastline in the world, coastline which, over the next 120 years was to claim the lives of hundreds of Dutch sailors and swallow millions of guilders worth of VOC treasures in its disturbed waters. The VOC was impressed with Brouwer’s suggestion and, following the success of numerous voyages which followed the new route, and on the recommendation of Jan Pieterszoon Coen, the directors resolved, on 14th August 1616 to make compulsory the use of the new route. Articles 12 and 13 of the “Sailing Instructions” of 1617 explained the new course to the skippers: ” … and further all ships, having revictualled at the Cape of Good Hope have to lay their course east at the bearing 35, 36, 40 to 44 degrees Southern Latitude … having the westerly winds, the ships will keep an easterly course for at least 1,000 miljen …”

As a well known skipper, Bontekoe, of the Niew Hoorn (New Horn) found out in 1618, Dutch ships were not always made welcome when victualling at the ports of Madagascar. For that reason skippers were instructed to use only the Company’s depot at Table Bay. Captains who failed to do so ran the risk of a 600 guilder fine. As an incentive to follow Brouwer’s route the merchants, skippers and steersmen who sailed between the Netherlands and the Indies in 7, 8,or 9 months were promised bonuses of 600, 300, and 150 guilders.

Though navigators of this time could calculate latitude easily, they were unable to calculate longitude accurately. Longitude could only be calculated on dead reckoning using a compass and a log. The log consisted of a triangular shaped piece of wood attached to a line with knots a fixed distance apart. The wooden piece was thrown overboard. As the line unwound the number of knots that passed were counted each 15 seconds. This method of reckoning did not allow for wind or currents which could vary dead reckoning from the correct distance travelled by up to 20%. For this reason many navigators, who still thought they were a long way from land, even though they knew it loomed ahead, were surprised to find the Southland in their path. Many found they had insufficient warning and were unable to turn their ships as the westerlies, which had previously been used to advantage, now blew them onto a rocky grave. It was just a matter of time after the introduction of Brouwer’s route that the sightings of the west coast of the Southland would begin.

The Australian Company 1615
In 1614, Isaac Le Maire, an Amsterdam merchant, formed a company to finance an expedition for a new route via the Pacific Ocean to establish trade with Terra Australis. The two ships chosen for the initial voyage were the Hoorn, named after Le Maire’s home town, and the Eendracht (Concord). Le Maire’s son, Jacob mastered the Eendracht and Willem Cornelisz Shouten the Hoorn. They left Texel on 14th June 1615. As they were not sailing VOC ships they were forbidden to use Dutch ports. They travelled via South America in the path of Magellan, rounded Cape Horn, (named by Le Maire after his home town and ship) and headed west. Unfortunately they sailed too far north to touch New Holland and managed to find their way to Ternate in Java. Before arriving there the Hoorn had caught fire and the crew was transferred from the abandoned ship to the Eendracht.

Days after their arrival in Jakarta (it was known as Batavia between 1619 and 1945), word was received from the Netherlands by Governor-General Jan Pieterz Coen that, in view of their having set up business in opposition to the VOC, the ships were to be treated as enemies of the Company. On 16th June 1616, Coen seized the ships, demanding that they either join the VOC or return immediately to Holland. The whole expedition was thrown into confusion and the crew quickly dispersed so as to avoid personal persecution by the VOC. Stranded and unable to fullfil Coen’s demands, the skippers had their vessels and merchandise confiscated. They were finally released after a two year legal battle. Unfortunately, Le Maire was unable to finance the expedition futher and the Australian Company was disolved. The expedition was fated, for, had they reached New Holland, they would not have found any inhabitants willing to trade with them.

Historic posts, Cape Inscription, Dirk Hartog Island

Dirck Hartogs (Eendracht) 1616
After the seizure of the Eendracht, it would appear that Le Maire, under the watchful eye of the VOC, returned to Batavia. Six months later the ship was again ready to sail from Texel, but this time it was to fly the VOC flag. Its skipper was Dirck Hartogs; its merchantman Gilis Miebois. They departed with a fleet of 10 other ships on 23th January 1616, however, the 700 hundred tonne Eendracht became separated from the rest of the fleet in a storm near the Cape of Good Hope and continued the voyage alone.

Hartogs appears to be one of the skippers who first tested Brouwer’s route. Much to his surprise he sighted the Southland in October 1616. Though the ship’s log is lost, a letter from him to a friend records that he saw several uninhabited islands behind which was a vast mainland. He anchored in a bay near one of these islands (later to be named in his honour) on 25th October, 1616 and recorded his visit on a flattened pewter plate which he nailed to a post. The translation of the inscription reads: “Gilles Miebas of Leige; Skipper Dirck Hatichs of Amsterdam. She set sail again for Bantam on the 27th do. Sub cargo Jan Stins; Upper Steersman Pieter E. Doores of Bil. Dated 1616.”

Hartogs remained in the area for two days exploring the islands before continuing his journey, charting the coast to latitude 220 South (New South Cape) at which point he turned for Batavia. The name ‘Eendracht’s Land’ was given to this stretch of coastline and was known by that name until colonisation of Australia in the 19th Century. The plate left by Hartogs remained on the island until 1697 when a member of Vlamingh’s crew found it half buried in sand. Vlamingh replaced it with one of his own recording both visits. He took Hartogs’ plate back to Holland where it remains to this day. Vlaming’s plate is on display at the WA Maritime Museum, Fremantle. A monument has been built on the site at Cape Inscription, Dirk Hartog Island, Shark Bay.

Dedel (de Jager, Morgensterre) 1616
The Governor of Ternate, Reael, gave instructions on 8th October 1616 for a vessel to be fitted out for a voyage of discovery to the South Land. The fluyt de Jager was chosen and the pinnace Morgensterre was to accompany it. Cornelis Dedel was placed in command of the espedition. Just as Dedel was preparing to leave Ambon, he was ordered by Admiral van der Haghen to command a squadron to stop British ships from sailing with a cargo of nutmeg from Banda. The squadron comprised of the de Jager, Oud Hoorn and Morgensterre. On arrival at Banda they successfully forced two British East Indiamen, the Swan and Defence to leave without taking on cargo. Dedel returned with his fleet to Ternate where the expedition of discovery was postponed.

Van Hillegom (Zeewolf) 1617
On 2nd December 1617 a fleet of Dutch trading vessels left Texel. Among these was the Zeewolf, commanded by Haevick Claeszoon van Hillegom, supercargo Pieter Dirkszoon. On 11th May 1618 a brief sighting of land was recorded at latitude 210 15′ S: “We saw an island windward of us, about 5 or 6 miljen. It was a level, low lying shore of great length … from the topmast we saw to north as well as to southward still another land, high and mountainous … it would never seem to have been discovered byh anyone before us, as we have never heard of such a discovery, and on the chart is nothing but open sea.” From the description, it would appear that they were at North West Cape and had mistaken the cape for an island. No further contact was recorded and the vessel continued without incident on its way to Bantam.

Zeachen 1618
In his journal, Matthew Flinders referred to an unsubstantiated visit to the north coast of Australia. The visit was said to be made by a Dutch navigator named Zeachen (Sea Cock) in 1618. He is supposed to have named Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and Arnhem Land, the latter after his native province in Holland. Flinders questioned the report as Van Diemen was not made Governor-General of the Indies until 1st January, 1636. It is now known that Arnhem land and the northern Van Diemen’s Land were named by Abel Jansz Tasman in 1642. One of Tasman’s ships was named Zeehan.

Exmouth Gulf from Charles Knife Canyon, Cape Range

Jacobszoon (Mauritius) 1818
Lenaert Jacobszoon was the skipper of the East indiaman Mauritius which sailed in the same fleet as the Dordrecht and Amsterdam. Jacobszoon’s second in command was Willem Jansz, who had made the historic voyage of discovery in the Duyfken in 1606. This was his second visit to Australia’s shores. Also on board and making his first voyage to the East Indies was someone who would become the governor of the Dutch East Indies, Antonio Van Diemen. This was probably the first and possibly only time he saw Australia.

The Mauritius left Table Bay on 18th June 1818 and sailed 1,000 miljen eastward on latitude 380 S. After altering course land was sighted in latitude 220 S. The log if the Mauritius reads, “On 31st July, we discovered an island and went ashore, found human footsteps, on the west side the land extends NNE and SSW, it has a length of 15 miljen; northern extremity is in 220 S”. The island on which they landed was in fact North West Cape. The narrow neck of land near the Cape would have given Jacobszoon the impression that it was an island. As his duty was to deliver cargo and passengers, he spent little time exploring. Before leaving the coast a river was sighted and named Willem’s River in honour of Willem Jansz, however, many early cartographers and contemporary historians claim that the name honours William I of Orange. The river appears to be either the Ashburton or Exmouth Gulf, which has the appearance as being the mouth of a river. Jocob The discovery and naming of a Remmessens River was also recorded. The river was in all probability Yardie Creek on North West Cape.

Though there is no official records of the Mauritius sailing a further 1,000 kilometres along the coast, personal documents of crew members and VOC officials indicate that this happened. These documents suggest that Jacobszoon named Schildpad Eilanden (Turtle Island), Kape Verhagen, Sebastiaen’s Baai, Kape Amsterdam, Kape Wesel (Cape Weasel), Wesels Eilanden and Compagnie Eilanden (Company Island, the company being the VOC). Many of these names are still in use today. On sailing into a bight (Gulf of Carpentaria?) at latitude 130 S, Jacobszoon is reported to have turned his ship north for Banda.

At the time Jacobszon sighted land and went ashore to investigate, Frederick Houtman (Dordrecht) was cruising in waters some 600 kilometres further south in the vicinity of the Abrolhos Islands. By the time Houtman had reached the spot where Jacobszoon had gone ashore, the Mauritius would have been in waters no more than 100 kilometres north. Also of interest is the fact that Jacobszoon’s ship, Mauritius and Houtman’s ship, Dordrecht had sailed together with the Hollandia and Duyfken in 1595 to the East Indies, pioneering the era of trading by the Dutch in the Far East. Both captains also appear to have travelled on that first voyage to Banda.

Pelsart Island, Houtman’s Abrolhos

Frederik Houtman (Dordrecht) 1619
Frederik Houtman was born in Gouda, Holland about 1571. He joined the navy as a boy and at the age of 24 sailed under his brother, Cornelius aboard the first voyage of the Dutch to the East Indies. He was present at the annexation of Bantam as a Dutch trading post in 1596 and Jacatra in 1602 when the Portuguese were expelled by the Dutch. The Dutch East India Company was established in that same year and he was appointed as a senior naval officer. 19 years later, age 50, he was appointed governor of the Moluccas, a post he held for three years until his retirement due to ill health and his subsequent return to his homeland in 1624. He died on 21st October 1627, aged 56, nine years after sighting the Western Australian coast on his fourth journey between Texel and Java in 1619.

Houtman commanded the fleet of 11 Dutch trading ships which left Texel in December 1618. The Dordrecht, named after a town in the Netherlands, was skippered by Reyer Janszoon van Buiksloot. After Houtman left the Cape of Good Hope he followed the eastern route to the Indies according to the new regulations. Leaving the cape he sailed into a brisk wind and headed north-west, until on 17th July, 1619 they reached latitude 360 30′ S whereupon they set a north-easterly course. On the evening of 19th July 1619 after travelling 240 miljen, Houtman sighted what he called ‘The South Lands behind Java’, somewhere between present day Mandurah and Bunbury. Heavy surf caused Houtman to abandon an attempt to go ashore.

After leaving the coast the following day Houtman passed an island (Rottnest) and then came again upon the mainland at latitude 290 32’S. The scenery had changed. What they saw was a low-lying land with a coastline fringed by dangerous reefs. On 29th July a 16 km stretch of islands and broken reefs was encountered. Houtman marked his chart ‘Abri voll olos’, an internationally used Portuguese phrase literally translated as ‘keep your eyes open’, a recognised warning to navigators to keep clear – a call which has a similar effect to ‘fore’ with golfers. The name appeared on all subsequent charts as Houtman’s Abrolhos. At noon on 30th July, Houtman altered course eastward and sighted another stretch of land. He concluded that this was the ‘Land of Eendracht’. After 6th August no more land was sighted until reaching the coast of Java 13 days later.

Zuytdorp Cliffs, D’Edel’s Land

Two accounts of the voyage were recorded; one by Houtman and the second by Jacob D’Edel, who was a Councillor for the Indies, travelling aboard the Amsterdam on a return voyage to Jakarta. Both men wrote enthusiastically about the Southland in their reports to Prince Mauritz and the Council of the VOC. Houtman’s description of the visit was recorded thus: “on the evening of the 19th we suddenly saw a land which we steered away from. On the 20th we found it to be a mainland coast extending north and south … seemed to be a very good land, but we could not make the coast owing to breakers and heavy seas … on the 29th we thought ourselves to be in open sea, shaped our course north by east, at night we unexpectedly came upon a low lying coast, a level broken country with reefs all round it … this shoal is to be carefully avoided, it is lying in 280 46′ S. On 2nd August … turned our course eastward; at noon we again sighted land which the ship Eendracht discovered … no doubt that all the land we saw in 22, 23, 25 degrees and which we sighted down to 33 degrees, is one uninterrupted mainland coast …”

D’Edel’s Land

D’Edel described Australia as a ‘red, clayish land, and, according to some people’s description, could be found rich in gold’. It is worth noting that their complimentary descriptions of New Holland were not shared by subsequent explorers and discoverers until the visit of James Stirling in 1827. According to contemporary charts by cartographers, Hessel Gerritz and Thevenot, Houtman followed the coast from around latitude 290 to 260 S, though Johannes van Keulen has extended this to 320 to 200 S. This would appear to be accurate as D’Edel’s report refers to an island (Rottnest?) which was first sighted on the same day as the mainland. The section of the coast seen by Houtman and D’Edel bore tha name D’Edel’s Land for over 200 years.


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