Maritime Exploration: The Dutch – 1620-1650

Cape Leeuwin

Leeuwin, 1622
Three years after Houtman first marked the Abrolhos Islands on his chart in March 1622, the company of the ship Leeuwin (“Lioness”, also spelt “Leeuwine” in some VOC documents) made land contact further south than had Houtman. They encountered what is the most southwestern prominance on the continent of Australia. In this way it became only the seventh European ship to sight the continent. The visitors described the land they found as low-lying, with sandy dunes, and called it Leeuwin Land.

Unfortunately the Leeuwin’s logbook has been lost, so very little is known of the voyage. For example it is not known who captained the ship. However, Dutch East India Company (VOC) letters indicate that the voyage from Texel to Batavia took more than a year, whereas other vessels had made the same voyage in less than four months; this suggests that poor navigation may have been responsible for the discovery. The same is suggested by the 1644 instructions to Abel Tasman, which states that “In the years 1616, 1618, 1619 and 1622, the west coast of the great unknown South-land from 35 to 22 degrees was unexpectedly and accidentally discovered by the ships d’Eendracht, Mauritius, Amsterdam, Dordrecht and Leeuwin, coming from the Netherlands.”

The land discovered by the Leeuwin is recorded in Hessel Gerritsz’ 1627 Caert van’t Landt van d’Eendracht (Chart of the Land of Eendracht). This map, which was drawn from the findings of the crew of the Leeuwin, includes a section of coastline labelled ‘t Landt van de Leeuwin beseylt A. 1622 in Maert (“Land made by the ship Leeuwin in March 1622”), which is thought to represent the coast between present-day Hamelin Bay and Point D’Entrecasteaux. Portions of this coastline are labelled Duynich landt boven met boomen ende boseage (“Dunes with trees and underwood at top”), Laegh ghelijck verdroncken landt (“Low land seemingly submerged”) and Laegh duynich landt (“Low land with dunes”).

The south-west corner of Australia was subsequently referred to by the Dutch as ‘t Landt van de Leeuwin (“The Land of the Leeuwin”) for a time, subsequently shortened to “Leeuwin’s Land” by the English. This name Leeuwin still survives in the name of Cape Leeuwin, the most south-westerly point of the Australian mainland, so named by Matthew Flinders in December 1801. Other explorers to sight the cape before the area was settled in 1830 include Francois Thijssen in the Gulden Zeepaard (1627); Louis Francois Marie Alesno de St Allouarn in the Gros Ventre (1772); Nicolas Baudin 27th May 1801), who named Cape Leeuwin as Cape Gosselin, but it was not adopted.

In 1654, the Leeuwin was part a six ship fleet which departed Batavia for the Netherlands. The fleet consisted of VOC ships the Phenix, Orangie, Salamander, Leeuwin, Coningh Davidt and Avontsterre (“Avonster”). The convoy departed the Sunda Strait on 24 January 1654 and passed the Cape of Good Hope on 27 March and anchored at St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean on 18 March. The Leeuwin arrived in the Netherlands (probably at Texel) on 30 August 1654. She departed there for the return voyage to Batavia on 10 December 1654.

Ongoing conflicts during the Dutch-Portuguese War in 1656 saw the Leeuwin called into a blockade of the strategic port of Bantam at the western end of Java during July. In August, the blockading fleet was moved to the west coast of India for another blockade of the Portuguese held port of Goa. The Leeuwin at this time was under the command of Jan Lucasz and had a crew of 86. She was used to cart stone ballast to other ships in the blockade. In July 1658 she was used to ferry 500 people, including women and children from Galle in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to Batavia. During 1659 the Leeuwin was involved in the trade of areca nuts from Galle to the Coromandel Coast and Malacca.

J van Roosenbergh (Wapen Van Hoorn) – 1622
In the same year that the British ship Trial ran aground and broke up, the Dutch VOC ship Wapen van Hoorn (weapon of Hoorn) was almost shipwrecked on the west coast of Australia. Wapen van Hoorn was a wooden fluyt with a tonnage of between 400 and 600, built in the Dutch Republic in 1619. During its second voyage it grounded on the west coast of Australia, making it about the tenth Dutch ship to make landfall on Australian soil. It departed Texel for Batavia on 26th December 1621. In June 1622 “at night in a hard wind”, the ship ran aground near Shark Bay. It was eventually refloated, and arrived in Batavia on 22nd July 1622. The vessel departed Batavia under Captain Pieter Gerritsz.

It departed Texel on 19th February 1627 under the command of David Pieterszoon de Vries on its third voyage to Batavia. It stayed at the Cape of Good Hope from 16 July to 7 August. In September it made landfall at Shark Bay, noting corrections to Dirk Hartog’s chart of the location. It arrived at Batavia on 13 October. It appears to have remained in the Indies from then on.

The English East India Company’s Trial is the earliest known ship to have been wrecked in Australian waters. Under the command of John Brooke, it struck a reef near the Montebello Islands off Western Australia’s Pilbara coast on 24th May 1622, just 28 days before the Wapen van Hoorn was almost shipwrecked some 800 km to the south. Brooke and nine others escaped the wreck in a skiff, while another 36 managed to get away in the longboat, leaving the remaining 93 crew-members to perish. With a meagre supply of water, bread and wine, both groups independently made their way north-west to Java, with the longboat under the command of Thomas Bright. Brooke’s skiff arrived in Batavia on 5th July 1622, Bright arrived three days later. The Wapen van Hoorn arrived in Batavia two weeks later. In 1627, the Wapen van Hoorn, under the command of David Pieterszoon de Vries and on its third voyage to Batavia, made another landfall at Shark Bay on its way to Batavia. As a result, Hartog s chart of the region was revised. The vessel remained in the East Indies from then on.

The coast of Arnhem Land

Carstenz (Pera and Arnhem) 1623
The British ship Trial ran aground and broke up in the Monte Bello Islands group in June 1622. Its crew arrived in Batavia and related the story of running hard aground during the night in the longitude of the western edge of Java at 20 degrees 10 minutes south latitude. Subsequent maps charted rocks in that locale, but such rocks have never been found there as they had incorrectly determined the exact position of the wreck. The incident served to support action already underway by the Directors of the Dutch East Indies Company to more accurately chart the coast of New Holland. To this end, Herman van Speult, the Governor of Amroyna, commissioned Jan Carstensz, with fellow explorer Van Colster, to sail two ships, the Arnhem and Pera, with the aim of expanding on the reports from the Duyfken, again sailing the southern coast of New Guinea and the region of the west coast of Cape York (believed to be a continuance of New Guinea). Furthermore, Carstenz was directed to carry out the broad instructions of an earlier, non-starting Dutch exploration to the area, to ascertain as much of the situation and nature of these regions as possible.

In January 1623 these ships sailed from Amboyna and to the coast of New Guinea. Coasting easterly, Carstenz was not able to make good report of the area’s fruits and minerals, but did note the natives were “belligerent and cannibalistic”. At one point the captain and several of the crew of the Arnhem were killed by natives. Carstenz proceeded to the region of Torres Strait and concluded that this maze of reefs and shallows (as he moved east) could be nothing but a westward opening bay, even though a chart he was carrying indicated the high possibility of an opening to the greater Pacific. He retracked to the west, then south along the west coast of Cape York, similar to the route the Duyfken travel. Carstenz continued past Cape Keer-Weer, the turning point of the Duyfken, but at the Staaten River his concern of being trapped against a southern bay by a north breeze caused him to turn north again.

Soon after turning at the Staaten River, the mutinous crew of the Arnhem left Carstenz. The Pera continued gathering what information it could about the peoples and the potential trading commodities along the coast, but none of the information was optomistic to the trading interests of the Company. Carstenz returned to Amboyna on 6th June, expecting the Arnhem to have abandoned the mission and made for pleasurous ports. This apparently was not true. Following separation from the Pera, the Arnhem was blown west across the unproven and as yet un-named Gulf of Carpenteria, making land on the east-facing shore of the opposite side. From there, she explored north and west across the top of the region that is called Arnhem Land after their vessel, before returning to home. Claes Hermanszoon (Leijden) 1623
Captain Claes Hermanszoon in the VOC ship Leyden charted further regions of the west coast south of Shark Bay. The ship’s journal records the first European baby born in Australian waters during this voyage. The vessel was named after a city and municipality in the Dutch province of South Holland. Captain Daniel Janssen Cock sighted “Zuydtland” from the Leijden in 1626.

Tortelduiff 1624
The ship Tortelduyf sighted Tortelduyf Shoal off the west coast south of the Houtman Abrolhos. The shoal first appeared on charts by the Dutch East India Company’s cartographer, Hessel Gerritz, in 1628, and was named after their ship.

Nuyts Archipelago

Thijssen (Gulden Zeepaert) 1627
In 1622 that the Governor General of Dutch East Indie, Jan Pieterszoon Coen, made plans and gave instructions for a thorough investigation of the South Land. He wanted ‘to ascertaining as much of the situation and nature of these regions as God Almighty shall vouchsafe to allow’. In 1627 the crew of the Gulden Zeepaerdt, under the command of Francois Thijssen, touched the most southerly part of the continent and sailed east as far as present day Ceduna. 1,800 km of Australia’s south coast were traversed and mapped, between Cape Leeuwin and Nuyts Archipelago. The land was named Pieter Nuytsland, after one of the 220 passengers on board, Pieter Nuyts, an esteemed councillor of India who planned to settle in Java. Two of the islands discovered were named St Peter and St Francis on what became Australia Day (26th January) 1627.

Later, both French and English navigators, including Matthew Flinders, praised the accuracy of the Dutch mapping, the first of any part of the southern coast. They are now the oldest place names in South Australia. Not finding anything of their liking or to trade, most of the Dutch soon lost interest in New Holland and very few thought of colonising it or establishing a small foothold or port. However on 20th May 1717, Jean Pierre Purry, who had been working for the Dutch East Indie Company (VOC) tried to convince the Governor of Batavia that a colony should be established in Nuytsland. He came up with several good reasons but was unsuccessful. When back in Holland he put together a small book on the subject, which was published in Amsterdam in 1718.

Although unsuccessful, once again the ideas were not forgotten altogether. It was on the basis of the maps drawn by Nuyts that Jonathan Swift, when writing Gulliver’s Travels, located the land of the Houyhnhnms almost exactly at the present site of Albany in Western Australia. With some kind of extraordinary vision Swift had Gulliver land on the coastline, eat oysters and be chased by Aborigines. He could not have known that George Vancouver, some 65 years later, would enter one of the bays of King George Sound and name it Oyster Harbour because of the abundance of oysters he found in the area. It stands to reason that perhaps the Gulden Zeepaerdt had also visited King George Sound and experienced life there 65 years before Vancouver.

Jan Pieterszoon Coen (Galias; Utrecht; Texel) 1627
Commander Jan Pieterszoon Coen, who was later to become Governor-General of the East Indies, charted land on the west coast at Latitude 28 degrees 30’S in the VOC ships Galias, Utrecht and Texel. He later stressed the importance of accurate charting to the Directors of the VOC.

Willem de-Witt, (Vianen) 1628
Built at Amsterdam in 1626, Vianen had a gross tonnage of 400. Vianen departed Texel bound for Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) on 19 March 1627, and arrived at the Cape of Good Hope on 16 July. Departing the Cape on 7 August, she arrived at Batavia on 8 October. On 6 January she departed Batavia as part of a fleet of seven ships bound for Europe under the command of the outgoing Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies Pieter de Carpentier. Just as the fleet was leaving, however, a valuable cargo arrived at Batavia from China, so Vianen was held back to be loaded. She was then sent to catch up with the main fleet, but had been loaded too hastily, and had to return to port to have her load balanced by the addition of 5000 ingots of copper.

When Vianen finally departed Batavia again on 20 January, the monsoon had set in, preventing her from taking the usual route through the Sunda Strait. Instead, the captain, Gerrit Frederikszoon de Witt, was ordered to set a course through the Strait of Balamboan. Strong head winds then drove Vianen so far south that she ran aground in the vicinity of Barrow Island on the northwest coast of Australia. The crew were “forced to throw overboard 8 to 10 lasts of pepper and a quantity of copper, upon which through God’s mercy, she got off again without further damage. After standing off the rocky coast, the Vyanen followed it for 320 km, but there was nothing which caused the ship’s company to record promise. The region followed was subsequently called G.F. de Witts Land. De Witt reported it “a foul and barren shore, green fields. and very wild, barbarous inhabitants.” The crew sighted Indigenous Australians in the vicinity of present-day Roebourne; this is believed to be the first European sighting of Indigenous Australians in Western Australia. Vianen arrived at the Cape of Good Hope on 24 May. She departed on 1 June, and arrived at her destination, Goeree, Zeeland, on 8 November.

Vianen departed Texel for Batavia on her second voyage on 7 May 1629 and arrived at the Cape of Good Hope on 27 August, staying there until 12 September. On 14 November 1629, she was shipwrecked and sunk in the Sunda Strait.

Massacre on Beacon Island

Pelsaert (Batavia) 1629
The Dutch had pieced together the features of nearly all the continent’s coastline westward from Cape York, around to the south of St Peter and St Francis islands by 1629, but much of it had been inaccurately and incompletely charted. One of the most treacherous sections was very near to the recommended continental contact point before turning north – Houtman’s Abrolhos. In the night of 4th June 1629 the flagship of the VOC fleet, the Batavia, on her maiden voyage, stuck fast on a reef of the Abrolhos Islands. Attempts by its commander Francis Pelsaert, to lighten the ship and escape the reef were thwarted by rising wind and rain and tangles of incompletely cut away rigging. When it was realised the ship was doomed, a hurried attempt was mde to find land for the women and children and sailors aboard. Two small rocky islets were clear at high tide, and further distant appeared a more substantial island, so many persons were discharged onto the islets, but 70 people remained aboard the disintegrating Batavia. The ship’s supercargo Jerome Cornelis was left on board and given orders to help the 70 to safety.

Cornelis and his undisciplined and drunken crew were less than completely successful in off-loading all the fresh water, supplies and persons of the ship. On these islands there was very small amount of water and it was decided by commander Francis Pelsaert that he should take the ship’s small boat with sail and make a search for water. Pelsaert was able to make the coast of the continent, but in his northward search, he was unable to find fresh water. A rising northeast wind caused Pelsaert to be unable to continue along the coast, so he decided to make for Batavia, which he reached in early July.

Replica of the Batavia

In Batavia Pelsaert was given charge a large ship, the Sardam, to return to recover his marooned charges. It was with relief on his approach to the locale, that he observed smoke rising from the small islets. He was soon treated to a story of mutinous intrigue that was continuing to play out as he arrived. Two small boat approached the Sardam from different islands – in one was Jerome Cornelis, fuly armed and dressed in flowing robes. In the ther was a midshipman named Weybe Hays, who warned Pelsaert of the danger of his position. Hays reached the Sardam first and quickly relayed the story of the previous three months – Cornelis had landed on the larger of the two islets, and resumed his planned conspiracy of piracy which had begun in distant waters off the coast of Africa before the shipwreck. Cornelis had established a group of co-conspirators and set about systematically killing the women and children and all the men who disagreed with his mutinous plot.

In the meantime, Hays had been sent to a third island as much to get him out of the way as to search for water. Cornelis never expected Hays to find water and believed he would soon perish, but the search was successful and from that island Hays signalled for the others to come. Cornelis ignored the signal, and instead launched an attempt to subdue Weybe Hays and his band of 45 men. Though unarmed, Hays and his group were able to repell Cornelis on two occasions. A buy-off of Weybe Hays’ men by Cornelis also failed.

Cannon from the Batavia on the seabed of Half Moon Reef, Abrolhos Islands

Cornelis’ men came alongside Pelsaert’s ship armed, and requested to board. Pelsaert demanded the pirates lose their weapons and as they were brought on board, each was placed in irons. Most of the jewels and silver from the wrecked Batavia were recovered, and Cornelis and his men were condemned by a hastily conducted court. They were hung and Pelsaert left the Abrolhos with the remaining survivors. Travelling north along the mainland’s coast near the site of present day Kalbarri, Pelsaert condemned two of the criminals – Wouter Loos and Jan Pelgrom de Bye – to be marooned, in the hope they may be rescued alive in the future and thus gain some knowledge of the area. They were never seen or heard of again.

Red Bluff near Kalbarri, believed to be where Wouter Loos and Jan Pelgrom de Bye were marooned

The wrecksite of the Batavia was first located by divers from Geraldton, WA, on 4 June 1963. Its discovery, together with those of the VOC ship Vergulde Draeck (Gilt Dragon) and the English East India Company Triall (Tryal), in the early 1960s, led to the formation of the Departments of Maritime Archaeology and Materials Conservation and Restoration at the Western Australian Museum. In the period 1970 through to 1974, under the leadership of maritime archaeologist Jeremy Green of the Western Australian Museum, some of the cannon from the Batavia wreck, an anchor, and many artifacts were salvaged, including timbers from the port side of the ship’s stern. These were then conserved by the Museum’s conservation laboratories.

Batavia display, Shipwreck Galleries, Fremantle, WA

In 1972, the Netherlands transferred all rights to Dutch shipwrecks on the Australian coasts to Australia. Some of the items, including human remains, which were excavated, are now on display in the Western Australian Museum  Shipwreck Galleries in Fremantle, Australia. Others are held by the Western Australian Museum, Geraldton. These two museums presently share the remains: a replica stone arch is held in The Western Australian Museum – Shipwreck Galleries, which was intended to serve as a stone welcome arch for the city of Batavia and the actual stone arch is held in the Western Australian Museum, Geraldton; original timbers from the ship’s hull are on display at the Western Australian Museum Shipwreck Galleries. While a great deal of materials have been recovered from the wreck-site, some cannons and anchors have been left in-situ. As a result, the wreck remains one of the premier dive sites on the Western Australian coast and is part of the museum’s wreck trail, or underwater “museum-without-walls” concept.

A replica of the Batavia was built at the Bataviawerf (Batavia Wharf) in Lelystad in the Netherlands. The project lasted from 1985 to 7 April 1995, and was conducted as an employment project for young people under master-shipbuilder Willem Vos.

  • Batavia | Maritime Archaeology Shipwreck Database
    • Batavia’s History
      • Batavia Replica
        • Batavia Longboat Replica

        • (Grooten Broeck) 1631
          The VOC ship Grooten Broeck (Great Brook) sailed along the west coast from Cape Leeuwin to Dirk Hartog Island on the way to Batavia.

          Dirckszoon (Amsterdam) 1635
          The VOC ship Amsterdam under the command of Woolebrand Geleynszoon de Jongh charted the west coast around the latitude of Shark Bay. The vessel is not to be confused with an 18th-century cargo ship of the Dutch East India Company of the same name. That ship started its maiden voyage from Texel to Batavia on 8 January 1749, but was wrecked in a storm on the English Channel on 26 January 1749. The whole cargo would be worth several million euros in modern money. The shipwreck was discovered in 1969 in the bay of Bulverhythe, United Kingdom, and is sometimes visible during low tides. The wreck site is protected under the Protection of Wrecks Act since 1974. Some of the findings from the site are in The Shipwreck Museum in Hastings. Built in the 1980s, a replica of the ship is on display in Amsterdam next to the Netherlands Maritime Museum.

          Pool (Klein Amsterdam / Wesel) 1636
          The Dutch had pieced together much of the picture of a continental south land, but the spotty discoveries created many questions about the geography and the potential trading value of the regions below the Indo-West Pacific archipeligo. An ambitious plan for exploration of the great lands was set forth and command given to Gerrit Pool in 1636. Early in the expedition, Pool was killed and the expedition was abandoned, though not before they contacted the region west of the Arnhem discoveries in and around the region of currently named Melville Island.

          Memorial to Abel Tasman, Blackman Bay near Dunalley, Tasmania

          Tasman (Heemskerch / Zeehan) 1942
          On 2nd June 1639, Abel Janszoon Tasman was dispatched by Antonio van Diemen, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies, on “a voyage to the north-western Pacific, in search of certain Islands of gold and silver, east of Japan”. On this voyage Tasman was to visit the Philippines and improved Dutch knowledge of the east coast of Luzon. He did this, and also discovered and mapped various islands to the north. Tasman was also engaged in several other trips, sailing to Formosa, Japan, Cambodia and Palembang as a merchant captain until 1642. In 1642 he set out on the first of his two New Holland expeditions. The expedition left Batavia on 14th August 1642 with two vessels, the Heemskerk with a 60-man crew and the Zeehaan with 50 men on board. They first called at Mauritius, where they stayed for a month long repair to both ships.

          Map depicting Abel Tasman’s route

          Intending to sail eastward at the southern latitude of 52 or 54 degrees, it became evident early on that weather would not permit this. It was decided to sail along the 44th and 40th parallels and as the two ships reached the longitude of the islands of St Peter and St Francis on the South Australian coast, then travelled further south, sighting Tasmania on 24th November 1642. Tasman named the island after the governor of The Dutch East Indies, Antonio van Diemen. The first two mountains they sighted on the island were named Mount Zeehan and Mount Heemskirk, after their ships. Variable weather made exploration of the eastern coast of Van Diemen’s Land difficult. Seeking shelter in a large bay, Tasman put into a cove to shelter from a storm. He called the location Storm Bay. In actual fact, he took shelter in what is known today as Adventure Bay on Bruny Island. A later explorer, Tobias Furneaux, misread Tasman’s charts and called Tasman’s Storm Bay Adventure Bay and gave the name Storm Bay to a larger bay nearby.

          Encounters at Adventure Bay

          On 1st December, the storm having abated, the ships were able to move on before coming to anchor at Green Island. They put ashore for supplies at what is now known as Blackman Bay (north of Bruny Island). Two days later, the carpenter, Peter Jacobsen, volunteered to swim ashore with a pole on which was the Prince’s flag, which he planted on the shore of the bay. Thus Tasman took possession of the island for the Dutch. Not finding enough good water, Tasman moved on and continued his search, traversing the east coast of Tasmania. When the shore fell away to the northwest (Bass Strait) and the weather was coming in directly from the north, Tasman decided to quit this island and continue east, sailing on to the south island of New Zealand.

          Sweers Island

          • Abel Janszoon Tasman
            • Abel Tasman: Project Gutenberg Australia
              • The Discovery of Van Dienmen’s Land in 1642

              • Tasman (Limmen,/ Zeemeeuw / Braq) 1644
                The first white man to have seen Sweers Island and the southern shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria was most likely Abel Tasman in June or July 1644, Tasman had been the first European to explore the shores of Tasmania two years earlier. He had been sent by the Dutch Governor-General with three ships, the Zeemeeuw, Limmen and Bracq, to determine whether a strait existed between New Guinea and New Holland as shown on Franco-Portuguese maps. Tasman failed to find Torres Strait, probably because he sailed too far offshore, however he did map the north coast of Australia, making observations on the land and its people. The dissatisfaction with Tasman’s voyage is best reflected in that a further exploratory expedition was sent to the same area with almost identical orders in 1756.

                Although rebuked by the directors of the Dutch East India Company for unremunerative exploration – “Why bother about barren and remote countries inhabited by wild and unprofitable savages?” – Tasman’s rank of commander was confirmed and, in November 1644, he was appointed to the Council of Justice in Batavia. In May 1648 he was in charge of an expedition sent to Manila to try to intercept and loot the Spanish silver ships coming from America, but he had no success and returned to Batavia in January 1649. Later that year he was charged and found guilty of having in the previous year hanged one of his men without trial, was suspended from his office of commander, fined, and made to pay compensation to the relatives of the sailor. Tasman retired from the Company in 1651, becoming a wealthy merchant until his death in 1659.

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