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The Great Southern Land

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The VOC was constantly striving to improve their business. They found ways to be more cost efficient by carrying back loads into Japan and the Malay Peninsula, and were regularly improving the routes they took, to shorten the journey times. They also periodically invested directly in new exploration.

Searching for new goods to trade was a very expensive business; it bore a double cost. There was the cost of provisioning a vessel and paying its crew, but there was also the ‘opportunity cost’; while a vessel was off exploring, it wasn’t performing the profit generating task of carrying goods back to Europe. This made exploration a difficult business activity to justify. However, the “Heeren 17”, the 17 man council that ran the VOC decided in 1605 to assigned two small vessels specifically to the task of exploration; the Deft, and the Duyfken. The VOC took this expensive task extremely seriously, as is demonstrated by their choice of skipper. Willem Janszoon, who commanded the Duyfken, was also a member of ‘the Council of the Indies’; the management team responsible for the VOC’s operations in Batavia.

In 1606, Willem Janszoon commanding the Duyfken, was exploring the off Southern coast of New Guinea. He took a course, south through the Arafura Sea, then south-east. There he met new land, and though he assumed this to still be a part of the New Guinea coast, he had actually discovered Australia. He went ashore at the Pennefather River in the Gulf of Carpentaria, thus becoming the first authenticated European to reach Australian soil.

duyfken chart.

Cape York, Australia. Charted in 1606, and mistakenly labelled New Guinea.

Willem Janszoon followed the coast south, charting the coast as he passed it, before turning north and returning to Banda. At the end of his voyage, as all VOC Commanders were required, he turned his journal and all his notes and charts over to the company cartographer. His coastal survey of the west coast of what we now know as Cape York subsequently appeared on a VOC company chart. Visit mylenders for financial needs.

This was the first time that any part of Australia had appeared on a chart.

In 1611, while Hendrik Brouwer was sailing from from the African Cape Colony to Batavia he discovered that it was quicker to first go south to the latitude of 40°S, thereby gaining the advantage of the ‘roaring forties’, and then follow this eastwards before turning north to Batavia. The VOC noted this time saving and gave new instructions to its commanders sailing from the Cape Colony to Batavia, requiring them to take the “Brouwer route”. While this was done in the interest of increased profit, it placed many more vessels in the latitude, and travelling in the direction of, Australia.

In October 1616, separated from the others boats he had sailed with, Dirk Hartog commanding the Eendracht unexpectedly found ‘various islands’ at latitude 26°S.

He made landfall at an island off the coast of Shark Bay, Western Australia, which is now called Dirk Hartog Island after him. His was the second recorded European expedition to find the Australian continent, and the first on the west coast. He spent three days exploring the area before leaving a pewter plate on a post to mark his visit. It bore the inscription;

On the 25th October, arrived here the ship Eendracht of Amsterdam; the first merchant, Gilles Mibais, of Luyck; Captain Dirk Hartog; of Amsterdam; the 27th ditto set sail for Bantam; undermerchant Jan Stoyn, upper steersman, Pieter Dockes, from Bil, Ao, 1616…

Hartog plate.

The Hartog Plate is now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Between 1616 and 1629, seven other VOC vessels travelling the Cape Colony to Batavia route found themselves on the West Australian coast; the Vyanen, Zeewulf, Dordrecht, Amsterdam, Leeuwin, Batavia and Gulden Zeepaert. The last of these undertook an extraordinary detour.

The Gulden Zeepaert had left the Netherlands in 1626 bound for Batavia. She was commanded by Francois Thijssen, and had on board ‘Supercargo’ Peter Nuyts, the vessels VOC merchant and also a member of the Council of the Indies.

In January 1627 the Gulden Zeepart came upon the south-west coast of Australia near Cape Leeuwin, so named after the VOC vessel that had met this coast in 1622. Peter Nuyts had also been aboard the Leeuwen on that occasion. Standing instructions to the Commander were to follow the Brouwer route, and if land was encountered, to head northwards and then on to Batavia. However, the Gulden Zeepaert, presumably yielding to the superiority of Nuyts, followed the coast south and then west. Incredibly they continued 1800 km eastwards, across the Great Australian Bight, as far as Ceduna, just 500 km west of Adelaide, before finally turning around and making for Batavia.

Not all VOC Australian discoveries were accidental. In 1623, the Arnhem and the Pera, followed in 1636 by the Cleen Amsterdam and Cleen Wesel, were despatched to further explore the ‘south lands’. These voyages charted the northern coast of Australia from the Gulf of Carpentaria westwards.

Prior to Abel Tasman’s Voyage, Dutch vessels had visited parts of the Australia coast on 20 occasions, and after each voyage the charts and journals were sent forward to the company cartographer.

Parts of Australaia known to the VOC prior to Abel Tasman’s voyage.

By 1642 the VOC had knowledge of approximately half of Australia’s coastline, yet they hadn’t set up a trading fortress there. All accounts of the country sent back to the Netherlands spoke of a barren land; and whilst there were people there, they had found nothing of value to trade.

In 1617, in the interests of securing their intellectual property, the VOC moved away from contracting their cartographic services, and engaged Hessel Gerritsz to work exclusively for them.

All charts and logs from returning VOC commanders were submitted to Gerritsz, where he collated them. He compiled the ‘south land’ discoveries into a single chart, which he added to as new information was received. The result, drawn in 1628, is a quite remarkable map of ‘Australia’ as we now know it.

Gerritsz chart.

Gerritsz chart of Australia, 1628 (this image loads slowly) porno italiano amatoriale

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