Contrary to what many of us remember from school, Captain James Cook was not the first European to discover Australia. In fact, Willem Janszoon was supposedly the first European to land on the east coast of Australia in 1605 or 1606, and Dirk Hartog was the first European to land on the Western Australian coast.
And 25 October 2016 marks the 400 year anniversary of Dirk Hartog’s landing on Dirk Hartog island, just off the coast of Shark Bay, some 1000 km north of Perth.
Many of you would have heard of the Dutch VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or the Dutch East India Company). The Dutch East India Company is generally considered to have been the first company in the world to issue shares. According to Wikipedia it was a powerful, multinational company established in 1602 which possessed “quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties, strike its own coins, and establish colonies”.
In 1616, Dirk Hartog was appointed master of a ship called Eendracht in a fleet that would voyage from the Netherlands to the Dutch East Indies (now known as Indonesia).
In January 1616, a fleet of VOC ships (including the Eendracht) set sail for Batavia (now known as Jakarta). On route, the Eendracht became separated from the other ships during a storm. So, the Eendracht ultimately sailed across the Indian Ocean from the Cape of Good Hope independently. A common route that the dutch sailors would take would involve utilising the strong winds of the “roaring forties” to sail across the Indian Ocean from the coast of Africa, and then turning north before reaching Australia.
Whether Dirk Hartog was blown off course or had simply travelled too far east, Dirk Hartog unexpectedly came across some unexpected, uninhabited islands. On 25 October 1616, Dirk Hartog made landfall at what is now known as Dirk Hartog Island, just off the coast of Shark Bay, Western Australia. This would become the first recorded European landing on Western Australian soil.
After spending three days exploring the coast and nearby islands, Dirk Hartog left a pewter plate on a post (now known as Hartog’s plate). On the plate he recorded his visit to the island. Translated from Dutch it read “1616 On 25 October arrived the ship Eendracht, of Amsterdam: Supercargo Gilles Miebais of Liege, skipper Dirch Hatichs of Amsterdam. on 27 d[itt]o. she set sail again for Bantam. Deputy supercargo Jan Stins, upper steersman Pieter Doores of Bil. In the year 1616″. Interestingly, eighty years later, another Dutch explorer (Willem de Vlamingh) landed on the island and by chance found the Hartog’s plate. He replaced Hartog’s plate with a new plate and took Hartog’s plate back to Amsterdam, where it is now housed in Amsterdam’s Rijkesmuseum.
After exploring for three days around Shark Bay and finding nothing of interest (Author Note – perhaps the Dutch back then didn’t appreciated beautiful blue water and white sandy beaches), Dirk Hartog continued sailing north towards to Batavia (Jakarta) and in the process made the first ever nautical charts of part of the Western Australian coastline.
For the collectors amongst you, Perth Mint has issued a 1 ounce silver coin to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Dirk Hartog’s landing in Shark Bay. The Perth Mint deliver world wide, and if you spend over A$400 delivery is free.
Dirk Hartog Anniversary Events
For those interested in the special events being planned around Dirk Hartog’s anniversary, you can check out these websites.
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