Early Australian Exploration
 1600 - 1800

At around CE 150 a brilliant Greek astronomer named Ptolemy drew a map of the world, speculating that land masses might lie beyond the known European world. Like many others, Ptolemy believed there was a Great South Land to balance the landmass of the Northern Hemisphere.

 

He called his imagined land Terra Australis Incognita – the unknown south land.

 

Maps drawn around the 5th Century AD showed the world shaped like a sphere, with the three known continents of the Northern Hemisphere balanced by a similar landmass to the south of the equator. 

Centuries later, explorers set out to discover this great southern land.

Listed below are some of those voyages. (see more at the Museum of W.A.) There are also links via the images to relevant website with more information.

Michael Pearson has written a comprehensive article GREAT SOUTHERN LAND The Maritime Exploration of Terra Australis  which is highly recommended

Willem Janszoon
Duyfken
1606
Replica of the Duyfken
Replica of the Duyfken

With the establishment of the Dutch East India Company in 1602, Dutch enterprises competed for the East Indies spice markets and launched exploration farther afield in the Pacific, and in 1606 Duyfken (little dove) captained by Willem Janszoon was the first ship and crew to chart part of the Australian coast (the west coast of Cape York Peninsular in Queensland). The crew were also the first to meet with Aboriginal people.

Map of the Islands in the Banda Sea and New Guinea region showing the tracks of the Dufyken in 1606,
Map of the Islands in the Banda Sea and New Guinea region showing the tracks of the Dufyken in 1606,

Replica of the Duyfken
Replica of the Duyfken

With the establishment of the Dutch East India Company in 1602, Dutch enterprises competed for the East Indies spice markets and launched exploration farther afield in the Pacific, and in 1606 Duyfken (little dove) captained by Willem Janszoon was the first ship and crew to chart part of the Australian coast (the west coast of Cape York Peninsular in Queensland). The crew were also the first to meet with Aboriginal people.

1/2
Dirk Hartog
Eendracht
1616
The Eendracht and the Hoorn leaving the port of Hoorn, Netherlands
The Eendracht and the Hoorn leaving the port of Hoorn, Netherlands

In 1616 Hartog was on his way to the East Indies when winds took him off course. While sailing north for the Sunda Strait he saw an unfamiliar coastline, not on any of his charts. He stepped ashore at what is now Shark Bay, about 800km north of Perth. Hartog used the voyage to create the earliest nautical maps of Australia’s western coastline. see more...

Hessel Gerritsz, showing Dirk Hartogs voyage
Hessel Gerritsz, showing Dirk Hartogs voyage

In 1616, Dutch skipper, Dirk Hartog, in the ship Eendracht, along with upper-merchant Gillis Miebais, accidentally discovered what proved to be the west coast of the Unknown South Land while sailing northwards. see more...

Dirk Hartog Plate, 1616, Rijksmuseum
Dirk Hartog Plate, 1616, Rijksmuseum

Dirk Hartog landed at Shark Bay, Western Australia in 1616 and left this pewter plate with an inscription detailing their voyage and destination. The inscription reads; 1616. On the 25th October the ship Eendracht of Amsterdam arrived here. Upper merchant Gilles Miebais of Luick (Liege); skipper Dirck Hatichs (Dirk Hartog) of Amsterdam. On the 27th ditto we sail for Bantum. Under merchant Jan Stins; upper steerman Pieter Doores of Bil (Brielle). see more ...

The Eendracht and the Hoorn leaving the port of Hoorn, Netherlands
The Eendracht and the Hoorn leaving the port of Hoorn, Netherlands

In 1616 Hartog was on his way to the East Indies when winds took him off course. While sailing north for the Sunda Strait he saw an unfamiliar coastline, not on any of his charts. He stepped ashore at what is now Shark Bay, about 800km north of Perth. Hartog used the voyage to create the earliest nautical maps of Australia’s western coastline. see more...

1/3
Adrian Jacobsz/ Francisco Pelsaert
Batavia
1629
Replica of the Batavia
Replica of the Batavia

The Batavia was on its maiden voyage in 1629, carrying silver and gold, bound for the Dutch East Indies to buy spices, when it wrecked with 341 people on board, in the Abrolhos (off Geraldton, WA.) Most of the survivors were able to swim to nearby Beacon Island but 40 people drowned. Mutineer Cornelisz instigated a drawn-out massacre of about 125 people before rescue arrived.

Illustration of the Batavia shipwreck -
Illustration of the Batavia shipwreck -

Stone ruins on Western Australia’s remote West Wallabi Island are the oldest structures built by Europeans in Australia. Built as a fort in 1629 by survivors of the Batavia. Under-merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz, conspired to mutiny and steal the treasure-laden ship before it struck a reef. The mutineers murdered more than 120 shipwreck survivors before most were captured, tried and hanged for their crimes.

Replica of the Batavia
Replica of the Batavia

The Batavia was on its maiden voyage in 1629, carrying silver and gold, bound for the Dutch East Indies to buy spices, when it wrecked with 341 people on board, in the Abrolhos (off Geraldton, WA.) Most of the survivors were able to swim to nearby Beacon Island but 40 people drowned. Mutineer Cornelisz instigated a drawn-out massacre of about 125 people before rescue arrived.

1/2
Abel Tasman
1642 & 1644
Abel Tasman voyages
Abel Tasman voyages

Abel Tasman was the first European explorer to reach the islands of Van Diemen''s Land (now Tasmania) in 1642, and in 1644, without realizing it, he completed a circumnavigation of New Holland (Australia), proving that it was not the Southern Continent.

Abel Tasman's ships, the Heemskerk and the Zeehaen
Abel Tasman's ships, the Heemskerk and the Zeehaen

The Heemskerk, commanded by Ide Tjaerts Holleman, was a three masted ‘war-yacht’ built in 1638 & carried 60-crewmen & 120 guns. The 50-man Zeehaen, commanded by Gerritt Jansz, was also built in 1639. Despite its smaller dimensions it was a 200-ton, three masted ‘flute’ or transport. It carried a flat stern. Both of these vessels have a narrow deck. This design was partly because of a Danish taxation practice, which charged visiting vessels according to their deck area!

Emanuel Bowen, A complete map of the Southern Continent Surveyd by Capt Able Tasman & Depicted by or
Emanuel Bowen, A complete map of the Southern Continent Surveyd by Capt Able Tasman & Depicted by or

Abel Tasman voyages
Abel Tasman voyages

Abel Tasman was the first European explorer to reach the islands of Van Diemen''s Land (now Tasmania) in 1642, and in 1644, without realizing it, he completed a circumnavigation of New Holland (Australia), proving that it was not the Southern Continent.

1/4
Willem De Vlamingh
1697
 
Willen de Vlamingh's ships, with black swans, at the entrance to the Swan River, Western Australia ,
Willen de Vlamingh's ships, with black swans, at the entrance to the Swan River, Western Australia ,

de Vlamingh charted parts of Western Australia’s coastline and explored Rottnest Island and the Swan River before anchoring in South Passage off the southern tip of Dirk Hartog Island 30 January 1697. Several days were spent exploring the area and collecting turtle eggs on a beach now known as Turtle Bay.

Willem de Vlamingh's T Zuijd land ontdeckt door Willem de Vlamingh in de Maande van Jan an Febrii 16
Willem de Vlamingh's T Zuijd land ontdeckt door Willem de Vlamingh in de Maande van Jan an Febrii 16

In 1696 Willem de Vlamingh commanded the rescue mission to Australia's west coast to look for survivors of the Ridderschap van Holland that had gone missing two years earlier. He was the last Dutch mariner to provide any real evidence of the region’s potential

Willem de Vlamingh's plate
Willem de Vlamingh's plate

They found Dirk Hartog’s plate at Cape Inscription on 4 February 1697. Recognising its historic value, de Vlamingh removed the plate and replaced it with his own. Onto the new plate was copied the original inscription and added an account of his own landing. He returned Hartog’s plate to Amsterdam.

Willen de Vlamingh's ships, with black swans, at the entrance to the Swan River, Western Australia ,
Willen de Vlamingh's ships, with black swans, at the entrance to the Swan River, Western Australia ,

de Vlamingh charted parts of Western Australia’s coastline and explored Rottnest Island and the Swan River before anchoring in South Passage off the southern tip of Dirk Hartog Island 30 January 1697. Several days were spent exploring the area and collecting turtle eggs on a beach now known as Turtle Bay.

1/3
William Dampier
William Dampier

Dampier circumnavigated the world during the 1680s as a buccaneer, privateer & pirate & was amongst the first Englishmen to set foot on the Australian mainland. He landed near the tip of today's Dampier Peninsula, north of Broome in 1688, as crew of the privateer Cygnet. While the mostly Spanish & English crew careened the Cygnet over a number of weeks, Dampier took detailed notes about Australian flora and fauna and the Dampier Peninsula's Bardi Aboriginal people.

William Dampier Roebuck
William Dampier Roebuck

Dampier put forward the idea of a voyage to Terra Australis to the British Navy, which still appeared on maps as an undefined, mythical, southern continent. The Roebuck’s voyage was the British Navy’s first expedition devoted to science and exploration.

William Dampier, A Voyage to New Holland, &c, In the Year 1699
William Dampier, A Voyage to New Holland, &c, In the Year 1699

Dampier was the first person to circumnavigate the world three times, the first Englishman to reach and map parts of Australia and New Guinea, and the first English best-selling travel writer. He became famous after his epic pirating travels were published in A New Voyage Around the World in 1697.

William Dampier
William Dampier

Dampier circumnavigated the world during the 1680s as a buccaneer, privateer & pirate & was amongst the first Englishmen to set foot on the Australian mainland. He landed near the tip of today's Dampier Peninsula, north of Broome in 1688, as crew of the privateer Cygnet. While the mostly Spanish & English crew careened the Cygnet over a number of weeks, Dampier took detailed notes about Australian flora and fauna and the Dampier Peninsula's Bardi Aboriginal people.

1/8
 
 
 
 
 
William Dampier
Cygnet & Roebuck
1688 & 1699
Jean Francois Marie de Surville
1769
Jean-Francoise de Surville
Jean-Francoise de Surville

On December 4, 1769, just 5 months before Capt. Cook first sighted the Australian east coast, French explorer Jean Francois Marie de Surville, came so close to the coast near Sydney they 'could smell the sweet aroma of wattle'. Some in the crew argued they should investigate the signs of land as they needed water and fresh food. But the winds were strong and de Surville decided not to sail west and risk being wrecked. Instead he turned his ship, St Jean-Baptiste, east in search of New Zealand.

Jean-Francoise de Surville
Jean-Francoise de Surville

On December 4, 1769, just 5 months before Capt. Cook first sighted the Australian east coast, French explorer Jean Francois Marie de Surville, came so close to the coast near Sydney they 'could smell the sweet aroma of wattle'. Some in the crew argued they should investigate the signs of land as they needed water and fresh food. But the winds were strong and de Surville decided not to sail west and risk being wrecked. Instead he turned his ship, St Jean-Baptiste, east in search of New Zealand.

1/1
 
 
James Cook
HM Barque Endeavour
1770
Captain James Cook, c 1770s State Library of NSW
Captain James Cook, c 1770s State Library of NSW

In 1768, England sent an expedition to Tahiti to chart the transit of Venus across the sun. James Cook, a brilliant Royal Navy navigator and map maker, was in charge of the expedition on the converted coal carrier HMS Endeavour. After completing the astronomical task of observing the transit of Venus, Cook set out to see if there was a Great South Land – the land that navigators had believed existed for hundreds of years.

Town and Country 1872, Cook's Landing at Botany Bay, 1770, 1872, National Library
Town and Country 1872, Cook's Landing at Botany Bay, 1770, 1872, National Library

After circumnavigating New Zealand, Cook’s expedition sailed west for Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) but winds forced the Endeavour north and the expedition came upon the east coast of Australia in April 1770. For the next four months, Cook mapped the east coast from Eden to the Gulf of Carpentaria. At a brief and simple ceremony at Botany Bay, Cook named the entire east coast of Australia New South Wales.

endeavour sketch from the Royal Australian Historical Society Glass Slide Collection
endeavour sketch from the Royal Australian Historical Society Glass Slide Collection

Captain James Cook, c 1770s State Library of NSW
Captain James Cook, c 1770s State Library of NSW

In 1768, England sent an expedition to Tahiti to chart the transit of Venus across the sun. James Cook, a brilliant Royal Navy navigator and map maker, was in charge of the expedition on the converted coal carrier HMS Endeavour. After completing the astronomical task of observing the transit of Venus, Cook set out to see if there was a Great South Land – the land that navigators had believed existed for hundreds of years.

1/3
Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne
1772
Marc Joseph Marie du Fresne
Marc Joseph Marie du Fresne

When the French East India Company collapsed in 1769, mariner and explorer du Fresne undertook a twofold mission to the Pacific, sailing the Mascarin and the Marquis de Castries - to return Tahitian native, Ahutoru to his homeland, and to explore the south Pacific for Terra Australis Incognita. His ships spent several days in Tasmania, (Marion Bay is named after him). He was the first French person to explore Tasmania before being killed in New Zealand in 1772.

Marc Joseph Marie du Fresne
Marc Joseph Marie du Fresne

When the French East India Company collapsed in 1769, mariner and explorer du Fresne undertook a twofold mission to the Pacific, sailing the Mascarin and the Marquis de Castries - to return Tahitian native, Ahutoru to his homeland, and to explore the south Pacific for Terra Australis Incognita. His ships spent several days in Tasmania, (Marion Bay is named after him). He was the first French person to explore Tasmania before being killed in New Zealand in 1772.

1/1
 
 
Jean-François de Galaup, Comte de La Pérouse
L’Astrolabe and La Boussole
1778
Nicolas-André Monsiau, Louis XVI giving his instructions to the Comte de La Pérouse,1817
Nicolas-André Monsiau, Louis XVI giving his instructions to the Comte de La Pérouse,1817

In 1785 La Pérouse was commissioned to circumnavigate the Pacific. Louis XVI was made anxious by news of the departure from England of Arthur Phillip with the first prisoners destined to colonise Botany Bay so La Pérouse was then asked by dispatch to proceed there in all haste. He sailed into Botany Bay on 26 January 1788, only days after Phillip and the First Fleet had arrived. After spending 6 weeks in Botany Bay, La Pérouse set sail to New Caledonia - he and his ships were never seen again.

Astrolabe & the Boussole
Astrolabe & the Boussole

In 1827 Irish captain Peter Dillon found that both L’Astrolabe and La Boussole had smashed against the Vanikor's (in the Solomon Islands) fringing reef during a storm. Artefacts collected by Dillon were taken to Paris where they were identified as belonging to the expedition vessels.

Nicolas-André Monsiau, Louis XVI giving his instructions to the Comte de La Pérouse,1817
Nicolas-André Monsiau, Louis XVI giving his instructions to the Comte de La Pérouse,1817

In 1785 La Pérouse was commissioned to circumnavigate the Pacific. Louis XVI was made anxious by news of the departure from England of Arthur Phillip with the first prisoners destined to colonise Botany Bay so La Pérouse was then asked by dispatch to proceed there in all haste. He sailed into Botany Bay on 26 January 1788, only days after Phillip and the First Fleet had arrived. After spending 6 weeks in Botany Bay, La Pérouse set sail to New Caledonia - he and his ships were never seen again.

1/2
 
Nicholas Baudin
L’Astrolabe and La Boussole
1802
Baudin, Geographe and Naturaliste, from australiabeforeveryone
Baudin, Geographe and Naturaliste, from australiabeforeveryone

Baudin’s ships, Géographe and Naturaliste (under J.F.Emmanuel Hamelin) embarked from Le Havre in October 1800 for the Southern continent carrying an impressive contingent of scientists and scientific assistants. Lavishly funded by Napoleon Bonaparte, the expedition’s agenda was the discovery and study of natural sciences, underpinned by the emergence of new ideas and philosophies of reason.

First detailed map of Swan River, 1801 Baudin expedition
First detailed map of Swan River, 1801 Baudin expedition

He reached the south west corner of Australia in May 1801, and his two ships made a landfall at Cape Leeuwin. He then spent three months charting the coast of Western Australia and gathering scientific data.

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, Porcupine fish-Diodon, Baudin expedition
Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, Porcupine fish-Diodon, Baudin expedition

Only in more recent years have the considerable achievements of Baudin's voyage been recognised, including the charting of previously unknown coastline, and discoveries in various fields of science. French place names remain on the southern coast of South Australia, mainly in the south-east, and on the south coast of Kangaroo Island, where the French had been the first to survey.

Baudin, Geographe and Naturaliste, from australiabeforeveryone
Baudin, Geographe and Naturaliste, from australiabeforeveryone

Baudin’s ships, Géographe and Naturaliste (under J.F.Emmanuel Hamelin) embarked from Le Havre in October 1800 for the Southern continent carrying an impressive contingent of scientists and scientific assistants. Lavishly funded by Napoleon Bonaparte, the expedition’s agenda was the discovery and study of natural sciences, underpinned by the emergence of new ideas and philosophies of reason.

1/7
 
Matthew Flinders
Reliance and Investigator
1795 - 1802
Matthew Flinders
Matthew Flinders

Matthew Flinders was an accomplished navigator who explored Australian waters from 1795 to 1803, engaged mostly in coastal survey work. His most notable achievements were to demonstrate that Van Diemen's Land was not part of New South Wales and that New Holland and New south Wales were part of one continental mass. Flinders is generally acknowledged as the first to use the term 'Australia' to name that continent.

Bass and Flinders
Bass and Flinders

In 1795 he sailed in the Reliance to the new convict settlement at Botany Bay. On board he befriended George Bass, and they made a number of small boat journeys to refine the charts of the New South Wales coast. In 1798, in the Norfolk, they explored the extent of the strait between the mainland and Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). By circumnavigating Van Diemen's Land, Flinders proved that it was a separate island. Next Flinders sailed to Cape of Good Hope to obtain livestock for New South Wales.

Bauer, Adenanthos Terminalis
Bauer, Adenanthos Terminalis

The beauty and accuracy of Bauer's illustrations have earned his recognition as one of the greatest natural history artists of all time.

Matthew Flinders
Matthew Flinders

Matthew Flinders was an accomplished navigator who explored Australian waters from 1795 to 1803, engaged mostly in coastal survey work. His most notable achievements were to demonstrate that Van Diemen's Land was not part of New South Wales and that New Holland and New south Wales were part of one continental mass. Flinders is generally acknowledged as the first to use the term 'Australia' to name that continent.

1/10

Thanks! Message sent.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact me.