The Perth Mint is celebrating the 400th anniversary of Dutch sea captain Dirk Hartog’s landing on the west coast of Australia. If you’re at all hazy on the history, here’s why we think it’s such a significant event.
- Hartog’s landing pre-dated Captain James Cook’s famous exploration of the east coast by more than 150 years.
- It was the first documented visit by any European in this part of the world.
- By leaving behind proof of his landing in the shape of an inscribed pewter plate, Hartog created the oldest European object ever found on Australian soil.
Yet the whole remarkable episode was effectively an accident!
Dirk Hartog was skipper of a Dutch East India Company vessel called Eendracht. In 1616, he was sailing for Bantam, a trading city located in western Java.
Traditionally, ships stayed close to the coast in a protracted journey around Africa and India. But a few years earlier, a new route had been pioneered using the ‘Roaring Forties’, strong westerly winds at 40 degrees south, for a much faster passage across the Indian Ocean.
In an age before any reliable calculation of longitude was available, navigators had to estimate where to turn northwards for the run up to Java. Inevitably, some East Indiamen sailed too far and it was only a matter of time before one of them inadvertently ran into ‘Terra Australis Incognita’.
Hartog claimed the honour on 25 October when he anchored at the continent’s most westerly tip – an island that formed part of a large, shallow inlet later named Shark Bay by the English explorer/privateer William Dampier.
Hartog spent two days exploring the area before sailing northwards, charting the coastline which was subsequently referred to as ‘Eendrachtsland’ by the Dutch East India Company.
Before leaving, Hartog left his famed pewter plate inscribed with “1616, on 25 October, arrived the ship the Eendracht of Amsterdam” and names of some of those on board. Originally nailed to an oak post inserted in a crack on Cape Inscription, it’s probable that no one laid eyes on it for another 80 years until the arrival of Willem de Vlamingh.
This Dutch sea-captain, the first European to venture up the Zwaanenrivier (Swan River) past the present day site of Perth, arrived on Dirk Hartog Island early in 1697. During his exploration he found the plate and replaced it with a new one inscribed with the text from the original and details of his own voyage.
By delivering Hartog’s plate to the Dutch authorities in Batavia (Jakarta), de Vlamingh played a crucial role in its safeguarding. A fascinating reminder of the role played by Dutch navigators in the charting of Australia, this astonishing relic is now preserved by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Equally valued in Australia as the oldest physical evidence of European contact with the continent, a replica can be seen at the Western Australian Museum – Shipwreck Galleries, Fremantle.
400th Anniversary Commemoration
Western Australia and the Netherlands will be marking the story of Dirk Hartog at Shark Bay between 21 and 25 October 2016.
As part of the commemorations, copies of Hartog’s plate and the plate that Willem de Vlamingh replaced it with in 1697 will be embedded at the original site where visitors will benefit from new interpretive panels.
Representative of Dutch ships of the era, the Duyfken will also embark on a six-week journey along Western Australia’s coast during which she will be open for public tours.
For details of these events and more, please visit www.sharkbay1616.com.au.
Courtesy of the Shire of Shark Bay