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Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

Le Maire and Schouten

Le Maire and Schouten

1615 to 1616

In the same year that Admiral Spilbergen set out from Holland, another expedition was being planned by a group of merchants headed by Isaac Le Maire. A theory that another passage into the Pacific would be found south of the Strait of Magellan had been gaining ground, and such a passage would obviate the restrictions placed upon the Strait of Magellan by the Dutch East India Company. The new company, under the title of the Southern Company (Compagnie Australe), obtained a charter entitling it to the first four voyages to the countries it should discover by means of "new passages, harbours, or lands." The Southern Company fitted out the 360-ton Eendracht and the 110-ton galiot, Hoorn. Jacob Le page 14Maire, the son of Isaac Le Maire, sailed as "President." William Schouten, who bore the title of "Patron" was captain of the Eendracht, and the Hoorn was commanded by Jan Schouten, the brother of William.

The expedition sailed from Texel, Holland, on June 14, 1615. In December they reached Port Desire in Patagonia, where the Hoorn accidentally burned while careened for repairs. The crew, goods, and guns were transferred to the Eendracht. On January 20, 1616, the Eendracht, being out of sight of land, passed the latitude of the entrance of the Strait of Magellan. Three days later, the land of Tierra del Fuego was picked up and followed in an east-southeast direction. On the 24th they saw another high mountainous country to the east which they named Staten Land in honor of the States of Holland. They sailed south down the passage between Staten Land and Tierra del Fuego until Staten Land turned toward the east, when the coast of Tierra del Fuego was followed in a west-southwest direction. On the 29th they passed north of some small rocky islets, which they named the Isles de Barnevelt, and the high, hilly land of Tierra del Fuego was observed to end to the southward in a sharp point, which they named Cape Hoorn in honor of the town of Hoorn in West Friesland. They sailed between the Barnevelt Islands and Cape Horn until, on the 30th, they steered out into the westerly swell of the open Pacific. Thus the expedition had discovered a new passage into the Pacific. The passage was named the Strait of Le Maire, after the President of the expedition.

The Eendracht sailed west and encountered some of the northern islands of the Tuamotu Archipelago. The first was discovered on April 10, 1616, and named Honden (Dog) Island because the only inhabitants found on it at the time were three dogs. Geographers have identified it as Pukapuka in the Tuamotus, which must not be confounded with the other Pukapuka (Danger Island). Four days later, an inhabited island was discovered which they named Sondergrondt (Bottomless) Island because no anchorage could be found. On this island, identified as Takaroa or Takapoto, which are close together, some useful notes on the natives were recorded. Two days later an uninhabited island where fresh water was found in a pit was named Waterlandt, and this has been identified as Manihi. Another island was encountered two days later and named Vlieghen (Rangiroa?) after the swarms of flies which accompanied the exploring boat back to the ship.

Continuing west and a little south, the Eendracht encountered on May 8 a double canoe with lateen sails; an illustration of which identifies it as a Tongan double sailing canoe. Some of the occupants of the canoe were recklessly killed and the Dutch, conscious of their brutality, tried to make amends by giving presents to the people before allowing the canoe to continue on its way. Two days later, an inhabited island was discovered and named Cocos Island. Another nearby island, was named Verraders (Traitors) Island, because of an attack made against the ship. These two islands are Tafahi, called Boscawen page 15by Wallis in 1767, and Niuatobutabu, named Keppel Island by Wallis. A fair description of the natives was recorded. On May 14 another island was encountered and given the name of Good Hope Island. To judge from the course followed, this was probably Niuafou. On May 14 they came to the two islands of Alofi and Futuna which they named the Hoorn, a name which the islands retained, though the present-day spelling is Home. Here the Dutch traded with the native inhabitants and recorded useful information concerning them.

Having discovered some of the Tuamotu islands, the northern Tongan islands, and the Horne Islands, the Eendracht passed along the northern fringe of Melanesia and the northern coast of New Guinea, where the Schouten Islands were named after Captain William Schouten. The ship arrived on September 17 at the Moluccas and the party were well received at Ternate by their countrymen. During the whole voyage only three men had died out of a total of eighty-seven, which shows how much more careful the Dutch were of the health of their seamen than were the Spanish.

From the Moluccas, Le Maire and Schouten proceeded to Jacatra (Batavia), where they received a cold reception from the local president of the East India Company. Their story of the discovery of a new passage was not believed, and they were tried for infringing the monopoly of the company and their ship and cargo were confiscated. Le Maire and Schouten, with ten of their men, were sent to Holland virtually as prisoners on a ship commanded by Admiral Joris Spilbergen, who had made the trans-Pacific voyage before them. Jacob Le Maire died on the voyage. The other members of the Eendracht's crew took service with the East India Company.

Some accounts state that old Isaac Le Maire, after much litigation, succeeded in getting a verdict against the East India Company, which was ordered to make recompense for the ship, cargo, and all costs and interests from the date of seizure. Thus the greatest exploring expedition ever made by the Dutch received but tardy justice and no honor, save from posterity.