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Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

Terra Australia Incognita

Terra Australia Incognita

1606 to 1629

While Dutch explorations had been taking place from the American side, the island continent of Australia, though still incognita, had been receiving attention along its north and west coasts. Captain William Janzoon, while exploring the south coast of New Guinea in 1606, turned south after reaching the Fly River and found himself in the Gulf of Carpentaria. He followed what is the west coast of the Cape York Peninsula until he reached a cape which he named Keerweer (Turn Again). As the name implies, he turned and sailed back to Java. In 1616 Dirck Hartog, on the Eendracht, while sailing from the Cape of Good Hope to Java, went too far south and encountered a part of the coast of West Australia, which he named Eendrachtsland. He marked his discovery with a pewter plate bearing the date October 25, 1616, which he nailed to a post. Eighty years later the plate was removed by another Dutch voyager, and it is now, or was before World War II, in the Amsterdam Museum.

In 1619, Captain Frederick de Houtman picked up a part of the coast south of Eendrachtsland and near the present town of Geraldton. Some dangerous islets and rocks off the coast were named Houtmans Island, or the Abrolhos, and the land was named Edel Land after Johan Edel, who accompanied Houtman. Another Dutch ship, the Leeuwin, encountered the coast still farther south in 1622, and the southwest cape was named Cape Leeuwin. At about this time (1622 to 1623) Captain Jan Carstenz, with two ships, explored the western shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria, and the land west of it was named Arnhemsland after one of the ships. In 1627, Captain Francois Thijssen rounded Cape Leeuwin and explored the south coast along the Great Australian Bight until he reached two islands which he named St. Francis and St. Peter. The land he named Pieter Nuyts Land after a Dutch Councilor who was traveling with him to Java.

The need for accurate charting of the coast was stressed by the disastrous wreck of the Batavia under Captain Pelsaert in 1629 on Houtmans Island. Furthermore, the accounts of the land and its scattered black inhabitants gave the Dutch no encouragement to seek for treasure and commerce in their new discoveries.