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Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

[Early Dutch Voyages]

page 11

Early Dutch Voyages

1598 to 1601

The principal voyagers in the Pacific so far had been the Spanish and Portuguese, with a little activity on the part of the British. The Dutch, however, had been running ships for years in the East India trade, carrying goods from the Portuguese trading posts in the Spice Islands to the port of Lisbon. But the Dutch were not allowed to share in active trading, and when Portugal united with Spain in 1588, even the carrying trade was refused them. As the Dutch could not afford to allow their many ships to remain idle, they tried during 1594 to 1596 to discover a northeast passage above Europe and Asia and a northwest passage above North America. This attempt to enter the Pacific from the north in order to establish trade with China failed, however. Thus, though the routes round the Cape of Good Hope or through the Strait of Magellan across the "South Sea" involved fighting with the Portuguese and the Spanish, the Dutch traders prepared to vie for a share of eastern prosperity.

The first Dutch expedition was organized in 1598 to go by way of the Strait of Magellan. Five ships were fitted out by the Company of Pieter Verhagen. The names of the ships are interesting, for to the three virtues, Faith, Hope, and Charity, a fourth, Fidelity, was added. Wishful thinking evidently inspired the name Good News for the fifth vessel. They sailed under Admiral Jacob Mahu on the Hope from Goree, Holland, on June 27, 1598. The fleet started through the Strait of Magellan on April 6, 1599, and after exploring various bays and being delayed by contrary winds, the five ships entered the Pacific on September 3, accompanied by a 16-ton shallop, the Postillion, which had been set up while the expedition was in the Strait. During their five months in the Strait, more than 120 men had been buried out of a full complement of 491 for the five ships. Of the five ships, the Good News was the first to become bad news, for it was captured by the Spanish off Valparaiso. Then the Fidelity was captured by the Portuguese at the Moluccas. Hope and Charity sailed for Japan to sell their stock of woolen goods; one was lost at sea, the other plundered by the Japanese. Faith alone survived, and under the command of Sebald de Weert, she arrived at Goree, Holland on July 13, 1600, after a voyage of two years and 16 days. Thirty-six of her original crew of 109 had survived.

Olivier van Noort

Another Dutch expedition of this period, consisting of four ships under the command of Olivier van Noort, sailed from Goree, Holland, on September 13, 1598. Van Noort entered the Strait of Magellan on November 22, 1599, and cleared into the Pacific on February 29, 1600. He had committed various atrocities in the Strait, needlessly killing numbers of the local Indians. After little success along the Pacific coast, he sailed west for the Philippines on May 20 page 12and, after touching at Guam, reached the Philippines on October 14. Off Manila, he fought a desperate battle against two Spanish ships which attacked him with forces greatly outnumbering the 80 men on his own two ships. The Spanish admiral boarded Van Noort's ship, drove the Dutch below decks, and hauled down the Dutch flag. But Van Noort, by threatening to set fire to the magazine, drove his men on deck where they cleared the ship of the Spaniards and sank the enemy ships. Van Noort's other vessel, with a crew of 25, was captured by the second Spanish ship; and as Van Noort saw no hope of rescuing them, he sailed off on his return voyage to Holland. He arrived at Goree on August 26, 1601, after a voyage of nearly three years.

The Dutch East India Company

1602 to 1609

The first two Dutch expeditions to cross the Pacific were bent on pecuniary gain and made no geographical discoveries, even by accident. But they helped to convince the Dutch that active measures must be taken against the Spanish and Portuguese to protect the trade they hoped to develop. Dutch ships which had reached the East Indies by way of the Cape of Good Hope had established a trading post at Ternate in the Moluccas in 1599. However, the various merchant enterprises had warred among themselves, both in regard to prices and in actual fighting. The States General, seeing the trouble caused by divided efforts, invited the formation of one general company. Thus the Dutch East India Company was founded in 1602. It was given a charter which gave it the exclusive right, for a twenty-one year period, to trade with the East and to organize a fleet and an army to protect its rights. Dutch organizations outside the company were forbidden to send ships to the East, either by way of the Cape of Good Hope or through the Strait of Magellan. Thus, with the footing the Dutch had obtained in the Moluccas in spite of Portuguese and Spanish opposition, the company was able practically to monopolize the spice trade. In 1609 Spain agreed to a twelve-years' truce with the Low Countries, but fighting continued in the outer seas beyond Europe.

Joris Spilbergen

1614 to 1616

In 1614 the Dutch East India Company equipped a fleet of six vessels, under the command of Admiral Joris Spilbergen, to sail to the Moluccas by way of the Strait of Magellan. The fleet left Texel on August 8, 1614. On April 3, 1615, Spilbergen entered the Strait, some of his ships having preceded him to the rendezvous at the Bay de Cordes within the Strait. On May 6 the fleet, reduced to five ships, entered the south sea. It worked up the Pacific coast, provisioning here and capturing there, until on July 16, beyond Arequipa, they sighted the Spanish fleet which had been sent out from Callao to intercept them. The Spanish fleet, commanded by Don Rodrigo de Mendoça, page 13consisted of eight ships with ample crews and artillery. On the 17th light breezes prevented the two fleets from getting close enough to engage until near evening. Spilbergen is reported to have sent a polite message to Mendoça saying he would postpone his attack until morning if the Spanish preferred. The Spanish admiral, arrogant because of the position hitherto occupied by his country, was enraged at what he deemed Spilbergen's presumption and sent back this reply, "You attack, you Dutch hen! I am going to attack now." Admiral Spilbergen's reply delivered in the Dutch language from his bridge was untranslatable. However, his initial courtesy had a deserved reward, for the Spaniards commenced a night attack against the more mature wisdom of Mendoça's vice-admiral. During the night, one of the lighter Spanish vessels was sunk and the fleet somewhat scattered. In the morning, seeing that the ships of the admiral and vice-admiral were separated from the rest of the Spanish fleet, Spilbergen turned his whole fleet against them. The vice-admiral's ship eventually sank, but Mendoça's flagship showed a fading stern to the pursuing Dutch. Spilbergen's victory against superior numerical forces considerably raised the prestige of the Dutch.

The Dutch fleet called in at Callao but found it too strongly defended to offer any opportunities, so Spilbergen sailed on to Payta, which he sacked. Sailing north to Acapulco and Navidad, he exchanged accumulated Spanish prisoners for provisions. He then sailed across the Pacific to the Ladrones, without encountering the Hawaiian Islands. He spent some time off Manila, picking off trading ships making for that port, much like a man-of-war hawk waiting off shore to intercept other seabirds flying home with their day's catch of fish. However, when he learned that a large Spanish fleet was being organized to attack him, he sailed to the Moluccas to assist his countrymen, still fighting the Portuguese posts in that area. He arrived at Ternate on March 26, 1616. Spilbergen's expedition made no discoveries, but he was shortly to meet voyagers who had.

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.

The Nassau Fleet

1623 to 1624

In 1621, when the Dutch truce with Spain ended, the Dutch decided to follow up Admiral Spilbergen's success with another attack against the Spanish possessions in South America. A fleet of eleven ships under Admiral Jacob l'Heremite sailed from Goree on April 29, 1623. The fleet decided against entering any port on the eastern coast of South America and arrived off the entrance of the Strait of Le Maire after a nine-months' voyage. It sailed through the strait and attacked various parts of the coast of Peru. The admiral in command died of a serious malady, and the command passed to Vice-admiral Schapenham, who proved to be a poor organizer of punitive attempts against the Spanish towns.

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The fleet sailed from the coast of New Spain for Guam on November 29, 1624. As they kept on or near the latitude of Guam, they crossed the Pacific south of the Hawaiian Islands, arriving at Guam on January 26, 1625. They ended the voyage at Ternate in the Moluccas on March 4 without having made any discovery beyond exploring a bay on the south coast of Tierra del Fuego which they named Nassau Bay.

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.

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Abel Tasman

1642 to 1643

In 1636 Anthony van Diemen, a man of exceptional ability, was appointed Governor-General at Batavia; and he developed plans for further exploration of the land to the south, which had come to be called Southland. A Dutch expedition had already been made to the north to gain information about islands in the region of Japan. Abel Tasman, who had shown ability in the northern voyage, was selected to command the expedition to the south. In 1642 the Heemskirk and Zeehaan were equipped for the expedition, and Franz Jacobzoon Visscher was appointed Pilot Major and chief adviser. The expedition's orders were to call at Mauritius, sail to the south of Southland, and work east to survey the remaining unknown land.

Tasman sailed from Batavia on August 14, 1642, with his two ships. After calling at Mauritius, he sailed southeast and then south-southeast to clear the southern extremity of Southland; then, east by north. On November 24 he encountered the land now known as Tasmania, which he named Anthony van Diemens Land. He explored the southern part and, without discovering that it was an island, continued his course toward the east on December 5. On December 13, a large high land was sighted, and on the 18th the ships anchored within a bay. The inhabitants came out in double canoes, and a favorable opportunity occurring when a boat passed between the two ships, the natives killed three and wounded one member of one of the boat's crew. Tasman referred to the attackers as "murderers" but the attack was no worse than the slaying of unarmed Tongans by the Dutch on the expedition of Le Maire and Schouten. Tasman named the bay Murderers Bay, but the name was later changed to the more appropriate Golden Bay. The land was called Staten Land, later changed to New Zealand. Tasman weighed anchor and sailed up the west coast of the North Island without knowing that he had been in the western entrance to a strait which separated two islands. He named a northern cape, Cape Maria van Diemen and called the islands to the north the Three Kings. Tasman was the European discoverer of New Zealand, but he had such a healthy respect for the inhabitants that he did not land though he needed water badly. His artist has handed down an inaccurate drawing of the Maori double canoes which shows the crews with long hair bunched up into topknots.

Tasman was off the Three Kings on January 5, 1643. On the 19th he picked up the most southerly of the Tongan islands which he named Pylstaart. Two days later he reached Eua, which he named Middelburgh, and Tongatabu, which he named Amsterdam. He sailed on to the Haapai Islands, and the island called Amamocka (Nomuka) by the natives he named Rotterdam. He traded with the people on friendly terms and recorded interesting information concerning them. He passed on through the Fiji islands, encountered Ontong Java and Le Maire's Groene Islands, sailed along the north coast of New Guinea, page 18and reached Batavia on June 15, 1643, after a voyage of ten months.

Tasman was the first navigator to enter the south Pacific from the west. He discovered New Zealand and the southern and middle groups of the Tongan islands, and he was the first to circumnavigate Australia.