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Australian Discovery

"1606 and all that" - early maritime contact with Australia

Much of the information on this page was provided by Peter Reynders of Australia on the Map. AOTM is the history division of the Australasian Hydrographic Society. Its aim is to help Australians to know their early Maritime Contact History better.

There have been many theories about who, from the outside world, first discovered Australia. In any case, aborigines had already been there for tens of thousand of years before that discovery. Collingridge, Major and Stevens are three writers who propose theories regarding the first discovery and ebooks of their accounts can be accessed from the list of books and Articles, further down this page.

The first authenticated landing on Australian soil occurred in March 1606 when Willem Janszoon (a.k.a. Willem Jansz--refer to this note for an explanation of correct usage regarding Dutch surnames) and Jan Lodewijkszoon van Rosingeyn, on board the Duyfken, charted about 300 km of the west coast of Cape York Peninsula in Queensland. An article in the September 2005 Newsletter of Australian National Placenames Survey states that "The Pennefather River--located at 12� 14' South and 141� 43' East on western Cape York Peninsula, Queensland--is one of the most significant historical sites in Australia. It is the place where, in 1606, the Indigenous people of the Australian continent probably first sighted Europeans when the Dutch jacht (or yacht) Duyfken, commanded by Willem Janszoon, made landfall after a voyage from the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). The river is 11 kilometres long and up to about 2 kilometres wide. Its headwaters are fed by Fish Creek in the north and Bumungu Creek in the south. The current north side land tenure is Deed of Grant in Trust managed by Aboriginal trustees appointed by the Queensland Government and assisted by the Mapoon Aboriginal Shire Council. The south side land tenure is Deed of Grant in Trust managed by the Napranum Aboriginal Shire Council." More information about the voyage of the Duyfken is given in the article.

In 2006 Australians celebrated the 400th anniversary of the event.

Percival Serle in his Dictionary of Australian Biography has this to say about Janszoon and his contact with the coast of Australia: [Janszoon] "was born possibly about 1570, probably at Amsterdam, Holland [The Netherlands, to be correct. ed.]. Nothing is known of his early life, and he is first heard of in 1598 as a mate on the Hollandia, one of the vessels in the second Dutch fleet to voyage to the East Indies. He returned to Holland, and on 21 December 1599, having been promoted to the position of first mate, sailed again for the Indies. He made other voyages, but when he left Holland in December 1603 in command of the Duyfken, as part of a large fleet, the understanding was that this vessel was to remain in the east for three years, and endeavour to find new sources of trade. On 18 November 1605 Jansz[oon] left Bantam for Banda. From Banda an east-south-east course was taken to the Kei group, thence to Aru and the coast of New Guinea at De Jong's Point. Turning south the Gulf of Carpentaria was entered and the Australian coast was discovered at the mouth of the Pennefather River, on the Cape York peninsula, probably in March 1606. The course continued to latitude 13.59 when the Duyfken began her return journey. A visit was made to Prince of Wales Island, the New Guinea coast was again approached, and then a turn was made and Banda was reached in May 1606. For the first time some 200 miles of the Australian coastline had been charted, though Jansz[oon] was not aware it was not part of New Guinea."

There were many other contacts from that time until James Cook sailed up the east coast in 1770. These events are detailed in the Landing List set out below. An important "player" in the events set out in the Landing List was the United East-Indies Company, the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC). Peter Reynders has written an article about the VOC which details the reasons for its demise.

Summary of Resources:



(Refer to the Exploration Time Line on the Australian Explorers Page for details of events which
occurred after 1770.)

Year Event
1606 March: Willem Janszoon and Jan Lodewijkszoon (note) van Rosingeyn on board the Duyfken, chart about 300 km of the west coast of Cape York Peninsula in Queensland.
1606 July/August:Louis Vaes De Torres sailed through the Torres Strait in the San Pedro and Los Tres Reyes
1616 October: Dirk Hartog landed the Eendracht on Dirck Hartog Island off the coast of Western Australia and left a pewter plate with his name and the date. He stayed on the island for two days.
1618 May: Haevik Claeszoon (note) sailed the Zeewolf past the North West Cape.

July: Lenaert Jacobszoon (note) sailed the Mauritius past the North West Cape and nameed two waterways.On board was Supercargo Willem Janszoon, former Master of the Duyfken, who wrote to the VOC in Amsterdam about the 'discovery' of an island at the west coast during this yoyage. Willem Janszoon therefore arrived in Australian waters a second time (4th Jan '18).

1619 July: Frederik De Houtman and J Dedel land in the Swan River region and on the Albrohos and Rottnest Islands in the Dordrecht and the Amsterdam.
1622 The crew of the Leeuwin mapped the south coast of Western Australia noting that it curved eastwards.
1622 Publication of the Map of the Pacific--the oldest existing map showing any part of Australia - compiled by VOC cartographer Hessel Gerritszoon (note) and including the information gathered by Janszoon in 1606.
1622 The Tryall is wrecked on the West Australian Coast at Tryall Rocks--the first known European wreck on the Australian coastline. 46 people flee in two small vessels, including English Captain John Brookes, and a further 93 are left to perish.
1623 January: J Carstenszoon (note) and W van Coolsteerdt landed the Pera and the Arnhem on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula and sailed on to what is now Arnhemland.
1623 Claes Hermanszoon landed the Leijden south of Dirck Hartog Island and Australia's first European baby was born here. The Leijden returned to the west coast 1626.
1626 Daniel Cock sailed the Leijden along the coastline between Zuytdorp Cliffs and Dirck Hartog Island but did not land.
1627 Commander Peter Nuyts and Skipper Francois Thijssen in t Gulden Zeepaert charted the south coast of Australia as far as Fowler's Bay--the first map of the south coast and the South Australian coast.
1627 The Governor General of the Dutch East India Company, Jan P Coen, almost collideed with the Albrohos reefs in Western Australia in the vessels Galias, Utrecht and Texel and recommended making a map of the continent for the VOC.
1627 J van Roosenburgh sailed in 't Wapen Van Hoorn and made revisions to the Endracht's map of the Dirck Hartog Island area.
1628 Gerrit Frederikszoon (note) De Witt sailed the Vianen along the North West Coast and mapped 370 kilometres of the West Australian coastline.
1629 June: Fransisco Pelsaert wrecked the Batavia on the De Houtman Abrolhos Islands and the mutiny of the Batavia followed. After sailing north for help. Fransisco Pelsaert returned in the ship Sardam and rescued the survivors of the Batavia mutiny
1629 November: Wouter Loos and Jan Pelgrom De Bye--two of the mutineers of the Batavia mutiny--were taken in a small boat to the mouth of the Hutt River on the mainland and were left with equipment, but to fend for themselves, as punishment for their role in the mutiny. First recorded immigrants to Australia.
1635 Wijbrandt Geleynszoon (note) De Jongh in the Amsterdam charted the Western Australian coast around a latitude of 25 degrees S.
1636 G.T. Pool and Piet Pieterszoon (note) charted the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Klein Amsterdam and the Wesel.
1642 Abel Janszoon Tasman (note) first to circumnavigate Australia, claimed Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) for Holland and sailed across to become the first to chart part of New Zealand in the Heemskerk and the Zeehaen.
1644 Abel Janszoon Tasman (note) with the vessels Limmen, Zeemeeuw and Braq charted 481 km of the North Australian coast, but did not find the entrance to Torres Strait.
1646 Sir Robert Dudley published the first map by an Englishman (in Latin) including part of the Australian coastline.
1648 Jan Janszoon (note) Zeeuw mapped the Australian coastline in the Leeuwerik approximately 25-26 degrees S.
1656 28 April: Pieter Albertszoon's (note) De Vergulde Draeck was wrecked around 100 kms north of Perth and 68 sailors initially stranded on the coast were never seen again despite several subsequent VOC search parties .
1658 Samuel Volckersen sailed the De Waekende Boey and the Emmeloort in search of the De Vergulde Draeck crew and landed on both the mainland and Rottnest Island. His artist made the first European pictorials of Australia
1658 Abraham Leeman and thirteen others, having been abandoned by Volckersen on the Green Islets off the central west coast of Western Australia, sailed back to Java in a small boat with almost no food or water--only four survived the ordeal.
1658 Jacob Pieterszoon (note) Peereboom sailed the Elburgh in the Cape Leeuwin region and Geographe Bay. He saw Aborigines, their huts and tools.
1678 Jan van der Wall charted the North West coast from North West Cape to Roebuck Bay in the De Vliegende Zwaan.
1681 Captain Daniel sailed the London around the northern part of the De Houtman Abrolhos Islands and made the first description of part of Australia in English and the first map of part of Australia in English.
1687 Captain, later Admiral, Duquesne-Guitton sailed with the L'Oiseau en route from Cape of Good Hope taking a French Ambassdor, Claude Ceberet, to set up an Embassy in the Kingdom of Siam, sighted the WA coast and sailed close near the Swan River on the 4th of August. The first recorded French contact with Australia.
1688 Captain Read and William Dampier sailed the Cygnet into King Sound or Collier Bay in Western Australia and whilst repairing their ship, stayed about two months.
1694 The Ridderschap van Holland was possibly shipwrecked on the Western Australian coast, or could have been taken by pirates. 326 people went missing, including Skipper Dirck de Lange and de Hon. James Couper.
1696-1697 Looking for the Ridderschap van Holland, Willem De Vlamingh charted the Perth region with the vessels Geelvinck, Nijptang and Weseltje. He travelled 80 kms inland on the Swan River with ship's artist Victorszoon (note) making pictorials of the coast. De Vlamingh replaced Hartog's pewter plate and then charted Christmas Island on his return trip.
1699 6 Aug: William Dampier in the Roebuck, named Shark Bay on the Western Australian Coast after seeing many sharks. Also landed on Dirck Hartog Island. Attacked by locals.
1704-1705 Maarten Van Delft, Andries Rooseboom, and Pieter Hendrikszoon (note) charted the coast of Arnhem Land in the Nieuw Holland, the Waijer, and the Vosschenbosch and recorded extensive contacts with locals.
1712 The Zuytdorp was wrecked on the West Australian coast, 60 kms north of the mouth of the Murchison River. After some time, the survivors moved north, never to be seen again by Europeans. In 1927 the survivors' campsite on the river was discovered. Coins helped identify the wreck.
1727 June: Jan Steyns' Zeewijk was wrecked on the Houtman Abrolhos. His crew built a longboat--the Sloepie --the first European sailing vessel built in Australia. They reached Batavia in it.
1756 J E Gonzal and L L van Asschens sailed the Rijder and the Buijs around the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape Keer Weer and recorded extensive contact with locals.
1768 Louis Antoine de Bougainville sailed the Boudeuse and Etoile and was stopped 100 kms from the Australian Coast by the Great Barrier Reef. On board was Jeanne Baré, probably the first woman to circumnavigate the world.
1770 James Cook landed at Botany Bay and took possession for England. Mapped part of the coastline.


Updated 8 April 2014