Return to VOC Historical Society home page
Dirck Hartogh and his discovery of
Dirck Hartogh was born in 1580. He was a private merchant before joining the Amsterdam chamber of the VOC (United Dutch East Indies Company).
On 26 October 1616 Captain Dirck Hartogh set foot on what is now known as Dirk Hartog Island, just North of Shark Bay in Western Australia. It was the second recorded landing of a European on Australian soil. The first was Willem Janszoon in the VOC ship Duyfken in 1606. Hartogh's ship was the Eendracht, a 200 tonne vessel with 32 guns and a crew of 200, and it was on the way to the East Indies (now called Indonesia) from the Netherlands..
He recorded his position, now called "Cape
Inscription", and left a pewter plate nailed to a post
standing upright in a
rock cleft on top of the cliff, inscribed with the details of the date, ship and crew.
Hartogh had hit upon WA’s coast because his Company - Dutch East India Company or VOC - had ordered all their ships to adopt a new and faster route to the Spice Islands in the East Indies. A Captain Brouwer pioneered the route in 1610. The ships were to sail in an easterly direction from the Cape of Good Hope for “1000 mijlen” (over 7,000 kms) - using the “Roaring Forties” - and then turn north, skirting the “Southland” on their way to the East Indies. This route shortened the journey from Europe by 6 months.
(VOC stands for Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (United East India Company). It was formed in the Netherlands in 1602 with the aim of sending ships to East Asia to buy pepper, cinnamon and other spices for trade in Europe.)
Hartogh sailed North up the coast charting the shore line to North West
Cape thereby starting the process of ‘unveiling’ the mysterious coast of a
new land. He called that part of the Southland's coast "t'Landt van
d'Eendracht" or 'Eendracht's Land".
Dirck Hartogh's discovery had a major effect on world mapping and soon afterwards "t'Landt van Eendracht" started to appear on world maps, replacing the names for the mythical southern continent from Terra Australis, Nova Hollandia or New Holland and South Land. During the rest of the 17th century most of the west, south, and north coasts of Australia was mapped by Dutch navigators of the V.O.C. thereby gradually unveiling the Western Australian coastline to the world's cartographers.
Dirck Hartogh's plate was recovered by Willern de Vlamingh in 1697 during his voyage of discovery along the coast of Western Australia between the Swan River and North West Cape. Vlamingh in turn left a pewter plate inscribed with a copy of Dirck Hartogh's inscription, together with a record of his own visit, and nailed it to a post of cypress pine that he had collected at Rottnest Island. The post was placed in the same rock cleft on top of the cliff.
The plate left by Willern de Vlamingh was in turn found in 1801 by members of Nicolas Baudin's French expedition. Baron Emanuel Hamelin, the skipper of the Naturaliste, decided that it would be sacrilege to remove the plate from the place where it had remained for more than a century. Consequently he nailed the plate to a new post, again putting it in place in the rock cleft at the top of the cliff.
Vlamingh's plate remained at Cape Inscription for only another 17 years. Louis de Freycinet, who had been one of Hamelin's junior officers, had been dismayed by his commander's decision to leave the plate, believing that its proper place was in a French museum. Consequently, after he had gained command of his own ship, he returned to Cape Inscription in 1818, recovered the plate, and took it to Paris. The famous plate was eventually returned to Australia by the French Government, and is now a treasured item in the collection of the WA Maritime Museum. Baron Hamelin left his own inscription on a piece of lead sheet, nailed to a post on a prominent headland elsewhere on the island, without giving a precise description of its location. That lead plate has remained undiscovered since then, and may well lie buried below sand at a headland on Dirk Hartog Island.