Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE GREAT SOUTH LAND
"We looked upon a world unknown."
AT the beginning of the seventeenth century the vast ocean south of America, Africa, and Asia was unknown; there
was a blank space on the old charts where Australia is now marked. As men in the days of
Columbushad guessed at the great country on the far side of the Atlantic Ocean, so now they suspected some large tract
of land to lie south of the equator—the Great South Land they called it vaguely, or Australia, from a word
Austral, meaning south.
Many a Spaniard had left the shores of Peru in search of it, but up to this time with little result. Now that
the Dutch had entered on their
 career of discovery in the East, it was natural that they in their turn should search for that unknown land.
In 1606 a Dutch ship sailed along part of the coast of Australia, but whenever the men landed they were driven
away by wild savages with clubs. They called the headland that marked the limit of their voyage Cape Keer Weer,
or Turnagain, which name it bears to-day. So ship after ship sailed to the coast of Australia under the Dutch
East India Company.
In 1642 an expedition was despatched from Batavia, the headquarters of the Company, under the command of
Captain Tasman, on a voyage of discovery to the Great South Land. Let him tell his own story.
"On August 14, 1642, I sailed from Batavia with two
vessels," he says in his log-book, "and on September 5
anchored at Maurice Island, which has a very fine
harbour. The country is mountainous, but the
covered with green trees. The tops of these mountains are so high that they are lost in the clouds. The finest
ebony in the world grows here. It is a tall, straight tree covered with a green bark, very thick, under which
the wood is as black as pitch and as close as ivory. I left this island on the 8th of October and continued my
course to the south. The weather was foggy, with hard gales and a rolling sea from the south.
"On November 24 I discovered land, which I called
 Van Diemen's Land, after the Governor of Batavia, and on December 1 I anchored in a bay. I heard the sound of
people on the shore, but I saw nobody. I perceived in the sand the mark of wild beasts' feet, resembling those
of a tiger. We did nothing more here than set up a post, on which every one cut his name or his mark, and upon
which I hoisted a flag.
"On December 5 I quitted Van Diemen's Land and steered east. On the 13th I discovered a high mountainous
country. I coasted along the shore and anchored in a fine bay. We found here abundance of inhabitants: they had
very hoarse voices and were very large-made people. They durst not approach the ship nearer than a
stone's-throw, and we often observed them playing on a kind of trumpet. These people were of a colour between
brown and yellow; their hair was long, combed up, and fixed at the top of their heads with a quill. On the 19th
of December these savages began to grow a little bolder, insomuch that at last they ventured on board in order
to trade with one of our vessels. Fearful lest they should surprise the ship, I sent a small boat with seven
men to put the sailors on their guard. My seven men being without arms, were attacked by the savages, who
killed three and forced the other four to swim for their lives: from which we called that place the Bay of
"This country appeared to us rich, fertile, and well
 situated; but as the weather was very foul, and we had at this time a very strong west wind, we continued our
route to the north.
"On January 4, 1643, we sailed to a cape (Cape Maria Van Diemen), where we found the sea rolling in from the
north-east, whence we concluded we had at last found a passage, which gave us no small joy.
"There was in this strait an island, which we called the Three Kings. Here we would have refreshed ourselves,
but as we approached it we perceived on the mountain some thirty persons, men of very large size and each with
a club in his hand. They called to us in a rough strong voice, but we could not understand what they said. They
walked at a very great rate and took prodigious large strides. On January 21 we drew near to the coast of two
islands, which we named Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Upon the island of Rotterdam we found plenty of hogs, fowls,
and other refreshments. The people were good-natured, parting readily with what they had, and did not seem to
know the use of arms."
From here Tasman sailed among many small islands surrounded with shoals and rocks, known as the Friendly
Islands, until he returned to Batavia by the northern coast of New Guinea.
Not only had he discovered New Zealand, but he had sailed right round the vast unknown island of Australia
without knowing it.
 Some years later, when William III. was King of England, a brave sea-captain named Dampier was sent to further
examine the shores of that great south land then known as New Holland. He found the country inhospitable, the
natives "the most unpleasant and worst-featured of any people" he had ever seen.
After this the shores of Australia seem to have been forgotten for nearly a hundred years, when Captain Cook
made his famous discoveries and took possession of the country in the name of England.