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A Book of Discovery by  M. B. Synge

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EARLY DISCOVERERS OF AUSTRALIA

[296] WHILE the French and English were feverishly seeking a way to the East, either by the North Pole or by way of America, the Dutch were busy discovering a new land in the Southern Seas.

And as we have seen America emerging from the mist of ages in the sixteenth century, so now in the seventeenth we have the great Island Continent of Australia mysteriously appearing bit by bit out of the yet little-known Sea of the South. There is little doubt that both Portuguese and Spanish had touched on the western coast early in the sixteenth century, but gave no information about it beyond sketching certain rough and undefined patches of land and calling it Terra Australis in their early maps; no one seems to have thought this mysterious land of much importance. The maritime nations of that period carefully concealed their knowledge from one another. The proud Spaniard hated his Portuguese neighbour as a formidable rival in the race for wealth and fame, and the Dutchman, who now comes on the scene, was regarded by both as a natural enemy by land or sea.

Magellan in 1520 discovered that the Terra Australis was not joined to South America, as the old maps had laid down; and we find Frobisher remarking in 1578 that "Terra Australis seemeth to be a great, firm land, lying [297] under and about the South Pole, not thoroughly discovered. It is known at the south side of the Strait of Magellan and is called Terra del Fuego. It is thought this south land about the pole Antarctic is far bigger than the north land about the pole Arctic; but whether it be so or not, we have no certain knowledge, for we have no particular description thereof, as we have of the land about the North Pole."


[Illustration]

AN EARLY MAP OF 'TERRA AUSTRALIS,' CALLED 'JAVA LA GRANDE' IN ITS SUPPOSED EASTER PART.
FROM THE 'DAUPHIN' MAP OF 1546. THERE WAS THEN SUPPOSED TO BE A GREAT MAINLAND OF JAVA, SEPARATED FROM THE ISLAND OF 'JAVA MINOR' BY A NARROW STRAIT. SEE THE COPY OF THE WHOLE OF THIS MAP IN COLOUR, WHERE IT WILL BE SEEN THAT THE 'TERRA AUSTRALIS' WAS SUPPOSED TO STRETCH FROM EAST TO WEST.

And even one hundred years later the mystery was not cleared up. "This land about the straits is not perfectly discovered whether it be continent or islands. [298] Some take it for continent, esteeming that Terra Australis or the Southern Continent may for the largeness thereof take a first place in the division of the whole world."

The Spaniards were still masters of the sea, when one Lieutenant Torres first sailed through the strait dividing Australia from New Guinea, already discovered in 1527. As second in command, he had sailed from America under a Spaniard, De Quiros, in 1605, and in the Pacific they had come across several island groups. Among others they sighted the island group now known as the New Hebrides. Quiros supposed that this was the continent for which he was searching, and gave it the name of "Terra Australis del Espirito Santo." And then a curious thing happened. "At one hour past midnight," relates Torres in his account of the voyage, "the Capitana  (Quiros' ship) departed without any notice given us and without making any signal."

After waiting for many days, Torres at last set sail, and, having discovered that the supposed land was only an island, he made his way along the dangerous coast of New Guinea to Manila, thus passing through the straits that were afterwards named after him, and unconsciously passing almost within sight of the very continent for which he was searching.

This was the end of Spanish enterprise for the present. The rivals for sea-power in the seventeenth century were England and Holland. Both had recently started East India Companies, both were keen to take a large part in East Indian trade and to command the sea. For a time the Dutch had it all their own way; they devoted themselves to founding settlements in the East Indies, ever hoping to discover new islands in the South Seas as possible trade centres. Scientific discovery held little interest for them.

As early as 1606 a Dutch ship—the little Sun—had [299] been dispatched from the Moluccas to discover more about the land called by the Spaniards New Guinea, because of its resemblance to the West African coast of Guinea. But the crews were greeted with a shower of arrows as they attempted a landing, and with nine of their party killed, they returned disheartened.

A more ambitious expedition was fitted out in 1617 by private adventurers, and two ships—the Unity  and the Horn—sailed from the Texel under the command of a rich Amsterdam merchant named Isaac Le Maire and a clever navigator, Cornelius Schouten of Horn. Having been provided with an English gunner and carpenter, the ships were steered boldly across the Atlantic. Hitherto the object of the expedition had been kept a secret, but on crossing the line the crews were informed that they were bound for the Terra Australis del Espirito Santo of Quiros. The men had never heard of the country before, and we are told they wrote the name in their caps in order to remember it. By midwinter they had reached the eastern entrance of the Straits of Magellan, through which many a ship had passed since the days of Magellan, some hundred years before this. Unfortunately, while undergoing some necessary repairs here, the little Horn  caught fire and was burnt out, the crews all having to crowd on to the Unity. Instead of going through the strait they sailed south and discovered Staaten Land, which they thought might be a part of the southern continent for which they were seeking. We now know it to be an island, whose heights are covered with perpetual snow. It was named by Schouten after the Staaten or States-General of Holland. Passing through the strait which divided the newly discovered land from the Terra del Fuego (called later the Straits of Le Maire after its discoverer), the Dutchmen found a great sea full of whales and monsters innumerable. Sea-mews [300] larger than swans, with wings stretching six feet across, fled screaming round the ship. The wind was against them, but after endless tacking they reached the southern extremity of land, which Schouten named after his native town and the little burnt ship—Horn—and as Cape Horn it is known to-day.

But the explorers never reached the Terra Australis. Their little ship could do no more, and they sailed to Java to repair.

Many a name on the Australian map to-day testifies to Dutch enterprise about this time. In 1616, Captain Dirck Hartog of Amsterdam discovered the island that bears his name off the coast of Western Australia. A few years later the captain of a Dutch ship called the Lewin or Lioness  touched the south-west extremity of the continent, calling that point Cape Lewin. Again a few years and we find Captain Nuyts giving his name to a part of the southern coast, though the discovery seems to have been accidental. In 1628, Carpentaria received its name from Carpenter, a governor of the East India Company. Now, one day a ship from Carpenter's Land returned laden with gold and spice; and though certain men had their suspicions that these riches had been fished out of some large ship wrecked upon the inhospitable coast, yet a little fleet of eleven ships was at once dispatched to reconnoitre further. Captain Pelsart commanded the Batavia, which in a great storm was separated from the other ships and driven alone on to the shoals marked as the Abrolhos (a Portuguese word meaning "Open your eyes," implying a sharp lookout for dangerous reefs) on the west coast of Australia. It was night when the ship struck, and Captain Pelsart was sick in bed. He ran hastily on to the deck. The moon shone bright. The sails were up. The sea appeared to be covered with white foam. Captain Pelsart [301] charged the master with the loss of the ship, and asked him "in what part of the world he thought they were."


[Illustration]

THE WRECK OF CAPTAIN PELSART'S SHIP THE BATAVIA ON THE COAST OF NEW HOLLAND, 1644.

"God only knows that," replied the master, adding that the ship was fast on a bank hitherto undiscovered. Suddenly a dreadful storm of wind and rain arose, and, being surrounded with rocks and shoals, the ship was constantly striking. "The women, children, and sick people were out of their wits with fear," so they decided to land these on an island for "their cries and noise served only to disturb them." The landing was extremely difficult owing to the rocky coast, where the waves were dashing high. When the weather had moderated a bit, Captain Pelsart took the ship and went in search of water, thereby exploring a good deal of coast, which, he remarked, "resembled the country near Dover." But his exploration amounted to little, and the account of his adventures is mostly taken up with an account of the disasters that befell the miserable party left on the rock-bound islands of Abrolhos—conspiracies, mutinies, and plots. His was only one of many adventures on this unknown and inhospitable coast, which about this time, 1644, began to take the name of New Holland.


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