Dirk Hartog 1616-2016

Dirk Hartog 1616-2016
Talks / Lecture

Recording date: 
31 October 2016

To mark the 400th anniversary of the Hartog voyage, Maps Curator Martin Woods and author Allen Mawer revisit the experiences of the Hartog expedition, and the events that followed.

Transcript

Transcript of ‘Dirk Hartog 1616-2016’
Speakers: Margy Burn (MB), Allen Mawer (AM), Martin Woods (MW)
Location: National Library of Australia
Date: 31/10/2016 

MB:     Good afternoon, I’m Margy Burn and I’m the Assistant Director General responsible for the Australian collections and for reader services here at the Library and a colleague of Martin’s so it’s my pleasure to welcome you to this afternoon’s talk from Martin Woods and Allen Mawer. As we begin I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land and thank elders past and present for caring for the land that we are now privileged to call home. 

Last week on 25 October was the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Dutch explorer, Dirk Hartog, on a windswept island on the west coast of what we now know as Australia and of course Hartog is famous for leaving behind an inscribed pewter dish, the earliest record of European landfall in Australia. As we were waiting to come in Allen reminded me of a dear friend, the late Rupert Gerritsen, still much missed in the Library and as Allen remarked if Rupert were still alive we probably would be having a week to celebrate Hartog, not just this afternoon, such was Rupert’s personal interest in Dutch navigation amongst ... and discovery amongst many other things so it is good to remember Rupert who was a great friend to the Library. 

Allen is a historian known for his strong interest in maritime history and exploration, in particular, Ahab’s Trade, his history of South Sea whaling, was I think the first time I came across Allen as an author and that book was shortlisted for the New South Wales and Queensland Premier’s History Prizes. South by Northwest is a history of the search for the magnetic poles, Incognita on the invention and discovery of Terra Australis. The book about the clipper ship, Walter Hood, convict ship wrecks but he’s also written on the local history of Canberra and a biography of the wild colonial boy. Allen is a contributor to the Australian Dictionary of Biography and a reviewer of maritime books for the Times Literary Supplement and he’s also recently edited his father’s wartime journal which was published as Diary of a Spitfire Pilot. Allen is a Petherick reader and into the Library every day, I should think, and a great advocate and supporter of the Library. 

Dr Martin Woods is well-known in the Library as the Curator of Maps, a position he’s held since 2005 although he’s currently taking a break from maps and working in heading up Preservation Services. Martin is President of the Australian and New Zealand Map Society and was cocurator of the wonderful exhibition, Mapping our World which many of you will have visited which brought so many fantastic cartographic treasures to Canberra. And Martin in his spare time has just published Where Are Our Boys? How news maps won the Great War which is a fantastic book published by NLA Publishing if you haven’t seen it. So now please join in ... me in welcoming Allen and Martin. 

[Applause] 

AM:     Thank you, Margy. In preparing for this talk I revisited a book I wrote a few years ago - Incognita (still available in the National Library bookshop at 15% discount for Friends) to see what I’d said about Hartog, trying to be consistent which is what we historians are supposed to be. Now I didn’t say much but what I did say was the first skipper to underestimate his longitude in a big way was Dirk Hartog of the Eendracht. In 1616 he ran across the Indian Ocean to 113 degrees east finishing up against an extensive coastline. He was able to make a safe landing and left an inscribed pewter plate recording his mistake. The two important words in that are ‘underestimate’ and ‘mistake’ and I thought I’d revisit and amplify what I’d written because the approach has the merit of allowing assessment of Hartog’s contribution against those of others, thereby putting him in perspective. There’ll be a lot about navigation in this talk and thereby if you feel a point needs amplification please feel free to speak up but could you save more general questions for the end. 

Let’s start. Western Australia has an understandable pride in Hartog. His plate in particular is unambiguous evidence of landing. The plate is one of Australia’s foundation documents and such a key piece of evidence that before its relocation in an archive in the 19th century George Collingridge, an early Australian cartographer and historian, arguing Portuguese priority, disputed that the Dutch were here first. He described Hartog’s landing as an ‘alleged discovery’. But even with the plate again on display, and it is accessible on the net almost anywhere in the world, that claimed priority is challengeable. 

This chart is of the west coast of Cape York, although Willem Jansz took it for an extension of New Guinea. There is no direct evidence that he landed but the 1606 landfall on his chart is here, is marked ‘river with bush’ - wood and water, the mariner’s first thought on making land. It’s very hard to believe therefore that he didn’t go ashore there at the Pennefather River. He might even have left a plate. It was common practice and it might still be there, buried after falling from a long since rotted post, which was the state in which Vlamingh found Hartog’s plate 80 years on. Vlamingh saved the plate, but there was no one around to save Jansz’s. This chart records the Dutch discoveries up to 1622. Now although the entire northern section is named for Hartog’s ship, the Eendracht, there had been in fact two additional sightings north of Cape Inscription including two landings within 21 months of Hartog’s visit and we’ll return to one of those later. 

Enough of debating priority between Dutchmen. Let’s look at the conditions that shaped the Indian Ocean trading voyages and ultimately brought Hartog to Australia. For centuries Indians and Arabs had traded from Africa to India and on to China riding the southwest monsoon. After rounding the Cape of Good Hope Vasco da Gama was able to take advantage of local knowledge. In Malindi he sought a pilot. He engaged a Gujerati, Kanji Malam, who guided the Portuguese fleet from Malindi, near Mombasa, to Calicut in 26 days. Did this instil a respect and a willingness to accept local advice? Not on your life. 

Wait until December and the northeast monsoon for going back, da Gama was told, but he was impatient to report his success. Sailing against the wind, return to Africa took him 132 days - five times as long as outbound. This Japanese map is the only one I could find that shows him tacking against the wind. The zigzag line tells the story. A sailing vessel goes only where wind and weather, tide and current allow. A modern fore and aft rig yacht can sail as close as 30 degrees to the wind but for Gama’s ships it was more like 60 degrees. Any closer is a no-go zone. With the wind contrary, he was going back and forth, back and forth with very little advance. Among other disadvantages constant tacking wore out the crew. In a blow under reduced canvas and with the wind pushing sideways against the hull you could actually be going backwards. That might be described as a course made bad. And if the wind was blowing onshore you were likely to be wrecked. But waiting for the right monsoon meant months of delay. 

Enter the Dutch. The Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie felt vulnerable to Portuguese interference along the east African coast. Soon they adopted a more direct cross Ocean route to Ceylon and Java but they still had to tolerate delays, delays attendant on the annual monsoon cycle. If you had to wait for the monsoon you might wait three months. Time was money and when Hendrick Brouwer, Governor General of the Indies, suggested a quicker route to the Dutch East India Company they listened. 

Brouwer noted that strong westerlies could be found anywhere south of 36 degrees after rounding the Cape of Good Hope. He reasoned that if trade winds prevailed in the central Indian Ocean as they did in the Atlantic it should be possible to combine use of the two systems and sail from the Cape at any time of year, outflanking the winter monsoon, the contrary monsoon. And in 1610 her persuaded the company to make the experiment. His voyage was so quick that he is said to be the inspiration for the legend of the Flying Dutchman, whose given name in many versions of the story is also Hendrick. The advantages of the route were undeniable. One sailed much further but the reliability and strength of the westerlies more than made up for the extra distance. The solid blue line here is Brouwer’s route. The dotted blue line indicates that it can also be used for Ceylon if you have missed the southwest monsoon. In other words if the southwest monsoon is with you it’s still a quicker route but you can avoid it if you have to. 

Note that in the little table at the top of this slide that in the Indies the Dutch were initially buyers rather than traders. There’s only one thing in the selling column – silver - and a lot in the buying column. Brouwer’s route was not mandated until 1617 but for some years before that the company’s skippers had been using it. It required dropping down from the Cape of Good Hope until you found a westerly wind which could be anywhere south of 36 degrees. In those latitudes you were to run the longitude down and when at least a thousand Dutch miles, that’s 4,000 nautical miles west of the Cape, you should edge north into the southeast trade wind. Steering due north from there will take you directly to Sunda Strait but only if you have a good idea of your longitude. And if you don’t how would you know if you’d sailed a thousand miles? 

With this simple instrument, the astrolabe, and others like the quadrant a seasoned mariner could find latitude to within a fraction of a degree. I always trust Dutch latitudes. Not so longitude. The thousand mile turn was problematical because the means of recording progress was imprecise. One strategy to reduce the risk of error was latitude sailing. While sailing east along a parallel of latitude the steersman did not have to worry about the errors attendant on changes of course and progress could be roughly measured by the technique called dead reckoning. I know it sounds sinister but in fact this is just an English translation. All mariners use it: it just means deduced reckoning. It involves measuring progress along the compass course from your last plotted point without external reference. To use this instrument, the log line, you throw the triangular chip overboard and let it pull out the knotted line. You count out how many knots pass over the rail before your sandglass timer runs out. The sandglass timer was typically 15 or 30 seconds. That gave you a distance run over time which could then be pricked on the chart in the direction of your compass course. On a long voyage cumulative error could be substantial. Magellan’s pilot underestimated the width of the Pacific by a third. Confident of the skills of its seamen even with such limited navigational aids the VOC was prepared to send whole fleets of Indiamen into all but unknown regions. 

The company workhorse was the retourship, typically 700 tonnes. There are modern replicas. You will recall the list of Dutch eastern imports and the solitary export, silver. Without heavier freight the Eendracht had to go out in ballast otherwise she would ride too high for safety like the Batavia here. And that’s interesting because you might recall one of the things that the Batavia was taking out as ballast was a portico or entrance for one of the gates of Jakarta. But for the Eendracht the only freight recorded was 10 chests each containing the equivalent of 1,000 pieces of eight. Pirate money, all up worth about $2m Australian in present day values. A few items of exotica like ivory from the Cape would find a market in the east but silver was the main commodity demanded of the Dutch. This silver was consigned to Bantam in Java so Hartog was sailing for Sunda Strait. 

It was as islands that a VOC official reported Hartog’s discovery to Amsterdam. Hartog had overshot the turnoff to Sunda but he hadn’t been wrecked so why not proceed on the southeast trades to Bantam as recommended by Brouwer? And why did he end up in Makassa? We’ll come to that. Hartog sailed the unknown coast from 28 to 22 degrees south but his only known landing was at Shark Bay in 25 degrees. Now the important thing about the overshoot is, this is what he should have done and this is what the overshot led him to do. And please don’t worry about the portrait of Hartog on this slide. If you go onto Google it will tell you that’s Hartog but other pages on Google will tell you it’s Tasman. It’s probably neither of them. 

These posts are on Cape Inscription. They’re replicas and they mark the place where Hartog recorded his visit. Now apart from the inscription on the plate that’s about all we know of his visit. But soon thereafter another accidental visit further north provided better information about how he came to be there. This second visitor was Haevick Claasen Van Hillegom in the Zeewolf. From 21 degrees and 15 minutes south, 20 to 24 nautical miles offshore, a long distance, he saw a low-lying coast in 21 degrees, 20 minutes south and he fumed that it was not on his chart. 

He was in the vicinity of Robe River. He noted higher mountainous land to the south, which was possibly the range on North West Cape, and to the north, possibly Stewart Peak which is 246m high. He couldn't get closer without ‘great inconvenience’ because of the offshore wind. He asked his officers what course they should steer for Sunda. Northeast by north, said the upper steersman; northeast, said the lower steersman. I think it’s north northeast, said van Hillegom. Each had calculated longitude independently and they were all wrong. The captain’s pick took them to Lombok. Later he sheepishly explained that they should have steered west of north, not east of it. Hillegom was aggrieved. He had done everything right. He’d sailed east of the island shown on his charts, St Paul in 38 degrees south. It’s a lovely waypoint. It was discovered by Magellan’s expedition trying to get home. And a waypoint is useful because if you’ve got a fixed point you’ve got some idea about how far you’ve come. 

The problem with it was that his charts differed about how far St Paul was from the Cape. His plane chart said it was 860 mijlen which was close to the designated turn point. His variable latitude chart, one on Mercator’s projection - the one he relied on to show the compass course that would take him directly from point A to point B - said 700 mijlen which was well short. This low coast he had come upon would be another good waypoint if distances sailed could be known with any certainty. And this slide shows the tool that was provided to help skippers do it. To read this ready reckoner you first consulted the log for distance sailed then read your latitude so if you’d sailed 20 mijlen in 38 degrees south that was 1 degree, 42 minutes of longitude. Unfortunately it was no further help to you once you had made the turn for Sunda because you were no longer sailing along a parallel of latitude so again you’re in trouble. Still, the unexpected landfalls of Hartog and van Hillegonm had not been hazardous because both had encountered offshore winds at the point they encountered the coast. That had changed dramatically for Hartog as he made his way north. 

At the beginning of November, shortly after leaving Shark Bay, Hartog encountered the northwest monsoon, bringer of the wet to northern Australia. It is a bit of a sport, sometimes called the Australian monsoon. It comes at the time when the main monsoon is blowing from the northeast. Unlike Brouwer’s friendly trade wind Hartog found that this summer monsoon was dead contrary for passage to Sunda Strait. His ship could not make it, which is why he went to Makassar. He was supposed to be going to Java, he could only make it to Makassar. That was the most westerly point he could make upwind. 

Hillegom had arrived on the coast in winter. The winds had reversed direction and it was only uncertainty about his longitude that prevented him from sailing direct to Sunda or indeed to wherever in the archipelago he chose, with the wind behind him. His favourable experience recommended his discovery to the company and a waypoint for Sunda but only for ships leaving the Cape between March and September. At all other times the Brouwer route was followed. The amended instructions marking this departure remained in force for the next 170 years. 

In the course of two centuries more than a hundred VOC ships encountered the Australian coast by accident or design. The company lost four of them including, notoriously, the Batavia. Only one appears to have been due to stress of weather; the others paid the penalty for failing to keep an adequate lookout when approaching a poorly located but inevitable shore. I mean they knew it was there. 

Hartog was a casualty too. The company frowned on his dilatory voyage and the loss of 15 men killed by the locals at Makassar. They did not employ him again after the return voyage to the Netherlands, but those whose business it was to improve the art of navigation could see that he had opened up new possibilities. He had by accident found a route to China that outflanked the northeast monsoon. The chart on this slide was published in a pilot book of 1886 during the last decades of commercial sail. The label says ‘to China, northeast monsoon’, up the Australian coast and through Sarpi Strait between Sumbawa and Flores to Makassar. 

Generations of mariners therefore had cause to be grateful to Hartog for time saved and wear and tear avoided when making a voyage to China in the northern winter. But it’s not for his skills as a navigator that he’s remembered. His fame comes down to a point of etiquette – leaving his plate as a calling card - and in that there should be a message to us all. Thank you very much. 

[Applause] 

MW:    Good afternoon, everyone. My brief was to not take about anything Allen talked about so I’ll try, it’s not easy. And I ha ... just to confirm that I have taken a different tack, I will repeat a few things that Allen mentioned but I’ve got a different take on them too and as Margie said at the start, this year marks the 400th anniversary or the quadricentenary as it’s sometimes called of the first confirmed European arrival in Western Australia.

Hartog is of course a founding name for Western Australia, part of the Western Australian story. He remains an enigma at the same time, more known for being the first to make contact than anything else. Hopefully this year will address some of those gaps in our knowledge of Hartog. The other thing that’s been variable about Hartog is his status as an explorer. As Allen and others have pointed out to me Dirk Hartog wasn’t even included in the Australian Dictionary of Biography in the 1960s when it was first published. That surprised me. He was finally added as a supplementary entry in the 1980s when we learnt a little bit more. But what I’d like to do is offer an account of what we think we know about Hartog and what we do know and how this has changed over the years and as you may know part of the problem with Hartog is that we don’t have the all-important logbook, the journal of his voyage. They can be dry things, logs, but they do recall the when, the where and a little of the why. And of course we do have Hartog’s plate, just arrived in the country today, I believe, and according to the news reports of which more later. 

So what are the basics? On the 25th of October Hartog and his crew landed on the northern tip of the island now named Dirk Hartog in Shark Bay. According to some historians this seemingly mundane event has earned Hartog much deserved prominence in the legacy of seafaring history and in earlier European history of Australia and this year, a festival. In Western Australia this year the Hartog story generated a festival of significant proportions, the opening ceremony drew in a large crowd to the small coastal town of Denham near the Francois Peron National Park. And a full program of events, re-enactments, interpretive panels, souvenirs, art works, family history discussions, music and much more. 

Leading up to 2016 the WA Museum developed a VOC website and another website introduced readers to the story of the Dutch pewter plates left by Hartog and by de Vlamingh. Just a taste of the websites, here we are. Distant and hard to get to these ... Cape Inscription is the point named in recognition of these markers. Replica copies of Hartog’s and Vlamingh’s pewter plates were manufactured and ceremoniously placed there and we have a replica of de Vlamingh’s plate on display in the Treasures Gallery. This week is scheduled the visit of King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima with a trade mission. As our Prime Minister says, to highlight the close relationship between Austalia and the Netherlands and the strength of our cultural and historical ties. Through the year a Dutch replica ship, the Duyfken ... admittedly not the Eendracht, Hartog’s ship ... conducted an educational tour from Bunbury to Denham providing regional areas along the way with a rare chance to visit the ship. A stamp was released to commemorate Hartog along with a limited edition medallion replica of his pewter dish. Such anniversaries as this are also opportunities for learning and in addition to the kit that the National Library has recently produced the History and Science Teachers’ Associations of WA produced resources relating to Hartog. Though the Hartog effect has been less obvious as it rippled across the continent there have been events in other parts of Australia. 

So reflecting on what I knew about that wasn’t going to overlap with anything that Allen said led me to a discovery of my own. Now it wasn’t Hartog’s journal, I have to tell you. I’m almost ashamed to show you this pho ... anyway I wanted to understand where my own Hartogian recollections came from so I sifted the remnants of my own meagre archive. Once thought lost this prized document which survived the great heave-ho of ’89 fell open on a page on early Australian explorers. Please don’t critique poor young Woods too much, his 11-year left-handed copperplate scrawl. He and his classmates took dictation from their teacher, a Mrs Steenvorde, coincidentally of southern Dutch parentage. And as I recall these lessons, they were dictation, they were not a seminar so do not step out of line. And of course we did a map. Yes, exactly. 

We would have been too afraid to ask questions but it got me to wondering how the determination to get some of the facts ... but not necessarily all the right ones into the memory have led to some interesting and at times rather odd beliefs and truths about Hartog over the years. I wondered what I might find in textbooks past and present about Hartog and how much of it stands up and I came up with the following list. Test at the end. This is Hartogia and I’ll attempt to respond to some of these in the remainder of the time allowed. 

The first one probably needs no comment. The second one is possibly wrong on two counts. The third one may be wrong for the right reasons, the pre-Dutch theory. Hartog landed on Hartog’s Island. Well I hate to be a pedant but he didn’t and I did discover at one point that it wasn't named by him but after himself and the Aboriginal language word, Wirawana, is now applied to the place although so far I haven’t been able to determine a meaning that’s able to be disseminated. That he followed the VOC course ... Allen’s covered that, I think ... but the final one is I think the one of most interest and that is that he deliberately changed course to explore the south land or worked out a plan with his colleague, Isaac Le Maire. So we’ll get back to that particular issue in a moment. 

So what do we know about Hartog and is he as Western Australian historian, Wendy Duivenvoorde, has recently claimed a key figure in the history of exploration? I think that’s for people to judge over time but in considering if Hartog set out to explore the south land rather than lose his way it’s worth remembering that the Dutch notions around the south land were influenced by the wealth being created in Asia and southeast Asia especially in the spiced islands. When the Dutch hit upon the trade winds from Africa to the east the first voyages along a new route commenced, though the Brouwer route as it was called after its discoverer, wasn't codified as Allen pointed out until a year after Hartog’s voyage. 

So we see a lot of Dutch contact by accident with the Western Australian coast. If you can read those, barely, this is from Michael Pearson’s book which outlies just about all the contact with the Australian land mass from earliest European days to more recently. Those with VOC symbols are contacts with the Western Australian coast. Contacts after Hartog were frequent and for quite some time but they ... once the novelty wore off, let’s just say, of running into the Australian coast, this, the map that you can see on the right-hand side on the easel, was included on any Dutch map as a hazard. Hartog’s own visit lasted somewhat less than three days, from October 25 to 27. No record survived from the voyage and only a few that commenced directly afterwards ... that commented directly afterwards. The voyage was probably limited to the Shark Bay perimeter. What is less well-known, although it should be because the records are available, is that due to bad weather Hartog became detached from the other ship ... four ships in his fleet ... before he even reached the Cape of Good hope. And that he left the Cape before the rest of the fleet arrived, part of his scheme perhaps. 

It’s quite obvious from this map that understanding of his part of Australia was far inferior to the mapping of southeast Asia which had continued uninterrupted and with zeal over the previous quarter century. And if I can answer one of the questions, Dirk Hartog’s island was named on maps from 1697 after the voyage of Willem de Vlamingh. It has to be remembered that de Vlamingh’s voyage was the first in 80 years after Hartog to examine the exact spot. Here you can see the sort of effort that could be applied to a survey if the resources and the intention are there. Even then de Vlamingh’s survey was a rapid one, about 1,300km of coast in a little under two months. Nonetheless you can see from the map that things are much improved and the spelling of the island is as we use it most today though there’ve been many variations of Hartog’s name. 

De Vlamingh’s remark on the island are recorded, they are brief. Apart from navigational positioning data he makes the comment that it is the gateway to a big water or bay with a distant mainland, in his words, very flat and dry. So we do know something of de Vlamingh’s views but thanks to the lost journal we know nothing of Hartog’s. Claims that the voyage was intentional, that Hartog possibly as a result of consultation with others in Amsterdam, made a plan to explore the south land are intriguing. If I can add anything to what Allen has concluded about the navigational probabilities I would say that like many a subject lacking real documentation Hartog has been a favoured topic for speculation and even a little dramatisation. 

I examined a number of works looking for Hartog among books for children and the author, Elizabeth Wilton, has him as a child dreaming of the south land Marco Polo wrote of hundreds of years before. Later now in the employ of the VOC he confides to his friend, Isaac Le Maire, the plan to ignore orders and take his opportunity. The two made a pact to find the legendary land and bring back cargoes of gold, ivory and spices. All he has to do is convince the VOC. Good luck. 

At least now, thanks to some new research, we have enough to fill in something of his early years beyond fictional accounts. Up to very recently historic information about the 1616 journey of his ship, Eendracht, mainly comes to us from letters and maps composed in the years immediately after the voyage. A great part of the credit for the restoration of Hartog post ADB is deserved by one scholar, Gunter Schilder. Mainly as a result of his labours in the 1970s and 1980s the Dutch part in Australia’s European discovery story was confirmed. He wasn’t the first to attempt it but it has to be said that while earlier scholarship revealed key documents it was Schilder who meticulously compiled all available evidence and a narrative to understand the Dutch voyages including Hartog’s. Schilder was responsible for one key word, Australia Unveiled, which really breathed life into the VOC as an entity so far as this part of the world is concerned. Schilder did one other important thing as far as I’m concerned and that is to bring maps into their rightful places in important historical document and likewise the role of the chief cartographer of trading companies like the VOC. 

Surveyors like to say of cartographers we go out and do the hard work so they can botch the maps. Perhaps a desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world but to me Gerrits did a pretty fair job revealing Australia without a template and based on some fairly scanty findings. 

Until recently Schilder’s Hartog has remained a little dry to be considered as a subject for wider interest. More is now known about him thanks to scholarship focusing mainly on family history. We know for instance that Hartog may not have been born in 1580 but in 1583, that he and his wife, Meijnsje, were childless though when Hartog died at an early age she remarried and subsequently had four children. That his brother was also involved in commercial shipping pursuits and his two sisters married sailors. We know many other things about Hartog now such as that his father died young and his mother raised the family almost singlehanded including schooling the children herself. So while the ADB could be justified in 1960s for Hartog’s omission on grounds that biographical information was lacking that’s certainly not the case today and I understand a biography of Hartog is imminent. 

But I want to move onto the plate, it’s inevitable we have to be drawn back there, Allen. For me the story of the plate, as much as Hartog and Gerritsen and de Vlamingh and others are interesting subjects it’s the plate which really stands out. It should probably be taught in library and museum studies as a ... object lesson in collection management. It’s a story long and complicated so here’s the short version. As many of you would know Hartog like other explorers was accustomed to leaving markers so that others could follow in his tracks. Anchored off the island in October 1616 the best material adjudged for this task was a pewter dinner plate, flattened and nailed to wooden posts and atop the north end of island on which was carved the details of those landing and the dates. It was to be 80 years as I said before another Dutch explorer, Willem de Vlamingh, turned up, rediscovered the plate. Noting the conditions and significance of the object de Vlamingh decided to remove it for safekeeping. The Hartog plate was transferred to Batavia from where it was supplied to Amsterdam. At the same time de Vlamingh replaced Hartog’s with a plate of his own on which he recorded both Hartog’s text and the details of his own visit. 

Someone suggested that de Vlamingh’s action was to ensure continuing Dutch claim to Eendracht Land. Maybe he did. But here is where the story really becomes worthy of a melodrama. It is a century later and hard on the heels of the Dutch whose chief trading company has now expired were the French. In 1801 the Captain of the Naturaliste, Jacques Felix Emmanuel Hamelin, arrives and upon ... on Hartog’s Island and find de Vlamingh’s plate. To Hamelin, to remove the plate from the island and take it back to Europe would break his sailor’s code. There is also the small matter that by this time the Dutch Republic and all its possessions were now effectively in the hands of the French. In any event the men of the Naturaliste nailed de Vlamingh’s plate to a fresh post and the place was named Cape Inscription. 

However on board was a young officer by the name of Louis Claude De Saulces De Freycinet who was less of a traditionalist than his captain or in his own words, he had no such scruples. So roll on 20 years and Louise De Freycinet has achieved much as part of the Baudin expedition, giving us the first published atlas of Australia among his other achievements. In 1818 now in command of an expedition to the Pacific his first act is to sail across the Indian Ocean and remove de Vlamingh’s plate. Louis De Freycinet substitutes one of his own, a lead plate which has never been found, another lost marker. Though his ship, the Uranie, was wrecked at the Falkland Islands en route home the de Vlamingh plate survives and is taken to archives in Paris and it’s here in the archives that the problems really begin. De Vlamingh’s plate is field in the Academie francaise incorrectly as it turns out and for many years unheard of. From time to time during the 19th century some in Australia speculate on its whereabouts and it remained a talisman for Western Australians in particular. Part of its mystique is the theft. And discussions about where it should reside if it is ever found. 

To Freycinet there was no question. As he wrote in his memoirs I deemed its natural place to be in one of the scholarly and scientific storehouses which provide historians with such rich and precious documents, that is if they can find them. There were no remarks from him on shelf order. Western Australians came to agree with him about the housing conditions however the location of said storehouse became an issue. Little further was written of de Vlamingh’s plate until in the 1890s when the esteemed Dutch scholar, Jan Ernst Heeres, undertook a search for the plate and it could not be located. This news reached the WA press that alas this important artefact had indeed been lost for good. But the pressure from the Antipodes kept up. In 1938 the French provided a copy of the Hartog plate ... more about which in a minute ... to the WA Historical Society, a kind of plate of salver. 

To cut a long story short in 1940 when a stocktake of the Academie’s museum was being undertaken by the occupying Germans the de Vlamingh plate was found. After the liberation of Paris the discovery of the plate was announced and the Australian Ambassador requested its return. As a goodwill gesture. It was presented to the Right Honourable J B Chifley in May 1947 and three years later went to Western Australia where it can usually be seen in the Shipwreck Galleries in the Maritime Museum in Fremantle. The Hartog plate was retained among the possessions of the VOC in Amsterdam until its liquidation in 1799. Twenty years later it was removed at the Royal Cabinet of Curiosities in The Hague eventually to be transferred to the Rijksmuseum in 1883. This plate too was misfiled, unable to be located by several visiting scholars until eventually in 1899 ... a good year for things found in collections, Margie ... a Dutch journalist finally revealed its existence. Since then Hartog’s plate has been in the Rijksmuseum on display and I believe after extensive restoration work has arrived as part of the royal visit and will be on show in Perth and Sydney over the next few months. 

Now while Hartog and nearly everything about the Hartog anniversary may now be said to be in its rightful place I have one misgiving about the anniversary. I do understand this is in a fear of state and one focusing on Dutch heritage in Australia and this is to be celebrated. But while the local Malgarna people were involved in the celebrations what I find largely absent from this year’s recognition of Hartog and his legacy is reference to what this actually meant to the existing inhabitants. It’s also somewhat jarring that in almost any account of Hartog and other of the 17th century encounters, accidental or intentional as they might have been, they are invariably referred to as having been with a place for Dutch encounters with the south land and so on and not a people. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on historians and event organisers for tiptoeing around this issue. After all what we know about Hartog’s contact with indigenous Australians is about zero, the small matter of the missing journal. The VOC certainly ordered the commanders of these exploration fleets to attempt contact with the indigenous inhabitants of the south land and to explore and evaluate the resources of the region. 

So far as Hartog’s experience is concerned, if his explorations were limited to the island off Shark Bay then as the archaeologists tell us he would have found it uninhabited at the time. And as Allen has indicated Hartog was a man in a real hurry. If he had any knowledge of the one other Dutch voyage to Australia before him, that of the Duyfken 10 years earlier he would have heard that the local people resisted a landing by Jansz and a party of nine sailors were killed by Wik tribesmen possibly following an attempt to abduct members of the tribe. Interestingly Willem Jansz was Chief Merchant aboard the Mauritius in 1618 which made another chance discovery in the west, this time at or near northwest cape where he found human footprints, the first recorded European recognition of humanity in the west. Perhaps however the Western Australians got it right and as Malgana, Ben Bellotti said of the festivities, the best thing about these events is people coming together. I think Mrs Steenvorde would likely have agreed. Thank you. 

[End of Recording]

Download transcript 98.8 KB

Recent audio All recent audio