Dirk Hartog

In 1611, a new sailing route that stretched across the Indian Ocean from Cape of Good Hope, in South Africa to the west coast of Australia was pioneered by Dutch explorer Hendrik Brouwer (1581-1643). This new sailing route took advantage of the powerful winds known as the Roaring Forties that occurs along the latitudes between 40o and 50o. The winds were so powerful that it reduced the voyage between South Africa to Java from 12 months to 6 months. For many years the Dutch only knew of the western coast of this land, and gave it many different names, one of which was ‘New Holland’.

While the Brouwer route was not enforced on sailors until 1617, Dirk Hartog (in 1616) was sailing to Java in the East Indies by this route during a spice trade run. His ship, the Eendracht was blown too far east and Hartog landed on a small island (now called Dirk Hartog Island) off the west coast of Australia on the 25th October 1616.

map showing Dirk Hartog Island of the west coast of Australia

The large bay of the island was later named by William Dampier as Shark Bay. Hartog is the second known European to have landed on Australian soil, (the first being Willem Janszoon). The Hartog discovery provided momentum to the serach to find out how large the continent was as Hartog had thought that he had discovered the mythical Southland, a theoretical Arctic continent, known by various names including Australia and Terra Ausutralis Incognita. Janszoon had suggested what he discovered was an extension of New Guinea, so no further exploratory voyages until Hartog found the west coast. Dozens of voyages would continue for two centuries until the full coast was charted so the size was known.

Hartog explored the nearby islands and later named the area Eendrachtsland after his ship and also nailed a pewter plate to a post. On it was an inscription which read:

“1616. On the 25th October the ship Eendracht of Amsterdam arrived here. Upper merchant Gilles Miebais of Luick (Liege); skipper Dirck Hatichs (Dirk Hartog) of Amsterdam. On the 27th ditto we sail for Bantum. Under merchant Jan Stins; upper steerman Pieter Doores of Bil (Brielle). In the year 1616.”

Translated to English this says:

“1616 25th October arrived here the ship Eendracht of Amsterdam; the supercargo Gilles Mebais of Luick; Skipper Dirk Hartog, of Amsterdam , the 27 ditto set sail for Bantam. Subcargo Jan Stins; Upper-steersman Pieter Doores of Bil.
Dated 1616.”

Later in 1697, Willem de Vlamingh found Hartog’s plaque during his voyages and in turn he put on a replacement pewter plaque, with a copy of Dick Hartogs inscription, and added his own men’s names and text of the landing. The plaque now resides in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

a copy of Dirk Hartog”s plate in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Hartog continued sailing North along the coast of Western Australia and charted the shore line up to North West Cape, before finally departing to his destination, Batavia (now called Jakarta, Indonesia). This was a significant discovery of the unknown south land and it became a part of world maps at the time. Following this knowledge, further expeditions by the Dutch continued to discover the rest of the Western Australia coastline.

The Dutch also charted part of the southcoast on 1627 and partly Tasmania (1642) and Abel Tasman also did the Northcoast comprehensibly in 1644. The fact that Tasman sailed below the continent meant that it was not Terra Ausutralis Incognita, an arctic continent, so after Tasman, the continent was called New Holland. The arctic continent became known in the 19th centuty: Antarctica. Flinders who did not know this and assumed in his writing that no such continent would be found in the south, insisted New Holland would get its name : Australia, meaning Southerly land, thus arguably a misnomer.

Was Dirk Hartog ordered to take Brouwer’s Route?

Consider this statement from a research source: “Eendracht reached the Cape of Good Hope on 5 August 1616 and left on 27 August, following the newly adopted ‘Brouwer’ route, which directed V.O.C. ships to sail east across the Indian Ocean for 1000 Dutch miles (c.7400 km), before heading north to the Sunda Strait”. (1) Two events are placed in one sentence, i.e. Hartog’s leaving the Cape in order to follow the Brouwer route, and its adoption by the VOC Directors, back in Amsterdam. To an unsuspecting reader this apparently suggests there was a link between the two: i.e. between Hartog’s voyage and the fact the route had been adopted. Indeed some writers have suggested Hartog was instructed by the VOC to take the adopted route, others that he could perhaps have been so instructed.

I will explain why there was no link. I think, pending further research, he must have decided it for himself. When I asked some writers for their source, when they suggested without reference as definite that the VOC instructed Hartog to take the Brouwer route or that this was possible, there tended to be no answer, an admission they had no reference for this particular statement. Some simple logic: The formal adoption of the route by the Heeren XVII , the VOC’s Directors, took place on 4 August 1616, the day before Hartog reached the Cape so neither Hartog nor anybody in the Cape port were likely to have known it had been adopted, as email and telephone were not available yet. Hartog took the Brouwer route, indeed the ”adopted Brouwer route”, without knowing it had been adopted.

A reasonable reaction may be: who cares? Why is this unresolved question important? If not, why do historians, etc. make the claim at all? It is the difference between Hartog himself deciding on a route resulting in him discovering the west coast of a hitherto uncharted unknown continent, or his employer. It is not unlike Cook, one and a half centuries later, who knew and his employers knew that the east coast of what he called New Holland was there, where Cook is reported to have taken the decision to go there and chart it, as one of the choices provided to him in his instructions.

Brouwer’s Route time frame

I will suggest some scenarios why Hartog may have taken the route. It being as a result of its adoption by the VOC is not one of them. There are other secondary sources available to me that allow me to continue this discussion. The Dutch followed the Portuguese into the Indian Ocean and to the Far East, late in the 16 th century. The Portuguese had tended to follow trajectories that hugged African and Asian coasts. Dutch captains in the early years of the Dutch inter-continental trade had personal discretion to choose their route. This could be influenced by factors like the weather, and the encountering of, or news about Portuguese squadrons ahead. Whether to sail west past Madagascar or east of it via Mauritius was their decision. Mauritius had been set up for a while as a refreshment station by the VOC. It was Hen(d)rik Brouwer who first suggested to the Heeren XVII, the VOC Directors in Amsterdam, that between 35 and 45 degrees south the westerly winds blow rather consistently, so there should be a potential to shorten the travelling time to the Indies considerably. He raised this matter with them in 1610 after returning from Asia.

Later that year he was instructed to test his theory. (2) In December he set out with two vessels, De Rode Leeuw and the Gouda, equipped by the Amsterdam VOC Chamber (3) . After rounding the Cape of Good Hope (which is not the most southerly cape of Africa), he kept a southerly course to a latitude in the mid 30’s. He then turned east. When he believed to have reached the longitude of Sunda Strait, he turned north. Advantageous winds took him indeed quickly to Sunda Strait. The voyage had taken less than six months compared to about a year when sailing any of the previous routes. A formidable result. He wrote a report to the Heeren XVII, listing the many advantages of taking this route and recommended that all the VOC vessels should take this route in the future.

The Directors, however, treated the glowing recommendation with caution and were reluctant to adopt it. Understandable perhaps as crossing a huge ocean by sailing ship when one can stop nowhere even for water or victuals must have appeared uncomfortable then. The distance from the southern cape of Africa to south of the Sunda Strait is much further than from Europe to North America. Hence in their minds it would have been an extremely dangerous voyage. The VOC continued to be quite reluctant to adopt the new route for another five years.

Possible influences on Hartog’s decision

The Heeren XVII instructed others to test the route. This means that a number of captains before Hartog had been instructed to sail the route, did experience it, then considered themselves experts about it and had an opinion about it, before the company’s adoption of the route. Was Hartog one of them? I have found no documentation of this and Hartog was new to the company, being on his first assignment for the VOC. So it is unlikely. Also, for the Heeren XVII to send him out to report on the route and they then adopt it before Hartog even reaches the Cape seems even more unlikely. One of these pre-adoption post-Brouwer commanders to test the route was Pieter de Carpentier, later a VOC Governor-General of the Indies. He echoed Brouwer’s recommendation and advantages, adding that miraculously nobody had been affected by scurvy as they “brought not a single sick man to Bantam”.

Further pressure was put on the Heeren XVII to order that all VOC ships to the Indies should take this route by Jan Pieterszoon Coen, also a future GG (perhaps the most notorious). Finally more than five years after Brouwer’s first voyage through the southern Indian Ocean in 1611, the Heeren XVII resolved on 4 August 1616 to instruct “ in the Seynbrief ” that all senior merchants, captains, and all officers on ships sailing to the Indies “should be pledged to follow for the outward journey the course which was recommended by Jan Pieterszoon Coen en by Commander Brouwer” .

The VOC’s managers went to work on their Directors’ decision to first draft and write this “Seynbrief”, also called the “Seylasorder”, being a comprehensive set of sailing instructions. They then distributed it to the relevant employees. (4) Its many clauses did not only state that the order to sail the route came from the VOC Directors, but also provided a precise description of the route and how to get there, and included a set of legalistic clauses that encouraged captains to abide by it. There was an instruction not to stop at any port, bar a compulsory stop at Cape of Good Hope, with fines to pay if they ignored this demand anyway, and another specific clause demanded that they do not stop at Mauritius or Madagascar. The instructions included a set of captains’ bonuses ranging from 150 to 600 guilders (a common sailor would earn 10 guilders per month) for making the voyagein the expected shorter time frames. It appears that the Seylbrief was finally ready in August 1617, and that there were subsequent amended versions. I have not found mention of an earlier one.

The presence of De Carpentier There was as yet no precise way of measuring longitude, hence accurately determining the point when to turn north to Sunda Strait was not possible. The speed of the ship was measured by throwing a floating log overboard, which roughly measured the speed of the ship relative to the water, current or no current, rather than relative to any land. So when the turning point was decided too far east, the initially unknown WA’n coast, its cliffs and reefs were waiting. It is easily accepted that the Seynbrief was a factor in some of the VOC vessels coming in contact with the Australian west coast.

Did this include Hartog’s Eendracht? Clearly not: Hartog as Captain of the Eendracht left Texel in Northern Holland on 23 January 1616 and sailed south as part of a flotilla of five ships. It is noted that this date is almost half a year BEFORE the date that the Heeren XVII resolved to prepare a Seynbrief. At the time when Hartog was in Australia, there still was no Seynbrief. One of this flotilla was the vessel Trouw. It had Pieter de Carpentier on board as the senior merchant. In the VOC that meant he was the highest ranked officer on board except for nautical matters. De Carpentier, after whom later the Gulf of Carpentaria was named, was one VOC senior staff who had tested the Brouwer route. Because he documented to have been most impressed with the route for a list of reasons, a keen desire to take the route by the whole fleet can credibly be attributed to him. So here emerges a scenario: Did Carpentier convince the senior people of the five vessels, including Hartog, perhaps already in Holland, that they should decide to take the Brouwer route? Or did he or someone else convince Hartog to take that decision? I am as yet not aware whether there was an overall fleet commander of the five ships. We do not know what opportunities De Carpentier had to talk to all masters of the other three ships, but it emerges he had plenty of opportunity to talk to Hartog.

Eendracht and Trouw anchored at Maio Island in the Cape Verde Archipelago from 21 February to 4 March, i.e. a dozen days. Then they sailed to Cape Lopez and waited there for favourable winds from 27 March to 11 May, being six weeks. They also arrived together as the first of the five ships at the Cape of Good Hope on 5 August. The Eendracht stayed there until 27 August. (5) It does not require much imagination to suggest that in Maio, Hartog would have talked to De Carpentier as well as in the port at the Cape. It seems a reasonable scenario: Hartog was talked into taking the route by De Carpentier, who was not only senior to him but also the more experienced officer on voyages to the east. It was Hartog’s first voyage to the Indies (and his last). The Eendracht arrived in the Indies as the last of all ships of the flotilla, presumably partly because of its sojourn to Australia.

Does this mean that the scenario gets more credence, that all Captains had been influenced to take the route even before the Directors had resolved to instruct their senior ships personnel? Because it is consistent with the idea that all ships took the Brouwer Route, it does. But as indicated above, the VOC did not instruct the flotilla as a result of the adoption. Remember the Directors had been reluctant to adopt the route for five years. Would they now instruct captains to follow it even before the formal resolution? Unlikely. The VOC was a semi-military organisation with a top to bottom command structure. This makes it very unlikely.

Then there is a further scenario: After five years of test voyages, there had been not just a few senior mariners back in Amsterdam who held the strong view that the route was superior, but a number of returned crews as well. In the social circles of sailors, the majority opinion may well have crystallised into using the route being a no-brainer: it saved sailors’ lives, time, money, and avoided the Portuguese. As a result, all captains of the flotilla would have easily agreed, indeed perhaps insisted, shortly after saying farewell to their wives, to take the Brouwer route. However even after the Seynbrief came out, some captains still took the old routes and got into trouble for it .(6) Further research regarding the voyage and route of the other vessels would firm up an answer.

Phillip E. Playford, ‘Hartog, Dirk (1580–1621)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hartog-dirk- 12968/text23435, published first in hard copy 2005, accessed online 2 June 2015.
Schilder G, Australia Unveiled – The Share of the Dutch navigators in the discovery of Australia, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum Ltd., Amsterdam, 1976 p. 54. (3) Sigmund, J.P. and Zuyderbaan, L. H., Dutch Discoveries of Australia. Rigby Ltd, Adelaide, 1976, p 32.
Schilder (1976), p 57.
Van Duivenvoorde, ”Dirk Hartog, his 1616 Inscription Plate, and Dutch Ship Communications”, in Peters and Coles, Dutch connections with Western Third 1616-2016, Welshpool: WAM, 2015 (in print). (6) Sigmund and Zuyderbaan (1976), p 33.

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