Holland – Australia 400 years

Maritime Connections between the Dutch and Australia 1606 – 2006

The Portuguese first navigated and explored the Indian Ocean under Vasco de Gama and had been trading in Goa on the West coast of India since 1497.
 The Dutch obtained their knowledge from Jan Huygens van Linschoten who, after working for 4 years in Portugal and 5 years in Goa, returned to Holland in 1592. His disclosures were eagerly     studied and passed on; as a result in 1594 the Compagnie van Verre was formed in Amsterdam and immediately started to send out their own ships following the routes discovered by the Portuguese. Cornelis Houtman arrived in Bantam on the North coast of West Java in 1596. Other expeditions under van Waerwijck, van Heemskerk and van Neck followed taking the routes via Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn and in doing so discovered Mauritius on their way.

In 1602 a number of Dutch trading companies, amongst them the Compagnie van Verre, merged to form the almighty VOC – Verenigde Oost Indische Compagnie – or United East Indies Trading Company.
The Staten Generaal, the supreme authority of the then Republic of the United Provinces, granted the VOC monopoly of trade in an area between Cape of Good Hope and the Straits of Magellan, virtually the best part of the southern hemisphere!

The principal trading posts of the VOC were situated on Java and the Moluccas. These locations were not far from the fabled Unknown or Great South Land, also known as Terra Australis Incognita. The directors of the VOC trading post in Bantam decided to investigate the trading potential of this unexplored region and an expedition was sent. The vessel chosen was the “Duyfken”, a small shallow draught yacht of 50 tons. On 26 April 1606 Dutch Capt Willem Jansz on board “Duyfken” landed in far north coast of Queensland near Weipa. During his voyage he charted some 300 km of the west coast of Cape York Peninsula.
This is the first documented landing of Europeans, in this case the Dutch, on Australian soil.

Others have laid claim to discovery of the Great South Land. On 14 May 1606 Captain Pedro Fernandez de Quiros (a Portuguese national), having discovered what he believed to be the Great South Land, claimed it for Spain and named it “Australia del Espiritu Santo”. In fact de Quiros had not discovered Australia itself, but the largest island of what later became known as the New Hebrides. He was forced to turn back before reaching the “Southland” itself, but his prophetic proclamation and the name was spoken over our land.
Luis Vaez De Torres commanded the “Almirante”, one of the two ships despatched from Peru in December 1605 to explore the Pacific. Quiros, the commander of the expedition, was under the delusion that he had discovered the great southern continent when he reached the island of Espiritu Santo, in the New Hebrides group.

Torres, after Quiros sailed back to South America, satisfied himself that it was an island. This narrative is contained in a manuscript that was found at Manila in 1762 when the English captured that city during the war against the Family Compact (France and Spain).It was first printed in Burney’s Discoveries and Voyages in the South Sea.

There is also evidence that traders and fishermen (Macassans), from what is now called Indonesia, set foot on the land well before the Europeans ever did. The first European (Dutch) landing on Australian soil is based on documented evidence; my story on maritime connections over the centuries is based on well known and documented evidence. The fact that the Macassans or even the Chinese were there before Captain Willem Janszoon is not in question, the only thing they did not do for posterity was leave any charts behind.

For decades VOC sailing ships followed the routes discovered earlier by the Portuguese; round the Cape of Good Hope, via the east cost of Madagascar to the island of Mauritius where fresh water and food was taken on board and then on the Spice Islands. Crossing the Indian Ocean to Sunda Straits was very difficult, having to sail into the northeast trade winds and long periods of calm caused long delays, consequently the ships ran short of water and food and many of the crew fell ill.

It had been observed that to the south of the Cape of Good Hope between latitudes 36 and 40 degrees South the winds constantly blew from the west. One captain, Hendrik Brouwer, went south after rounding the Cape and was carried eastwards as far as longitude 110 degrees East from where he steered a northerly course that took him to Java where he completed his voyage in 5 months and 24 days, a record in those days. Following other successful voyages along that route the Heren Zeventien, VOC directors in Amsterdam, issued a direction in 1616 that all VOC ships on the way out to the East Indies had to follow the easterly course. This created new problems, this time caused by inadequate navigation. Latitude could be determined from the sun and the stars but instruments to determine longitude accurately did not (yet) exist at the time. As a result the position from where to turn north for Java was pure guesswork.

In the same year that de directive was issued the “Eendracht” under Dirck Hartogsz command nearly got into difficulties. Hartogsz came across a group of islands at approximately latitude 25 degrees South. He charted the islands and called them Dirck Hartogsz Islands and the nearby mainland Eendrachtsland. A pewter plate inscribed “1616. On 25 October the vessel D’Eendracht of Amsterdam landed here” with the names of the Captain, the senior and junior VOC Merchant on board and the navigator was nailed to a stake on one of the islands.

Other VOC ships followed the new directive; some of them were not so lucky. Names such as Dedels Land, Houtman Abrolhos, Cape Leeuwin, Tortelduyffs Island, Pieter Nuyts Land and De Witts land were shown on the company’s charts to stay clear of these dangerous waters.

The Dutch flag was the first flag to be raised on Australian soil; it was taken ashore by a swimmer through heavy surf when Abel Tasman discovered and named Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) on 3 December in 1642.

In 1623 the VOC mounted another expedition that set sail from Ambon under the command of Jan Carstensz to explore the coast of New Guinea and follow the same course as the “Duyfken” did seventeen years before. During the voyage Carstensz charted the coast beyond Cape Keerweer and he named the western entrance to the Torres Strait Drooge Bocht (Dry Bight).

Anthony van Diemen, Governor-General of the VOC from 1636 to 1645, ordered further expeditions. The first one in 1636 was to explore the north and west coast and part of the south coast of the Great South Land; the second one left with instructions to find out if Terra Australis extend as far as Antarctica, as was shown on old charts, left in 1642 with the yachts “Heemskerck” and “Zeehaen” under command of Abel Jansz Tasman.

On 24 November 1642 land was sighted which Tasman named Van Diemensland. Tasman took possession of the land for the VOC by planting a flag bearing its monogram.
Tasman continued his voyage to discover the South Island of New Zealand that he took to be part of Terra Australis, discovering Fiji on his way and landing in Batavia on 15 June 1643. He had proven that Terra Australis was separated from Antarctica by open water.

Upon his return Tasman was given new orders to sail from Batavia and determine whether New Guinea and Van Diemen’s Land were connected to Terra Australis. If he could not find a passage between New Guinea and Terra Australis his orders were to turn around and sail westwards, charting the entire north coast and then the west coast of this unknown country to the notorious Houtman Abrolhos Reef.
Like Carstensz in 1623 he decided that the Torres Strait was a bay because of its numerous sandbanks and narrow channels, marked Drooge Bocht on his chart and turned towards the west to complete his task.

In 1696 another expedition was mounted and received orders to search for a lost vessel that had left the Cape but never arrived in Batavia, also to explore the west coast of what was by now called New Holland instead of Terra Australis.

Under the command of Willem de Vlamingh the “Geelvinck”, the “Nijptangh” and the “Weseltje” set sail from Texel in May 1696.The fleet called in at the Cape of Good Hope and a number of islands in the Indian Ocean as per instructions; on 24 December they sighted the coast of New Holland and 6 days later anchored off an island 31 degrees south. The island was named Rottenest (rat’s nest) and charted; the main land was explored and although they did not meet any aborigines they came across their presence.

Vlamingh discovered the mouth of a river and named it Swan River after the black swans they found there. Continuing up the coast De Vlamingh’ s fleet reached Eendrachtsland, where Dirck Hartogsz had landed in 1616. The landing party found the stake and the pewter plate with the inscription that Dirck Hartogsz had left behind; De Vlamingh took the original pewter plate and replaced it with a new one engraved with both Hartogsz’ text and an account of his own visit.

During the 18th Century the VOC did little more to explore, consequently the Dutch never explored the east coast of the continent.

Discovery of that part of The Great South Land, in 1770 known as New Holland, was reserved for James Cook, a British explorer.

Captain Cook had discovered and mapped the East Coast of New Holland. The flag history of Australia as a British Possession began on 29 April 1770 when James Cook raised the Union Flag at Stingray Harbour, later renamed Botany Bay. A few months later on 22 August 1770, at a ceremony on Possession Island off Cape York, Cook raised the flag again and formally claimed the East coast of the continent in the name of King George lll. He called the land New South Wales.

The Commission appointed Phillip Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief in and over the territory called New South Wales, extending from the Northern Cape or extremity of the coast called Cape York, in the latitude of ten degrees thirty-seven minutes south, to the southern extremity of the said territory of New South Wales or South Cape, in the latitude of forty-three degrees thirty-nine minutes south and of all the country inland westward as far as the one hundred and thirty-fifth degree of east longitude reckoning from the meridian of Greenwich, including all the islands adjacent in the Pacific Ocean within the latitudes aforesaid of ten degrees thirty-seven minutes south and forty-three degrees thirty-nine minutes south’.

Unlike all of the other colonies, except South Australia, Western Australia (also known as the Swan River Colony) was founded directly from the United Kingdom, initially as a private enterprise colony, and no part of its territory was ever part of New South Wales.

The decision to instruct the Admiralty to take formal possession of the western portion of the Australian continent was an essential preliminary to the foundation of the Swan River Colony.
Captain James Stirling, who had in the previous year explored the area around the mouth and lower reaches of the Swan River, wrote to the Under Secretary for the Colonies, informing him that:
“His Majesty’s right to that country has never been declared, and as it is reported that the French Government contemplates the formation of a settlement in New Holland, the apprehension is that an expedition proceeding there might find, on its arrival, the best positions occupied and its aim defeated, to the total ruin of the property I take the liberty of suggesting that [the difficulties] may be obviated by dispatching at once a ship of war to that quarter. Possession might thus be taken of the country surveys commenced, and arrangements made for the reception of settlers”.

Stirling’s suggestion was acted upon and on 5 November 1828, the Colonial Secretary, Sir George Murray, instructed the Admiralty to order the officer commanding the naval forces at the Cape to despatch a ship to the coast of New Holland and to take formal possession of the territory. Uninterrupted possession was to be maintained until the arrival of further advice.

On 10 March 1829, HMS Challenger under the command of Captain Fremantle set sail from the Cape. On the morning of 2 May the Captain and party from the ship landed on the mainland and took formal possession of the west coast of New Holland in the name of His Majesty the King. This action cleared the way for the arrival of Stirling and the first party of settlers a few weeks later.

The Great South Land, Terra Australis Incognito, New Holland is now known as the Commonwealth of Australia. Dutch seafarers and explorers have left their mark on the map and in doing so they have become part of the history of this great country of ours.

Commercial and passenger shipping played an important role in Australia’s history; following is a précis of Dutch involvement.
Dutch commercial shipping has built-up a remarkable worldwide reputation over the centuries, comparable to but certainly more complex than other great maritime nations such as the British.

Arguably, perhaps more than any other starting point, was the famous VOC and their legendary success for almost 200 years from the early 1600s. Taking a quantum leap forward, the main shipping line events which lead to this day:
The Nederland Steamship Company (SMN) – a public company based in Amsterdam, commenced serving the Indonesian archipelago and other Southeast Asian destinations in 1870.
Shortly afterwards, in 1883, a competitive privately owned Rotterdam headquartered line – the Rotterdam Lloyd (RL), began operating to and from the same region.

In 1888 the Royal Packet Company (KPM) was formed with a very prominent role of and representation on its Board through its long existence of the SMN and RL. The KPM’s objective was to exploit shipping opportunities in Asia and especially huge trading opportunities in Indonesia.
Before the formation of KPM in 1888 and commencement of its operations in the East Indies in 1891 major inter island trade and trade between the Indies and Singapore was carried out from 1851 until 1865 by a private company with 4 small ships; in 1865 a contract for the inter island trade and other routes was let by the East Indies government to a British company with a very Dutch name. The Nederlands Indische Stoomvaart Maatschappij (NISM) traded on contract with the East Indies government until KPM commenced operations in 1891.
It is quite possible that NISM ships under British flag called on Australian ports with goods from the Indies; however, no records of such voyages can be found.

1902 saw commencement of the Hong Kong based Java-China-Japan Line (JCJL) with major shareholdings by SMN, RL and KPM.
In 1908, the establishment by KPM of the Java Australia Line with two vessels on an Australia/South-East Asia service was the start of regular Dutch commercial shipping operation with this country which ceased in February 2006.

After World War I a combination of the SMN, RL and Holland America Line formed a new company, the United Netherlands Navigation Company (VNS) to trade mainly worldwide, and in particular with Australia as the Holland Australia Line.
Following World War II and a change in the major political situation in Indonesia, KPM and JCJL were fused into one company – Royal Interocean Lines (KJCPL) – whilst RL was accorded by the Dutch Crown the prefix Royal (Koninklijke).
Who can ever forget those beautiful White Yachts the “New Zealand” and the “Nieuw Holland” and later the “Tjiwangi” and the Tjiluwah” that sailed from Australia to ports in the Far East.

In 1969 the VNS essentially ceased to exist as the containerisation era began and the Dutch joined the new Seabridge consortium of European shipowners on the Australian service – each partner of the consortium contributing a container ship. The “Abel Tasman” was launched in 1971 and was the first Dutch container vessel to ply the Australia run in 1971.

In 1977, the SMN, KRL, KPM, RIL and later the KNSM also merged to become the Royal Nedlloyd Group. The “Abel Tasman” was replaced by the “Nedlloyd Houtman” which could carry over 2400 containers, this increase was necessary since the Europe – Australia service had been extended to New Zealand.
In December 1996, P&O Containers and Nedlloyd Lines (Royal Nedlloyd’ s shipping arm) merged to form P&O Nedlloyd. More recent variations in the shareholding division before a successful takeover by the Maersk Line of Denmark in 2005 resulted in the Dutch name to become history in February 2006.

When all Allied resistance in South-East Asia ceased and the Japanese Imperial army had overrun the Indies many of the KPM ships and ships of other Dutch companies escaped to Australia where they were allocated duty in the South West Pacific Area for the Allied Forces under General Douglas Macarthur.
The Japanese threat to Australia was imminent and without the Dutch merchant navy’s invaluable contribution carrying munitions, fuel, vehicles and other military equipment of all sorts to out of the way places the outcome of the war could have easily been a Japanese victory.
Most returned Australian servicemen from the Second World War remember the Dutch hospital ships m.s. “Oranje”, the “Tasman” and the “Maetsuycker”.

There is a record of the first Dutch ship to trade with the new British Colony of NSW.
Shortly after 26 January 1788 when the British flag was raised in the new Colony food supplies brought from England and elsewhere en route ran short. Most of the ships in the First Fleet had been chartered from the East India Company and had already left for India after unloading their cargo.
Governor Phillip had given orders that in the event of food shortages new supplies could be obtained from Cape Town or Batavia.
The two supply ships that were sent to Batavia sustained damage and could not return to Sydney.

A small Dutch sailing ship, the “Waaksaamheid” (Vigilance) arrived in Sydney in December 1790 with a cargo of rice and butter.
Although the captain, Detmer Smith, carried written authorisation to sell or charter the ship and the cargo, the price he asked was exorbitant. Governor Phillip postponed the deal for a few weeks and Captain Smith, tired of waiting, accepted a lower but still reasonable offer. The “Waaksaamheid” left for Batavia with Smith on board as a passenger and the ship under command of a British captain.
Shortly thereafter five convicts escaped in a boat belonging to the “Sirius” using a chart and navigation instruments bought from Detmer Smith.
For a long time after this incident Dutch vessels were not welcome in Sydney, although the Dutch were probably more popular among the convicts.

This year we celebrate “Putting Australia on the Map” – where 400 years ago the first Europeans set foot on Australian soil and mapped 300 kilometres of coastline. Others have since contributed and expanded on the efforts of the Dutch explorers and should be recognised for their work.
My aim was to emphasise the maritime connections that have been made by the Dutch, albeit with wide gaps, over the last 400 years.

John Papenhuyzen
11 March 2006