Purely By Accident

In the seventeenth century, the Dutch were among the most adventurous sea explorers in the western world.  The new worlds they discovered quickly became favoured trading destinations.  One in particular was Jakarta, on the island of Java in Indonesia.

The Dutch traders were wily.  They quickly discovered that one of the fastest ways to get to Indonesia was to sail far south, down to the 40th parallel, where strong, rarely-failing trade winds–called The Roaring Forties–would blow them east at a good speed.  After a certain number of days sailing, they would head north again, right up into Indonesia.

Sounds good in theory.

A new captain, Dirk Hartog, followed the route laid out by many captains before him.  It was his first journey to Jakarta as captain of his own ship.

There is no record of what happened, precisely, but either the winds blew Hartog’s ship more quickly than normal, or he headed east for longer than the prescribed amount of time.

Either way, he went further east than any captain before him.

As a result he ran smack into Western Australia.

He spent several weeks sailing up and down the coast of Western Australia, and on an island just off the coast (now called Dirk Hartog island), he set up a post, and nailed a tin plate to it, inscribed with the date of his arrival, and the name of the ship.

The year was 1616.

The pewter plate he left behind was the first recorded European history of Australia.  That plate is now is the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Hartog was first, but barely eighty years later, another explorer, Vlaming, would sail up a southern river that would later be named the Swan River, for the black swans that lived there.  The Swan River is where Perth, the capital of Western Australia, is located.

Oddly, another two centuries would pass before Western Australia was settled by Europeans, when the pressure to find land and resources increased.  But Hartog was first, and he got there purely by accident.

Today is Western Australia day, and W.A. is my birth state.


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