Page:The life of Matthew Flinders.djvu/101

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LIFE OF MATTHEW FLINDERS

ally, after rounding the Cape, their ships had sailed north-east to Madagascar, and had thence struck across the Indian Ocean to Java, or to Ceylon. As long as this course was followed, there was little prospect of sighting the great continent which lay about three thousand miles east of their habitual track. But this route, though from the map it appeared to be the most direct, was the longest in duration that they could take. It brought them into the region of light winds and tedious tropical calms; so that very often a vessel would lie for weeks "as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean," and would occupy over a year upon the outward voyage. In 1611, however, one of their commanders discovered that if, after leaving the Cape, a ship ran not north-east, but due east for about three thousand miles, she would be assisted by the winds, not baffled by calms. Henrick Brouwer, who made the experiment, arrived in Java seven months after leaving Holland, whereas some ships had been known to be as long as eighteen months at sea. The directors of the Dutch East India Company, recognising the importance of the discovery, ordered their commanders to follow the easterly route from the Cape in future, and offered prizes to those who completed the voyage in less than nine months. The result was that the Dutch skippers became exceedingly anxious to make the very utmost of the favourable winds, which carried them eastward in the direction of the western coasts of Australia.

Thus it happened that in 1616 the Eendragt stumbled on Australia opposite Shark's Bay. Her captain, Dirk Hartog, landed on the long island which lies as a natural breakwater between the bay and the ocean, and erected a metal plate to record his visit; and Dirk Hartog Island is the name it bears to this day. The plate remained till 1697, when another Dutchman, Vlaming, substituted a new one for it; and Vlaming's