Early Voyages to Terra Australis/On the discovery of Australia by the Portuguese

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search





R. H. MAJOR, Esq., F.S.A.



Extract from a letter addressed to Sir Henry Ellis, K.H., "On the Discovery of Australia by the Portuguese in 1601, five years before the earliest discovery hitherto recorded; communicated to the Society of Antiquaries, by Richard Henry Major, Esq., F.S.A.," now distributed to the Members of the Hakluyt Society for insertion as a Supplement to the Volume of "Early Voyages to Terra Australis" by the same author.

From the Archæologia. Vol. xxxviii.

Discovery of Australia by the Portuguese

IN 1601.


British Museum,

March 1st, 1861.

My dear Sir Henry,

* * * * * *

Of the discoveries made by the Dutch on the coasts of Australia, our ancestors of a hundred years ago, and even the Dutch themselves, knew but little. That which was known was preserved in the "Relations de divers Voyages Curieux" of Melchisedech Thevenot (Paris, 1663-72, fol.}; in the "Noord en Oost Tartarye" of Nicholas Witsen, (Amst. 1692-1705, fol.); in Valentyn's "Oud en Nieuw Oost Indien" (Amst. 1724-26, fol.); and in the "Inleidning tot de algemeen Geographic" of Nicolas Struyk, Amst. 1740, 4to.). We have, however, since gained a variety of information, through a document which fell into the possession of Sir Joseph Banks, and was published by Alexander Dalrymple (at that time hydrographer to the Admiralty and the East India Company), in his collection concerning Papua. This curious and interesting document is a copy of the instructions to Commodore Abel Jansz Tasman for his second voyage of discovery. That distinguished commander had already, in 1642, discovered not only the island now named after him Tasmania, but New Zealand also; and, passing round the east side of Australia, but without seeing it, sailed on his return voyage along the northern shores of New Guinea. In January, 1644, he was despatched on his second voyage; and his instructions, signed by Governor- General Antonio Van Diemen and the members of the council, are prefaced by a recital, in chronological order, of the previous discoveries of the Dutch.

From this recital, combined with a passage from Saris, given in Parchas, vol. i, p. 385, we learn that, "On the 18th of November, 1605, the Dutch yacht, the Duyfhen (the Dove), was despatched from Bantam to explore the island of New Guinea, and that she sailed along what was thought to be the west side of that country, to 193/4 degrees of south latitude." This extensive country was found, for the greatest part, desert; but in some places inhabited by wild, cruel, black savages, by whom some of the crew were murdered; for which reason they could not learn anything of the land or waters, as had been desired of them; and for want of provisions, and other necessaries, they were obliged to leave the discovery unfinished. The furthest point of the land, in their maps, was called Cape Keer Weer, or "Turn again." As Flinders observes, "The course of the Duyfhen from New Guinea was southward, along the islands

on the west side of Torres Strait, to that part of Terra Australis a little to the west and south of Cape York. But all these lands were thought to be connected, and to form the west coast of New Guinea." Thus, without being conscious of it, the commander of the Duyfhen made the first authenticated discovery of any part of the great Southern Land about the month of March, 1606; for it appears that he had returned to Banda in or before the beginning of June of that year.

The honour of that first authenticated discovery, as hitherto accepted in history, I am now prepared to dispute. Within the last few days I have discovered a MS. Mappemonde in the British Museum, in which on the north-west corner of a country, which I shall presently show beyond all question to be Australia, occurs the following legend: "Nuca antara foi descuberta o anno 1601 por mano (sic) of godh ino de Evedia (sic) por mandado de (sic) Vico Rey Aives (sic) de Saldaha," (sic) which I scarcely need translate, "Nuca Antara was discovered in the year 1601, by Manoel Godinho de Eredia, by command of the Viceroy Ayres de Saldanha."

The misfortune is that this map is only a copy, but I think I shall be able to answer from internal evidence any doubt that might be thrown upon the authenticity of the information which it contains. The original was made about 1620, after the discovery of Eendraght's Land, on the west coast of Australia, by the Dutch in 1616, but before the discovery of the south coast by Pieter Nuyts in 1627. So far from its author suspecting the existence of a south coast, he continues the old error which had obtained throughout the sixteenth century, of representing the Terra Australis as one vast continent, of which the parts that had been really discovered were made to protrude to the north as far as the parallel in which these discoveries respectively lay. Thus in this map we have Australia, as already described, on the right side of the map; and the Island of Santa Cruz in the New Hebrides, there called Nova Jerusalem, discovered by Quiros, on the left side; but both connected and forming part of the one great Southern Continent.

Now, it may be objected that this map, being only a copy made at the beginning of the present or close of the last century, the statement which forms the subject of the present paper may have been fraudulently inserted. But to give such a suggestion weight, a motive must be shown, the most reasonable one being that of assigning the honour of the first authenticated discovery to Portugal instead of to Holland. For this purpose we must suppose the falsifier to have been a Portuguese. To this I reply, that while all the writing of the map is in Portuguese, the copy was made by a person who was not only not a Portuguese himself, but who was ignorant of the Portuguese language. For example, the very legend in question, short as it is, contains no less than five blunders, all showing ignorance of the language: thus, the words "por Manoel" are written "por mano el," "Eredia" is written "Evedia," "do" is written "de," "Ayres" is written "Aives," "Saldanha" is written "Saldaha" without the circumflex to imply an abbreviation.

But further, if we attribute to such supposed falsification, the ulterior object of claiming for the Portuguese the honour of a prior discovery, whence comes it that that object has never been carried out? It is not till now that the fact is made known, and those most interested in the ancient glory of the Portuguese nation are ignorant of the discovery which this map declares to have been made. That it never became matter of history, may be explained by the comparatively little importance which would at the time be attached to such a discovery, and also by the fact that the Portuguese, being then no longer in the fulness of their prosperity, were not keeping the subject before their attention by repeated expeditions to that country, as the Dutch shortly afterwards really began to do.

Again, the speculation might be hazarded that, as this map is a copy, the date of the discovery may have been carelessly transcribed; as, for example, 1601 may easily have been written in the original 1610 and erroneously copied. Fortunately, the correctness of the date can be proved beyond dispute. It is distinctly stated that the voyage was made by order of the Viceroy Ayres de Saldanha, the period of whose viceroyalty extended only from 1600 to 1604, thus precluding the possibility of the error suggested, and terminating before the period of the earliest of the Dutch discoveries.

But yet, again, it may be objected that a country so vaguely and incorrectly laid down may not have been Australia. The answer is equally as indisputable as that which fixes the date. Immediately below the legend in question is another to the following effect: "Terra descuberta pelos Holandeses a que chamaraō, Enduacht, (sic) au Cōcordia" (land discovered by the Dutch, which they called Endracht or Concord). Eendraghtsland, as we all know, was the name given to a large tract on the western coast of Australia, discovered by the Dutch ship the Eendraght, in 1616.

Moreover, if the legend in question were not a genuine copy from a genuine ancient map, how came the modern falsifier to be acquainted with the name of a real cosmographer who lived at Goa at a period which tallies with the state of geographical discovery represented on the map, but none of whose manuscript productions had been put into print at the time when the supposed fictitious map was made or the legend fictitiously inserted?

I think these arguments are conclusive in establishing the legitimacy of the modern copy from the ancient map. As regards the discoverer, Manoel Godinho de Eredia (or rather Heredia, as written by Barbosa Machado and by Figaniere), I find the following work by him; "Historia do Martyrio de Luiz Monteiro Coutinho que padeceo por ordem do Rey Achem Raiamancor no anno de 1588, e dedicada ao illustrissimo D. Aleixo de Menezes, Arcebispo de Braga;" which dedication was dated Goa, 11th of November, 1615; fol. MS. with various illustrations.

Barbosa Machado calls him a distinguished mathematician; and Figaniere, a cosmographer resident at Goa. It follows as a most likely consequence that the original map was made by himself. The copy came from Madrid, and was purchased by the British Museum in 1848, from the Señor de Michelena y Roxas. It will be matter of interest to discover at some future day the existence of the original map, but whether that be in the library at Madrid, or elsewhere, must be a subject for future inquiry.

In a scarce pamphlet entitled "Informacāo de Aurea Chersoneso, ou Peninsula e das Ilhas Auriferas, Carbunculas e Aromaticas, ordenada por Manoel Godinho de Eredia, Cosmographo," translated from an ancient MS. and edited by Antonio Lourenço Caminha, in a reprint of the "Ordenacōes da India, do Senhor Rei D. Manoel," Lisbon, Royal Press, 1807, 8vo., occurs a passage which may be translated as follows:—

"Island of Gold. While the fishermen of Lamakera in the Island of Solor[1] were engaged in their fishing, there arose so great a tempest that they were utterly unable to return to the shore, and thus they yielded to the force of the storm, which was such, that, in five days, it took them to the Island of Gold, which lies in the sea on the opposite coast, or coast outside of Timor, which properly is called the Southern Coast. When the fishermen reached the Land of Gold, not having eaten during those days of the tempest, they set about seeking for provisions. Such happy and successful good fortune had they, that, while they were searching the country for yams and batatas, they lighted on so much gold, that they loaded their boat so that they could carry no more. After taking in water and the necessary supplies for returning to their native country, they experienced another storm, which took them to the Island of Great Ende;[2] there they landed all their gold, which excited great jealousy amongst the Endes. These same Endes therefore proposed, like the Lamacheres fishermen, to repeat the voyage; and, when they were all ready to start, both the Endes and Lamacheres, there came upon them so great a trepidation that they did not dare, on account of their ignorance, to cross that Sea of Gold.

"Indeed it seems to be a providential act of Almighty God, that Manoel Godinho de Eredia, the cosmographer, has received commission from the Lord Count-Admiral, the Viceroy of India within and beyond the Ganges, that the said Eredia may be a means of adding new patrimonies to the Crown of Portugal, and of enriching the said Lord Count and the Portuguese nation. And therefore all, and especially the said Lord, ought to recognise with gratitude this signal service, which, if successful, will deserve to be regarded as one of the most happy and fortunate events in the world for the glory of Portugal. In any case, therefore, the discoverer ought for many reasons to be well provided for the gold enterprize. First, On account of the first possession of the gold by the crown of Portugal. Secondly, For the facility of discovering the gold. Thirdly, Because of the gold mines being the greatest in the world. Fourthly, Because the discoverer is a learned cosmographer. Fifthly, That he may at the same time verify the descriptions of the Southern Islands. Sixthly, On account of the new Christianity. Seventhly, Because the discoverer is a skilful captain who proposes to render very great services to the King of Portugal, and to the most happy Dom Francisco de Gama, Count of Vidigueira, Admiral and Viceroy of the Indies within and beyond the Ganges, and possessor of the gold, carbuncle, and spices of the Eastern Sea belonging to Portugal."

Short of an actual narrative of the voyage in which the discovery, which is the main subject of this paper, was made, we could scarcely ask for fuller confirmation of the truth of that discovery than that which is supplied by the above extract. Manoel Godinho de Eredia is there described as a learned cosmographer and skilful captain, who had received a special commission to make explorations for gold mines, and at the same time to verify descriptions of the Southern Islands. The Island of Gold itself is described "as on the opposite coast, or coast outside of Timor, which properly is called the Southern Coast." It is highly probable from this description that it is the very Nuca Antara of our MS. map, which does lie on the southern coast opposite to Timor. It is still further most remarkable that, by the mere force of facts, the period of the commission here given to Eredia is brought into proximity with the date of his asserted discovery of Australia. The viceroy Francisco de Gama, who gave that commission, was the immediate predecessor of Ayres de Saldanha. His viceroyalty extended only from 1597 to 1600, and the asserted discovery was made in 1601, though we know not in what month. A more happy confirmation of a discovery, unrecorded except in a probably unique map, could scarcely have been hoped for.

In laying this letter before a Society of Antiquaries, who venerate the past, I would not close without one word of reverent tribute to the ancient glories of a once mighty nation. The true heroes of the world are the initiators of great exploits, the pioneers of great discoveries. Such were the Portuguese in days when the world was as yet but a half known and puny thing. To Portugal, in truth, we owe not only a De Gama, but, by example, a Columbus, without whom the majestic empire of her on whose dominions the sun never sets might now have been a dream, instead of a reality. England, whose hardy mariners have made a thoroughfare of every sea knows best how to do justice to the fearlessness of their noble predecessors, who, in frail caravels and through an unmeasured wilderness of ocean, could cleave a pathway, not only to the glory of their own nation but to the civilization and the prosperity of the entire world.

I remain,

My dear Sir Henry,

Yours very truly,


To Sir Henry Ellis, K.H.

&c. &c. &c.
  1. The inhabitants of the coast of Solor are specially mentioned as fishermen by Crawfurd, in his "Dictionary of the Indian Islands."
  2. This is the Island of Flores. In a "List of the principal gold mines obtained by the explorations (curiosidade) of Manoel Godinho de Heredea, Indian cosmographer, resident in Malaca for twenty years and more," also published with the "Ordenaçōoes da India," Lisbon, 1807, the same story is told, but the Island Ende is there called Ilha do Conde.