Early Voyages to Terra Australis/Some Particulars Relating to the Voyage of Willem de Vlamingh

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Extracted from MS. Documents at the Hague.

Of this expedition, which owes its origin to the loss of the ship De Ridderschap van Hollandt, between the Cape of Good Hope an Batavia, in the year 1685, reports are to be found in various works, as in Witsen, Valentijn, the Historische Beschrijving der Reizen, perhaps also in some others. No coherent account, however, appears to exist, although we read in the last-mentioned work that a narrative of the voyage was published in 1701 at Amsterdam*.

* This exceedingly scarce printed narrative, which had been zealously sought for by the editor for several years, and had eluded the search of previous writers, reached his hands at the very critical moment to admit of its being translated and inserted in its proper place in the volume, the next in sequence to the present paper. Although of no great interest except as an original account of the voyage, it is important to know of what it consists, and it is the editor's grateful duty to state that it is solely to the zeal, intelligence, and kindness of Mr. Frederick Müller, of Amsterdam, that he is indebted for the good fortune of procuring the use of the document.

The project originally formed was that the expedition should set out from Batavia, and the Directors of the Council of the Seventeen write on this understanding in their dispatch of November 10th, 1695, to the Governor-General and Council of India; but in the assembly of December 8th and 10th of that year* that plan was abandoned, and it was resolved that "for various reasons" the expedition should be undertaken from the Cape of Good Hope, under the command of William de Vlamingh, with orders to land at the islands of Tristan d'Acunha, on this side of the Cape, and also at the islands of St. Paul and Amsterdam, to examine and to survey them.

* Appendix I and II.

For this purpose three ships were fitted out: the frigate De Geelvinck, commodore Willem de Vlamingh; the hooker De Nijptang, Captain Gerrit Collaert; and the galiot Weseltje, Captain Cornelis de Vlamingh, son of the commodore.

"On Thursday, the 2nd of May, 1696, at one o'clock in the morning, the noble Burgomaster Hinlopen sent the Company's boat, having on board the Commander Barent Fockesz, with orders that we should put to sea at daybreak." They accordingly weighed anchor, and set sail northwards towards England.

On the result of this expedition the Governor-General, and then Council of India report to the Directors of the Council of Seventeen as follows:--

"For the result of the voyage of the three above-mentioned ships which, according to the order of the Gentlemen Seventeen of the 10th. November,1695, and 16th of March, 1696, and according to your instruction of the 23rd of April of the same year, have prosperously completed their journey over the islands of Tristan d'Acunha, the Cape islands of Amsterdam and St. Paulo, and have also arrived here, both crew and vessels in a tolerably good condition, we shall principally have to refer you to their journals and notes, together with their maps and some drawings of those places; all of which, with the draughtsman himself, the overseer of the infirmary Victor Victorsz, will reach you by the ship's Lants Welvaren; the drawings, packed up in one box, consisting of eleven pieces, viz:--

7 of several places on the South Land.
1 of the island Tristan d'Acunha
1 of the island Amsterdam
1 of the island St. Paulo and
1 of the island Mony.

"In addition to these we also enclose some big and small chips of wood brought by Willem de Vlamingh from the before mentioned South Land, and described in his journal under the 30th and 31st of December 1696, and 2nd of January 1697, as a kind of scented wood. Upon this we have not been able to come to any distinct decision; we have, however, had a portion of it distilled and forward a small bottle of the oil for your examination by Commander Bichon. Likewise we send a little box containing shells, fruits, plants, etc., gathered on the coast; these specimens, however, are of less importance and such as are to be found in a better condition elsewhere in India. So that, generally speaking with respect to the South Land along which in conformity with their instructions they have coasted, and to which their accurate observations have been devoted, nothing has been discovered but a barren, bare, desolate region; at least along the coast, and so far as they have penetrated into the interior. Neither have they met with any signs of habitation, some fires excepted, and a few black naked men, supposed to have been seen on two or three occasions at a distance, whom however they could neither come up with nor speak to. Neither again were any remarkable animals or birds observed, except principally in the Swan River, a species of black swans three of which they brought to us alive and should have been sent to Your Nobilities had they not died one by one shortly after their arrival here. Neither, so far as we know, have any traces been discovered of the missing ship De Ridderschap van Holland or of other vessels either there or at the islands Amsterdam and St. Paul. Consequently in this voyage and investigation nothing of any importance has been discovered. A singular memorial was seen by them, On an island situated on or near the South Land, in 25° latitude was found a pole nearly decayed but still standing upright, with a common middle-sized tin plate, which had been beaten flat and attached to the pole, and which was still lying near it. On this plate the following engraved words were still legible:--

"Anno 1616, the 25th of October, arrived here the ship De Eendraght, from Amsterdam, the upper-merchant Gilles Mibais from Luijck, Captain Dirck Hartog from Amsterdam; the 27th ditto set sail for Bantam, under-merchant Jan Hijn, upper-steersman Pieter Dockes from 5?il. Anno 1616."

This old plate, brought to us by Willem de Vlamingh, we have now handed over to the commander, in order that he might bring it to Your Nobilities, and that you look and marvel how it remained through such a number of years unaffected by air, rain or sun. They erected on the same spot another pole with a fiat tin plate as a memorial and wrote on it as to be read in the journals*.

And since we are desirous to afford Your Nobilities all possible information and satisfaction with respect to this voyage, we have given permission to its former chief, Captain Willem de Vlamingh the elder with his upper-steersman Michel Blom to return with the last return ships, As they have not come back yet from Bengal with their vessels the Geelvinch and Nijptang, but are expected daily we shall leave this for the present and refer you for further information to their own verbal reports.

* "Further: '1697, February 4th. Arrived here the ship Geelvinck, of Amsterdam: captain commandant, Wilhem van Vlaming, of Vlielandt; assistant, Jan van Bremen, of Copenhagen; first pilot, Michéel Bloem van Estight, of Bremen; the hooker the Nyptangh: captain Gerrit Collaert, of Amsterdam; assistant, Theodorus Heermans, of the same place; first pilot, Gerrit Gerritz, of Bremen; then the galliot Weseltje: commander, Cornelis van Vlaming, of Vlielandt; pilot, Coert Gerritzs, of Bremen. Sailed from here with our fleet on the 12th, to explore the south land, and afterwards bound for Batavia.'"

We also found recorded in the notes of the above-mentioned skipper, Willem de Vlamingh, that on the island of Mony, lying 10° south latitude and 60-70 miles without Sunda Strait, by which he steered on his way from the South Land hither, trees arc to be found fit for if ships. No further explanation however being given as to their abundance or scarcity or the kind of wood--a small niece only about two spans in length and less than a finger breadth in thickness, having been brought to us, and the skipper of the Nijptang and the gezaghebber of the Weseltje, son of the old Vlamingh, knowing nothing whatever about the subject, we, in order to settle the point once for all, thought it not unadvisable to set on foot a further investigation, and accordingly only more despatched the galiot Weseltje on the 11th of May, in order that a more minute survey might be taken of the island, adding at the same time a reinforcement of eight native soldiers, with such instructions for the steersman Cornelis de Vlamingh, as are to be found in the letter-book under that date and also under Batavia. According to the diary of the same steersman from May 12 to June 17 kept in the journey, in which they nearly got wrecked, and owing to the heavy breakers could nowhere effect a landing, and from the vessel and boat could not perceive anything else but thick brushwood and a few small crooked trees, none of which was either straight or more than three fathoms long; so that no expectation remained of finding there anything useful.



Thursday, December 8th, 1695.

The Commissioners of the Chamber of Amsterdam have reported, how the said Chamber, in accordance with and to fulfil what their Nobilities have by resolution of the 10th of last month have been ordered to do concerning the sending of a ship to the South Land,' or the land of d'Eendracht, having examined and also heard and taken the advice of Commander Hendrich Pronck and Skipper Willem de Vlamingh, is of opinion; firstly as regards the South Land, that for certain reasons it should not be undertaken from Batavia, as previously thought proper, and in favour of which this Assembly has declared itself by its missive of Nov. 10 last, to the General and Council, but from the Cape of Good Hope and on the 1st of Oct. next year; that for this purpose should be equipped and prepared, in order to go to sea next March, a frigate and two galiots, under command of and accompanied by the before-mentioned skipper De Vlamingh, with such instructions as should be deemed necessary, that the said frigate should be provided with a Greenland shallop--supposed to be better adapted for putting into harbour and landing than the ordinary shallops in the use of the Company. Secondly that De Vlamingh should be directed in his instructions to touch at the islands of St. Paul and Amsterdam, as lying directly on his track on his way from the cape to the South Land, to examine their situation and also whether any traces of the crew of missing vessels especially of the Ridderschap van Hollandt, are to be found.

After deliberation, the resolution was passed:--

That all the above written shall be further examined by Commissioners and report to be made of their considerations and resolutions and for which hereby are requested and commissioned: from the Chamber Amsterdam, Messrs. Hooft, Geelvinck, Fabritius, and Velsen; from the Chamber Zeelandt, Messrs. Boddart and Schorer; and from the other Chambers, those who shall be commissioned by them; with the addition of Mr. van Spanbrock from the principal participators.


Saturday, December 10th, 1695.

Touching the report of the Commissioners, who in compliance with the Commissarial resolution of the 8th c. have given due attention to the subject of the search and inquiry after the ship De Ridderschap van Hollandt and to the inquiry to be connected therewith, viz., as to the nature of the South Land and of the islands of St. Paul and Amsterdam and matters connected therewith, together with the sending of an expedition thither for the purpose of the inquiry;--on deliveration and in conformity with the advice of the above-mentioned Commissioners, it has been resolved and found good:--that the said voyage shall be undertaken not from Batavia as has been heretofore thought good and in favour of which this Assembly had given instructions in its missive to the General and Council from the 10th of last month, and which is hereby altered in so far--but from the Cape of Good Hope, and in the beginning of October next; that for this purpose the Chamber Amsterdam shall equip and get ready for sea by March next, a suitable frigate, 110-112 feet long, to be built by the said Chamber and which is to have the name of Geelvinck, together with two sailing galiots under the command of and accompanied by the skipper Willem de Vlamingh, provided with such necessaries' as shall be thought proper.

That furthermore the said De Vlamingh shall, if he can do so without much loss of time and as it were en passant, touch at the islands of Tristan d'Acunha, on this side of the Cape in 37' south latitude to examine them as much as he can and under such instructions as shall be handed over to him. The Chamber Amsterdam being hereby once more requested and authorized to arrange and carry into execution what has been said above with regard to the South Land and Tristan d'Achuna and to prepare such instructions as shall be thought proper. Lastly that De Vlamingh shall in his instructions be ordered to touch on the islands St. Paul and Amsterdam, lying directly on his track in....° south latitude, and to examine their situations; also whether any signs of men from wrecked ships are to be found, especially from the Ridderschap van Hollandt.