The dawn of discovery [chapter 1 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton]

[Editor: This is chapter 1 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton. Published in The Sunday Mail, 17 June 1934.]

The story of Australia

Chapter I. — The dawn of discovery

Once upon a time, as all good fairy stories begin, there were wise men in the world who believed that there must be a great Southern land to balance the land in the Northern half of the world. For hundreds and hundreds of years the same idea had prevailed, but no one brave enough dared venture across the unknown seas to seek it. And for a very good reason. It meant death to all. For were they not told that this mystical land was separated from the rest of the world, and that it was guarded by an equator of fire and demons and all-enveloping mist?

They were so sure it was there that they began to mark outlines of it on their maps and globes. They even joined it up with Africa and America, and extended it southwards to the South Pole. But when Diaz, the Portuguese navigator, doubled the Cape of Good Hope, and Magellan found his way round the foot of South America, and named the Pacific Ocean, and Drake sailed the Southern seas, and none found the Southern land, they gave it up, and struck the land from the map. There could not be a Southern continent, they said. But they were wrong. The great South Land was there all the time awaiting the coming of the white prince.

Adventurous Frenchman

It is very difficult to fix a point of time to which can be referred the discovery of Australia. There is a story of a Frenchman, the adventurous sailor, Binot de Gonneville, who sailed round the Cape of Good Hope in 1503. He was on a voyage to the East Indies, but was driven by adverse winds into unknown seas. He reached an island, where he lived for six months among half-civilised people, who treated him kindly. When he left the island he took with him the son of the king, to be taught the Christian religion. On reaching France again Gonneville simply recorded that he had found refuge and welcome on a small island, but a century and a half afterwards it was said that the land he had discovered was Australia. It is now agreed that the island was Madagascar, and not Australia, as claimed by the French.

Then there was the gallant Alonza Mendana de Neyoa of Saragossa, who was seized with a spirit of adventure. He was sent in 1568 from Peru to take possession of any land found in the Pacific Ocean. He sailed to the west, and came upon the Solomon Islands, which he thought was a continent.

Brave Spanish Sailors

When Mendana returned he gave a most glowing account of his expedition. He declared that he had found the land from which King Solomon had obtained the gold for the Temple at Jerusalem, and that is why these islands bear King Solomon’s name to-day. He begged the Spanish court to allow him to go back to the islands to establish a Spanish colony. But the Spanish King had little faith in his fanciful story, and the request was unheeded. But Mendana continued to petition the King for nearly 30 years, and at last his wish was granted. He sailed on his second voyage in 1595. He discovered the Marquesas Islands, but failed to find the islands which he had discovered 28 years before. He died at Santa Cruz, the island lying south-east of the Solomons.

The man who really set his heart on discovering the great Southland was a Spaniard named Fernandez de Quiros. He really believed that such a land existed. He had been pilot for Mendana in the ill-fated expedition of 1595, and had succeeded to the command at his death. When he returned to Spain he petitioned the King to send another expedition to conquer and possess the Southland. He pleaded his cause so earnestly that Phillip the Third granted his request and supplied the funds to fit out three ships for expedition.

In 1605 de Quiros sailed from Callao, in Peru. Torres, another Spaniard, was sent out as second in command. It was the intention of Quiros to sail to Santa Cruz, but he failed to find it. What he actually found and claimed was the New Hebrides, believing that he had come to the portion of land he sought. He named the island Austrialia de Espiritu Santo in honour of the King of Spain, who was connected with the Austrian family.

Torres’s Discoveries

The search for new lands continued, and in order that the search might embrace a wider range Quiros and Torres agreed to separate in their course. Unfortunately Quiros could not manage his crew, and shortly after the separation of the two captains a quarrel arose between Quiros and his officers, which threatened mutiny. He at once determined to return to Mexico without waiting to inform Torres of his intention.

Torres, unable to find the flagship on his return, continued his course to the westward. Creeping along the coast of New Guinea, he came to a strait, which now bears his name, 80 miles wide, and perilous with shoals. On the one hand was New Guinea, and on the other Australia. He sighted land to the south, but passed it by, believing that it was only one of the many islands that they were likely to meet in their course. He was quite unaware that the great Southland was almost within his reach.

And so passed the last great Spanish seaman in the South.

Next week, The Coming of the Dutch.

The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 17 June 1934, p. 30

Editor’s notes:
Austrialia de Espiritu Santo = (also known as “Austrialia del Espiritu Santo” and “Australia del Espiritu Santo”) the name given by Fernandez de Quiros to the New Hebrides, in the belief that he had found the undiscovered great southern land; the name was subsequently referred to as “Australia del Espiritu Santo”
See: 1) George Collingridge, “Who named Australia?”, The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 14 June 1905, p. 4
2) Rupert Gerritsen, “A Note on ‘Australia’ or ‘Austrialia’”, The Globe: Journal of The Australian and New Zealand Map Society, number 72, 2013, pages 23-30 (accessed 23 October 2013)

[Editor: Corrected “enough dare” to “enough dared”; “Austrialia de Espiritu Santo” to “Austrialia del Espiritu Santo”.]

This series of articles on aspects of Australian history was designed as a reference aid for Australian children. A statement attached to chapter 1 of the series was as follows:

Australian History

Dear Boys and Girls:—

This Sunday I give the first chapter of what will be, when completed, a short history of Australia. You will find that it is written in simple language, and in such a way that I earnestly hope that not only may it be found both useful and interesting to you, but that it may serve to increase your love for your native country. I strongly advise you to cut out each chapter and paste it in your history scrap book. It will prove an excellent link of reference.

— Martin Hambleton.

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