Europe comes to Australia
Spanish and Portuguese sailors pioneered Europe’s oceanic trade with the Philippines and the Spice Islands, the Spaniards sailing from the Pacific coast of the Americas, the Portuguese skirting the Cape of Good Hope. Old maps suggest that forgotten ships and captains visited Australia’s eastern and western shores in the first half of the Sixteenth Century. We know that Saavedra reached the North New Guinea coast in 1526, and Torres, in 1606, sailed between Cape York and New Guinea, without, it is thought, sighting Cape York. In 1606 occurred the first recorded contact of a ship with the Australian coast, when a Dutch vessel, the Duyfken, sailed along the western side of Cape York Peninsula. By this time, the Iberian Catholic monopoly of New World trade had been destroyed by the Protestant Dutch and English.
From 1613, the Dutch East India Company’s Java-bound ships abandoned the traditional north-east route from the Cape of Good Hope, and saved time by going due east with the prevailing winds and then north. Discovery of the West Australian coastline became inevitable. Bit by bit, it was unveiled by Dutch captains, but to all of them it appeared unfriendly, and it acquired a gloomy and tragic record, in which the Pelsart story was but one episode. New Holland, as the country came to be called, offered no trade prospects, and, when Governor Van Diemen sent Abel Jansz Tasman on a voyage of discovery from Batavia, in 1642, that navigator sailed wide of the known coast, circling the continent without seeing it; but he discovered and named Van Diemen’s Land.
The first lively interest shown in New Holland came from the scientific outlook brought to oceanic discovery by the English. William Dampier, adventurer though he was, had that honest curiosity which marks the progressive scientist. The Journal of his stay on the coast with pirate companions, near Melville Island, in 1688, presents a forbidding picture; but it aroused English interest, and hopes of fruitful discoveries elsewhere on the coast. Dampier’s second voyage, however, made a decade later, brought him only upon barren shores already known to the Dutch, and English interest in New Holland flagged until, in 1770, Lieutenant James Cook, in the Endeavour Bark, charted the fertile eastern coast from Point Hicks to the extreme north, calling the eastern section of the continent New South Wales.
England, victorious over France in India and North America, was now to forestall any ambitions the French may have entertained for securing precedence in colonial enterprise in the Pacific. It was not desire for trade which brought Captain Arthur Phillip, with a community of about 1000 persons, to New South Wales in 1788. Government, since the American Colonies had recently fought their way out of the Empire, was at its wits’ end concerning a surplus prison population in England. Convicts who earlier would have gone to America were, following a spate of discussions on colonial projects, sent to Botany Bay.
Judging Botany Bay an unsuitable site, Phillip found a better one in the marvellous harbour which had escaped Cook’s notice, and commanded his community to land at Sydney Cove.
While the First Fleet lay at anchor in Botany Bay, two ill-fated French vessels, under the Comte de Laperouse, appeared. Some years later, Flinders was to find two other French ships, under Nicholas Baudin, at Encounter Bay. Despite apprehensions, recurrent for some decades, that the French would try to settle in Australia, they never did. Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English, French . . . it was the English who colonized Australia.
Rex Ingamells, From Phillip to McKell: The Story of Australia, Jindyworobak Publications: Melbourne, 1949, [pages 11-14]
Batavia = the former name of Jakarta (Indonesia) when it was governed by the Dutch