[William Dampier’s account of his experiences of New Holland in 1688] [published 1697]

[Editor: William Dampier gives an account of his exploration on the coast of Western Australia (although Australia was then known as New Holland); being an extract from chapter XVI of A New Voyage Round the World (1697). Explanations for some abbreviations and archaic words have been given in the “Editor’s notes” section.]

[William Dampier’s account of his experiences of New Holland in 1688]

The 27th day we saw two small Islands which lye near the S.W. end of Timor: They bear from us S.E. We had very hard gales of wind, and still with a great deal of Rain: the wind at W. and W.S.W.

Being now clear of all the Islands we stood off South, intending to touch at New Holland, a part of Terra Australis Incognita, to see what that Country would afford us. Indeed, as the Winds were, we could not now keep our intended course (which was first Westerly, and then Northerly) without going to New Holland, unless we had gone back again among the Islands: but this was not a good time of the year to be among any islands to the South of the Equator, unless in a good Harbour.

The 31st day we were in lat. 13 d. 20 m. still standing to the Southward, the wind bearing commonly very hard at W. and we keeping upon it under 2 courses, and our Mizen, and sometimes a Main-top-sail rift. About 10 a clock at night we tackt and stood to the Northward, for fear of running on a shoal, which is laid down in our Drafts in lat.13 d. 50 m. or thereabouts: it bearing S. by W. from the East end of Timor: and so the Island bore from us, by our judgments and reckoning. At 3 a clock we tackt again, and stood S. by W. and S.S.W.

In the morning, as soon as it was day, we saw the shoal right ahead: it lies in 13 d. 50 m. by all our reckonings. It is a small spit of sand, just appearing above the waters edge, with several Rocks about it, 8 or 10 foot high above water. It lies in a triangular form; each side being about a league and a half. We stemm’d right with the middle of it, and stood within half a mile of the Rocks, and sounded; but found no ground. Then we went about and stood to the North 2 hours; and then tackt and stood to the Southward again, thinking to weather it: but could not. So we bore away on the North side, till we came to the East point, giving the Rocks a small birth: then we trimb’d sharp, and stood to the Southward, passing close by it, and sounded again; but found no ground.

This shoal is laid down in our Drafts not above 16 or 20 leagues from New Holland; but we did run afterwards 60 leagues due South before we fell in with it: and I am very confident, that no part of New Holland hereabouts lyes so far Northerly by 40 leagues, as it is laid down in our Drafts. For if New Holland were laid down true, we must of necessity have been driven near 40 leagues to the Westward of our course: but this is very improbable, that the Current should set so strong to the Westward, seeing we had such a constant Westerly Wind. I grant that when the Monsoon shifts first, the Current does not presently shift, but runs afterwards near a month: but the Monsoon had been shifted at least two months now. But of the Monsoons and other Winds, and of the Currents, elsewhere, in their proper place. As to these here, I do rather believe that the Land is not laid down true, than that the Current deceived us; for it was more probable we should have been deceived before we met with the shoal, than afterward: for on the Coast of New Holland we found the Tides keeping their constant course; the Flood running N. by E. and the Ebb S. by W.

The 4th day of January 1688, we fell in with the Land of New Holland in the Lat. of 16 d. 50 m. having, as I said before, made our course due South from the shoal that we passed by the 31st day of December. We ran in close by it, and finding no convenient anchoring, because it lies open to the N. W. we ran along shore to the eastward, steering N. E. by E. for so the Land lies. We steered thus about 12 leagues; and then came to a point of Land from whence the Land trends East and Southerly, for 10 or 12 leagues: but how afterwards I know not. About 3 leagues to the Eastward of this point, there is a pretty deep Bay, with abundance of Islands in it, and a very good place to anchor in, or to hale ashore. About a league to the Eastward of that point we anchored January the 5th, 1688. 2 mile from the shore, in 29 fathom, good hard sand, and clean ground.

New Holland is a very large tract of Land. It is not yet determined whether it is an island or a main Continent; but I am certain that it joyns neither to Asia, Africa, nor America. This part of it that we saw is all low even Land, with sandy Banks against the Sea, only the points are rocky, and so are some of the Islands in this Bay.

The Land is of a dry sandy soil, destitute of Water, except you make Wells: yet producing divers sorts of Trees: but the Woods are not thick, nor the Trees very big. Most of the Trees that we saw are Dragon-trees as we supposed; and these too are the largest Trees of any there. They are about the bigness of our large Apple Trees, and about the same height: and the rind is blackish, and somewhat rough. The leaves are of a dark colour; the Gum distils out of the knots or cracks that are in the bodies of the Trees. We compared it with some Gum Dragon, or Dragons Blood, that was aboard; and it was of the same colour and taste. The other sorts of Trees were not known by any of us. There was pretty long grass growing under the Trees; but it was very thin. We saw no Trees that bore Fruit or Berries.

We saw no sort of Animal, nor any track of Beast, but once; and that seemed to be the tread of a Beast as big as a great Mastiff Dog. Here are a few small Land-birds, but none bigger than a Blackbird: and but few Sea-fowls. Neither is the Sea very plentifully stored with Fish, unless you reckon the Manatee and Turtle as such. Of these creatures there is plenty; but they are extraordinary shy; though the Inhabitants cannot trouble them much, having neither Boats nor Iron.

The Inhabitants of this Country are the miserablest People in the world. The Hodmadods of Monomatapa, though a nasty People, yet for Wealth are Gentlemen to these; who have no Houses, and Skin Garments, Sheep, Poultry, and Fruits of the Earth, Ostrich Eggs, &c. as the Hodmadods have: and setting aside their humane shape, they differ but little from Brutes. They are tall, strait bodied, and thin, with small long Limbs. They have great Heads, round Foreheads, and great Brows. Their Eye-lids are always half closed, to keep the Flies out of their Eyes: they being so troublesome here, that no fanning will keep them from coming to ones Face; and without the assistance of both hands to keep them off, they will creep into ones Nostrils; and Mouth too, if the Lips are not shut very close. So that from their Infancy being thus annoyed with these Insects, they do never open their Eyes, as other People: and therefore they cannot see far; unless they hold up their Heads, as if they were looking at somewhat over them.

They have great Bottle noses, pretty full lips, and wide mouths. The two fore teeth of their upper Jaw are wanting in all of them, men and women, old and young: whether they draw them out, I know not: neither have they any Beards. They are long visaged, and of a very unpleasing aspect; having no one graceful feature in their faces. Their Hair is black, short and curl’d, like that of the Negroes: and not long and lank like the common Indians. The colour of their skins, both of their faces and the rest of their body, is coal black, like that of the Negroes of Guinea.

They have no sort of Cloaths; but a piece of the rind of a Tree ty’d like a Girdle about their wastes, and a handful of long Grass, or 3 or 4 small green Boughs, full of Leaves, thrust under their Girdle, to cover their nakedness.

They have no Houses, but lye in the open Air, without any covering; the Earth being their Bed, and the Heaven their Canopy. Whether they cohabit one Man to one Woman, or promiscuously, I know not: but they do live in Companies, 20 or 30 Men, Women, and Children together. Their only food is a small sort of Fish, which they get by making Wares of stone, across little Coves, or branches of the Sea: every Tide bringing in the small Fish, and there leaving them for a prey to these people, who constantly attend there, to search for them at low water. This small Fry I take to be the top of their Fishery: they have no Instruments to catch great Fish, should they come; and such seldom stay to be left behind at low water: nor could we catch any Fish with our Hooks and Lines all the while we lay there. In other places at low water they seek for Cockles, Muscles, and Periwinkles: Of these Shell-fish there are fewer still; so that their chiefest dependence is upon what the Sea leaves in their Wares; which, be it much or little, they gather up, and march to the places of their abode. There the old People, that are not able to stir abroad, by reason of their Age, and the tender Infants, wait their return; and what Providence has bestowed on them, they presently broil on the Coals, and eat it in common. Sometimes they get as many Fish as makes them a plentiful Banquet; and at other times they scarce get every one a taste: but be it little or much that they get, every one has his part, as well the young and tender, the old and feeble, who are not able to go abroad, as the strong and lusty. When they have eaten they lye down till the next low water, and then all that are able march out, be it night or day, rain or shine, ’tis all one: they must attend the Wares, or else they must fast: For the Earth affords them no Food at all. There is neither Herb, Root, Pulse, nor any sort of Grain, for them to eat, that we saw: nor any sort of Bird, or Beast that they can catch, having no Instruments wherewithal to do so.

I did not perceive that they did worship any thing. These poor creatures have a sort of Weapon to defend their Ware, or fight with their Enemies, if they have any that will interfere with their poor Fishery. They did at first endeavour with their Weapons to frighten us, who lying ashore deterr’d them from one of their Fishing-places. Some of them had Wooden Swords, others had a sort of Lances. The Sword is a piece of Wood, shaped somewhat like a Cutlass. The Lance is a long strait pole, sharp at one end, and hardened afterwards by heat. I saw no Iron, nor any other sort of Metal: therefore it is probable they use Stone-Hatchets, as some Indians in America do, described in Chapter IV.

How they get their Fire I know not: but probably as Indians do, out of Wood. I have seen the Indians of Bon-Airy do it, and have my self tryed the experiment: They take a flat piece of Wood, that is pretty soft, and make a small dent in one side of it; then they take another hard round stick, about the bigness of ones little finger, and sharpening it at one end like a Pencil, they put that sharp end in the hole or dent of the flat soft piece; and then rubbing or twirling the hard piece between the palms of their hands, they drill the soft piece till it smoaks, and at last takes fire.

These people speak somewhat through the throat; but we could not understand one word that they said. We anchored, as I said before, January the 5th and, seeing Men walking on the shore, we presently sent a Canoa to get some acquaintance with them: for we were in hopes to get some Provision among them. But the Inhabitants, seeing our Boat coming, run away and hid themselves. We searched afterwards 3 days, in hopes to find their Houses; but found none: yet we saw many places where they had made Fires. At last, being out of hopes to find their Habitations, we searched no farther: but left a great many toys ashore; in such places where we thought that they would come. In all our search we found no water, but old Wells on the sandy Bays.

At last we went over to the Islands, and there we found a great many of the Natives: I do believe there were 40 on one Island, Men, Women, and Children. The Men, at our first coming ashore, threatened us with their Lances and Swords; but they were frightened by firing one Gun, which we fired purposely to scare them. The Island was so small that they could not hide themselves: but they were much disordered at our Landing, especially the Women and Children: for we went directly to their camp. The lustiest of the Women snatching up their Infants ran away howling, and the little Children ran after squeaking and bawling; but the Men stood still. Some of the Women, and such People as could not go from us, lay still by a Fire, making a doleful noise as if we had been coming to devour them: but when they saw we did not intend to harm them, they were pretty quiet, and the rest that fled from us at our first coming, returned again. This their place of dwelling was only a Fire, with a few Boughs before it, set up on that side the wind was of.

After we had been here a little while, the Men began to be familiar, and we cloathed some of them, designing to have had some service of them for it: for we found some Wells of Water here, and intended to carry 2 or 3 Barrels of it aboard. But it being somewhat troublesome to carry to the Canoas, we thought to have made these men to have carried it for us, and therefore we gave them some Cloaths; to one an old pair of Breeches, to another a ragged Shirt, to a third a Jacket that was scarce worth owning; which yet would have been very acceptable at some places where we had been, and so we thought they might have been with these people. We put them on them, thinking that this finery would have brought them to work heartily for us; and our Water being filled in small long Barrels, about 6 Gallons in each, which were made purposely to carry Water in, we brought these our new Servants to the Wells, and put a Barrel on each of their Shoulders for them to carry to the Canoa. But all the signs we could make were to no purpose, for they stood like Statues, without motion, but grinn’d like so many Monkeys, staring one upon another: For these poor Creatures seem not accustomed to carry burthens; and I believe that one of our Ship-boys of 10 years old, would carry as much as one of them. So we were forced to carry our Water our selves, and they very fairly put the Cloaths off again, and laid them down, as if Cloaths were only to work in. I did not perceive that they had any great liking to them at first, neither did they seem to admire any thing that we had.

At another time, our Canoa being among these Islands seeking for game, espy’d a drove of these men swimming from one Island to another; for they have no Boats, Canoas, or Bark-logs. They took up four of them, and brought them aboard; two of them were middle aged, the other two were young men about 18 or 20 year old. To these we gave boiled Rice, and with it Turtle and Manatee boiled. They did greedily devour what we gave them, but took no notice of the Ship, or any thing in it, and when they were set on Land again, they ran away as fast as they could. At our first coming, before we were acquainted with them, or they with us, a Company of them who liv’d on the Main, came just against our Ship, and standing on a pretty high Bank, threatened us with their Swords and Lances, by shaking them at us; at last the Captain ordered the Drum to be beaten, which was done of a sudden with much vigor, purposely to scare the poor Creatures. They hearing the noise, ran away as fast as they could drive, and when they ran away in haste, they would cry Gurry, Gurry, speaking deep in the Throat. Those Inhabitants also that live on the Main, would always run away from us; yet we took several of them. For, as I have already observed, they had such bad Eyes, that they could not see us till we came close to them. We did always give them victuals, and let them go again, but the Islanders, after our first time of being among them, did not stir for us.

When we had been here about a week, we hal’d our Ship into a small sandy Cove, at a Spring-tide, as far as she would float; and at low Water she was left dry, and the sand dry without us near half a mile; for the Sea riseth and falleth here about 5 fathom. The Flood runs North by East, and the Ebb South by West. All the neep-tides we lay wholly a ground, for the Sea did not come near us by about a hundred yards. We had therefore time enough to clean our Ships bottom, which we did very well. Most of our Men lay ashore in a Tent, where our Sails were mending; and our Strikers brought home Turtle and Manatee every day, which was our constant food.

While we lay here, I did endeavour to perswade our men to go to some English factory; but was threatened to be turned ashore, and left here for it. This made me desist, and patiently wait for some more convenient place and opportunity to leave them, than here: Which I did hope I should accomplish in a short time: because they did intend, when they went from hence, to bear down towards Cape Comorin. In their way thither they design’d also to visit the Island Cocos, which lyeth in Lat. 12 d. 12 m. North, by our Drafts: hoping there to find of that Fruit; the Island having its name from thence.

William Dampier, A New Voyage Round the World: Describing Particularly the Isthmus of America, Several Coasts and Islands in the West Indies, the Isles of Cape Verd, the Passage by Terra del Fuego, the South Sea Coasts of Chili, Peru, and Mexico; the Isle of Guam, One of the Ladrones, Mindanao, and other Philippine and East India Islands near Cambodia, China, Formosa, Luconia, Celebes, &c., New Holland, Sumatra, Nicobar Isles; the Cape of Good Hope, and Santa Hellena: Their Soil, Rivers, Harbours, Plants, Fruits, Animals, and Inhabitants: Their Customs, Religion, Government, Trade, &c., London: James Knapton, 1697, pages 460 to 470

Editor’s notes:
The above text by Dampier is an extract from chapter XVI of A New Voyage Round the World (1697). The start of the following chapter, XVII, notes that Dampier’s ship sailed from New Holland on 12 March 1688 (page 472).

abroad = to go out of doors, to go out and about (distinct from the meaning of to travel to a foreign country or to another continent)

d. = degrees

divers = a number of items (all of which are not necessarily different, they may all be identical, i.e. distinct from “diverse”), several, sundry, various; “divers” is also an archaic spelling variant of “diverse” (a number of items which are different to each other, a wide range of various types)

drafts = charts

E. = east

lat. = latitude

m. = minutes

manatee = aquatic plant-eating mammals of the genus Trichechus, mainly located in tropical waters

mizen = a sail set on a mizzenmast

N. = north

pulse = the edible seeds of certain plants belonging to the legume family, as beans, lentils, or peas; or a plant yielding such seeds (distinct from the rhythmic throbbing of arteries in an animal, caused by the blood being pumped by the beatings of the heart)

S. = south

S.E. = south-east

S.S.W. = south-south-west

S.W. = south-west

W. = west

Old spelling retained as in the original text:
birth (berth)
burthens (burdens)
canoa (canoe)
cloathed (clothed)
cloaths (clothes)
espy’d (espied)
falleth (falls)
hal’d (hauled)
hale (haul)
humane (human)
joyns (joins)
lye (lie)
lyes (lies)
lyeth (lies)
muscles (mussels)
perswade (persuade)
riseth (rises)
sea riseth (rises)
smoaks (smokes)
strait (straight)
tackt (tacked)
trimb’d (trimmed)
tryed (tried)
ty’d (tied)
wares (weirs)
wastes (waists)

In those instances where a long “s” (which looks like the letter “f”) has been used, they have been transcribed as a normal letter “s” (e.g. “fmall” is changed to “small”). The usage of capitals and italics, as in the text of the original, has been retained. Other anomalies have been left as they are (split words have been retained, i.e. “a ground”, “any thing”, “every one”, “my self”, and “our selves”; words without a possessive apostrophe have been retained, i.e. “Dragons Blood”, “ones Face”, “ones little”, “ones Nostrils”, “Ships bottom”, and “waters edge”).

[Editor: Corrected “assoon as it” to “as soon as it”; “spit of hand” to “spit of sand”; “VVhen they have eaten” (two Vs, instead of a W) to “When they have eaten”; “Some of the VVomen” (two Vs, instead of a W) to “Some of the Women”.]

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