de Vlamingh 1696

Why the Netherlands didn’t colonise the south land

Although the Dutch East India Company mapped much of Australia’s coastline by 1644, several factors deterred them from colonising this new land. A succession of Dutch mariners had reported a lack of safe harbours, little fresh water, poor soil and many hazardous reefs along its coast. Equally, they reported that there were little or no trading opportunities. 

The company was initially interested in trading commodities, rather than being involved in agriculture or mining. Developing agriculture or mining interests was not in the company's charter. However, despite the negative reports, curiosity grew over the years as the unknown southern land began taking shape on the world map. The last Dutch mariner to provide any real evidence of the region’s potential was Willem de Vlamingh. On instructions to assess the land’s agricultural potential, he visited Western Australia  between December 1696 and February 1697.

During his time on the west coast, Vlamingh explored Rottnest Island and the mainland in and around the Swan River together with several areas of interest that lay north along the coast. He also visited Dirk Hartog Island, where he replaced the pewter plate that Hartog had erected some 80 years earlier. Vlamingh’s observations of the country further confirmed the negative reports of his predecessors. It was a view that would be expressed again by English explorer William Dampier when he visited the North West just two years later in 1699, and again by the French and other British explorers 100 years after that.