the end of the 16th century, the newly independent Dutch republic
launched courageous voyages of exploration looking for new routes
to the Indies. This exploration was followed with great excitement.
Accounts of the voyages were published and immediately translated
into other languages including English.
The published account of the first fully successful voyage to the Indies, lead by Jacob van Neck, conveys some of the delight and wonder of mariners visiting exotic lands for the first time.
In January 1599, four ships stopped at the East Javanese port of Tuban which they thought
"a very fine place … very trim and gallant". There they witnessed a tournament.
"The same day in the evening, we saw many people assembling in every street with their weapons in very gallant and comely sort after their manner, having very many gentlemen among them on horse-back, which could very well ride and manage their horses, in running, Tourneis, breaking of lances, and hunting … "
They noted the horses saddles:
"rich and costly Saddles made of velvet, and some of Spanish Leather, painted with grisly Dragons and fearful Divels, for the most part gilded … Their bridles are garnished with precious stones … the bits are also made very fine and costly with 2 bosses of silver …"
The Duyfken re-enactment will be an expedition to rediscover the Age of Exploration and recreate the experience of wonder and awe.
Duyfken's voyage will start from her homeport of Fremantle,
Western Australia, on April 8.
Sailing north we will pass the wreck sites of four large Dutch East India Company ships: Zeewijk, Zuytdorp, Batavia and Vergulde Draeck.
These were ships that sailed a little too far east before turning north to catch the southeast trade winds up to Indonesia.
Treasures and day-to-day utensils from the shipwrecks are now displayed in the Western Australian Maritime Museum (where Duyfken was built) and some of those artefacts are recreated on board Duyfken.
The wreck site of the Vergulde Draeck is just a day's sail north of Fremantle. The ship was wrecked in late April 1656. Of the 193 persons on board, 75 reached shore and a party of seven men in the ship's boat were sent to get help from Batavia in the Dutch East Indies. Expeditions were organised to look for the survivors, but none were ever found. Three men from the ship De Goede Hoop disappeared searching on shore in 1656, and in 1658, fifteen men from the ship Waeckende Boey went ashore to investigate the wreck site but did not return. The weather was bad and their boat was damaged getting ashore. Left marooned on an unknown shore, they repaired their boat and sailed to Java where they were again shipwrecked. Only three survived the trek across Java to Batavia.
The next two wreck sites, Batavia and Zeewijk are further north,
in the archipelago of reefs and small sandy islands called Houtman's
The events following the wreck of the Batavia in 1628 are a horror story that probably influenced the behaviour of the crews and officers in the later wreckings. The captain, most of the officers and some privileged passengers took the ship's boat apparently to look for water, leaving 285 on a barren island. They found no water but were provisioned adequately for a longer voyage and sailed to Java to get help. It was months before the rescue mission returned to the Abrolhos. They found many of the marooned sailors and passengers had been murdered in reign of terror presided over by chief merchant Cornelisz. Cornelisz and some of his accomplices were immediately tried for mutiny and executed. The accusation of mutiny seems to have been formulated before the rescue mission, led by Batavia's captain, reached the Abrolhos, and since Cornelisz was the most senior man left on the island, he could not have mutinied whatever else his crimes were.
When the Zeewijk was wrecked on the Abrolhos some eighty years later, the crew may have had the Batavia story in mind. Certainly they did not allow the officers to leave in the ship's boat to get help. They decided to build a small ship, large enough to carry all eighty survivors and some salvaged cargo to Java. This was the first recorded ship building in Australia's history. The small ship or jacht, sometimes called the "Sloepie" meaning small sloop was built from timbers of the wrecked Zeewijk and shaped mangrove timbers from the neighbouring coast. She was more than a small sloop and the name seems to have been intended facetiously.
The wreck-site of the Zuytdorp is further north, near the mouth
of the Murchison river. Zuytdorp hit the coast in an area where
there are cliffs. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that survivors
from the Zuytdorp got ashore. It is thought that she struck
the cliffs side on and keeled over so that survivors could scramble
via the rigging onto the shore. The question is what happened
to those survivors. There has been ongoing debate since the
wreck was discovered in the 1960s.
At the top of the cliffs near the wreck, remains of large fires were found. Burnt remains included barrel rings, and brass hinges and clasps, suggesting that items such as chests and barrels were used to create a large fire to attract the attention of a passing ships. Artefacts have been found at other sites near wells and up to 30 kilometres from the wreck site, indicating that they were either taken there by survivors or Aboriginal people.
A day's sail further north (if conditions are favourable) we come to Dirck Hartog's Island at the mouth of Shark's Bay. Dirck Hartog and his crew on the VOC ship Eendracht made a landing here in 1616, the first recorded landing on Australian shores since Duyfken's voyage ten years earlier. It was the first recorded sighting of the western shores of Australia and began the delineation of the outline of the Australian continent which the VOC pursued for the next century.
Another day's sail to the north (unless it takes longer) close to Northwest Cape, is a landing site of special significance to Duyfken. In 1618, Willem Janszoon, who had been skipper of Duyfken on her historic voyage of discovery, met with the Australian continent again.
Our next destination, Dampier, is named after the only Englishman to explore the Australian coast before James Cook. The name Dampier was given to the archipelago of islands here by Phillip Parker King, a great Australian explorer of the 19th century. P.P. King, who was born on Norfolk Island and whose father was the third Governor of the colony of New South Wales, charted more of the Australian coast than any other navigator/surveyor. Most of his long surveying voyages, circumnavigating Australia, were made in a ship smaller than Duyfken -- the single-masted Mermaid.
From the rugged spendour of the Dampier Archipelago with its rocky islands, swirling tides and mysterious Aboriginal rock art (perhaps depicting early Dutch or Indonesian contact), we sail to Port Hedland, an iron-ore port that must have some attraction.
Then on to Broome, a port which boomed as the centre of the pearl and pearl-shell industry in the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century. The pearling industry attracted and recruited crews, divers, and specialists from Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, Greece and China, and this wonderful mix of cultures still gives Broome much of its special character.