First map of Australian coastline
Cape York Peninsula
Willem Janszoon became the first European to map Australian coastline during a voyage of discovery on the small Dutch ship, Duyfken, in 1606.
Janszoon also became the first of a small but remarkable group of Dutch navigators to map nearly three quarters of Australia’s coastline by the year 1644 when he charted about 300 kilometres of Cape York Peninsula.
Janszoon’s work is conclusive evidence that Europeans began visiting Australia in the early 1600s – 164 years before the arrival of Lieutenant James Cook.
His map is a record of the Duyfken’s journey, which started in Banda, Indonesia, headed east and took in New Guinea’s south coast before heading towards Cape York Peninsula in what we now know as Queensland.
The map shows the ship landed at Pennefather River, near modern-day Weipa on the west coast of the peninsula before it first headed south to Cape Keerweer. After a battle with local Aborigines in which people on both sides were killed, he decided to head back up Cape York Peninsula.
Janszoon took the ship up the coast beyond their landing point at Pennefather River, mapping the coastline all the way to the the tip of Cape York Peninsula.
The map shows the ship continued its path north into Torres Strait, mapping islands along the way. A massive area of coral reefs, that Janszoon marked on the map as Vuyle Bazncken, prevented the Duyfken from sailing further north towards New Guinea.
The journey of discovery was over as the captain turned the Duyfken west and headed back to Banda.
Janszoon was left to speculate about what lay between the new shore he’d discovered and the south coast of New Guinea.
Although his map clearly shows the two coastlines didn’t link, it’s been suggested by some that Janszoon proposed New Guinea and the new shore he’d found were one and the same landmass.
About seven months after the Duyfken’s voyage, Luis Váez de Torres became the first European to sail through the strait separating Australia and New Guinea. It is thought that he certainly would have seen Cape York, but may have mistaken it for one of the strait’s many islands.
It would take another 164 years before Lieutenant James Cook would round Cape York Peninsula (from east to west), providing conclusive evidence that the unknown south land – by that time named New Holland by the Dutch – was separated from New Guinea and was, indeed, a continent. After his discovery, Cook named the strait after Torres.
Australia’s forgotten history
Janszoon’s map of the Duyfken’s historic journey is recognised almost unanimously by historians as the first record of a European ship to visit Australian shores.
Subsequent maritime explorers were to refer to Dutch maps of New Holland, which incorporated Janszoon’s charting.
But by the time Cook discovered that Australia was a continent (rather than a part of New Guinea), knowledge of Janszoon’s original map and the exploits of the Duyfken had been long forgotten.
Janszoon’s original map was lost over time but not before the Dutch East India Company had made a copy, which became part of an atlas produced by the Dutch East India Company (sometimes referred to as the ‘Secret Atlas of the Dutch East India Company’).
Sold to the Vienna Imperial Library in 1737, the atlas remained in obscurity for nearly two centuries.
It wasn’t until the chart was discovered in 1933 that Australia was provided with significant evidence of its earliest European history.