1616: Shark Bay to North West Cape

In 1616, Dirk Hartog and the crew of a Dutch East India Company vessel, the Eendracht, became the first Europeans to sight the coast of what we now know as Western Australia.

The Eendracht had accidently reached Western Australia after he decided to sail further east than normal. By the time Hartog decided to head north, he was within sight of Australia’s western coast.

On 25 October, the Eendracht dropped anchor near an island known today as Dirk Hartog Island. The captain and crew went ashore at the northern tip of the island, the point we now call Cape Inscription. In doing so, Hartog and his men entered the history books as the first Europeans to walk on the west coast of Australia.

Hartog became the second person to map a section of Australia’s coastline when he charted over 400km from Shark Bay to North West Cape.

He also gave Australia its first European name, ‘Eendrachtsland’, after his ship. This name – along with others referring to different parts of the Australian coast – appeared on Dutch maps until 1644. It was then that Abel Tasman replaced these names with a single one – ‘New Holland’.

Cape Inscription: Dirk Hartog and his crew nailed an inscribed pewter plate (see below) to a post on what is now known as Dirk Hartog Island.

History on a plate

Dirk Hartog left a record of his visit to the west coast of Australia inscribed on a pewter plate. This artefact is now famous for being the first known recording of European contact left on Australian soil. Translated to English, it reads:

On the 25th October, arrived here the ship Eendracht of Amsterdam; the upper merchant, Gilles Mibais of Luyck; Captain Dirk Hartog of Amsterdam; the 27th ditto set sail for Bantam; under merchant Jan Stein, upper steersman, Pieter Doekes from Bil, Ao, 1616.”

The plate remained on the island until 1697, when Dutchman Willem de Vlamingh visited Dirk Hartog Island and replaced it with his own plate, which recorded both events.

Hartog’s plate is now on display at Rijksmuseum – the Museum of the Netherlands – in Amsterdam. The de Vlamingh plate is on display in the Western Australian Museum’s Shipwreck Galleries in Fremantle.