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William Dampier was not only a navigator but was also a naturalist, privateer, and pirate, and the first Englishman to explore much of the world.
William Dampier is considered to be one of the most influential British explorers of the time, between Francis Drake and James Cook, bridging the eras with scientific inquiry and piratical derring-do. He is also considered to be the first natural historian of Australia.
In 1688, English explorer William Dampier became the first European to set foot on Australian soil—or so the history books say. Dampier was an English pirate and explorer who made three voyages to the South Pacific between the years 1683-1691. He is best known for his detailed journals, which provide insights into life in the 17th century. He made detailed maps and kept meticulous journal entries, which allowed him to retrace his steps if necessary. He also made use of the stars, the sun, and the tides to help him navigate. However, some historians believe that Portuguese sailors may have discovered Australia much before Dampier. In 1622, a Portuguese ship called the Limoeiro was blown off course and ended up in what is now known as Shark Bay, off the coast of Western Australia.
The sailors on board the Limoeiro reported seeing 'strange animals' and 'people who were black and had long hair.' However, there is no concrete evidence that the Limoeiro actually reached Australia. So who really discovered Australia? And what else do we know about William Dampier? In this article, we will take a closer look at the life and accomplishments of this fascinating explorer.
William Dampier was an accomplished writer and published several books about his travels, including 'A New Voyage Round the World' and 'Voyages and Descriptions.'
William Dampier was the first person in England to explore regions of Australia and the first person to travel around the world thrice. When he was on the north west coast, Dampier mentioned a pearl shell in the waters in his writings. However, he provided negative reports of what he found as he was unimpressed with them. Most likely, Dampier was searching for new lands to plunder. He was not the first English pirate to sail the South Pacific; that distinction goes to Francis Drake, who circumnavigated the globe between the years 1577-1580. However, Dampier is said to be the first Englishman to land in Australia.
Dampier compiled his journal accounts into 'A New Voyage Round the World' which was published in 1697, and made a great impression on the British Admiralty. 'Voyages and Descriptions' was published in 1699. William Dampier was mentioned in 'Gulliver's Travels' by Jonathan Swift as a mariner similar to Lemuel Gulliver.
The notes on Australian flora and fauna that Dampier found in north-western Australia contained botanical drawings that were drawn by James Brand, his clerk. Joseph Banks, a scientist, and naturalist studied these notes, and consulted them on the first voyage with James Cook. Horatio Nelson also studied Dmapier's notes on ocean currents. This aided with the colonization and naming of modern Australia.
William Dampier returned to England in 1691, penniless, completing his first circumnavigation around the world. He had with him a tattooed slave called Jeoly and his journals. When his ship, the Roebuck, was abandoned on Ascension Island, Dampier left behind some accounts of his journal, however, he did save the records of the trade winds and currents and plant specimens around New Guinea and Australia. He documented everything from plant and animal life to weather patterns and indigenous peoples. These journals would later be published and become popular reads in England.
Several plant specimens were donated to the University of Oxford's Fielding-Druce Herbarium and in September 1999, the specimens were lent to Western Australia for their 300-year celebration. A Western Australian Maritime Museum team located the wrecked Roebuck in 2001 in Ascension Island's Clearance Bay. In 1703, 'A Voyage to New Holland' containing accounts of the expedition by Dampier was published.
After Dampier and his crew returned to England from the Roebuck voyage, one of Dampier's lieutenants filed cruelty charges against him. Dampier was later found guilty and was dismissed from the Royal Navy. Dampier's travel journals, which described Panama, may also be the reason for undertaking the Darien Scheme that eventually lead to 1707's Act of Union.
'Robinson Crusoe' by Daniel Defoe was possibly inspired by narratives of Alexander Selkirk, the real-life castaway, and one of the Dampier's men on his voyages. The ill-fated HMS Bounty voyage by William Bligh was led by Dampier's accounts on breadfruit. Dampier is cited more than 80 times in the Oxford English Dictionary, particularly under words like 'sub-species,' 'chopsticks,' 'avocado,' and 'barbeque.' He did not coin said terms, however, the use of these words in his journal were where they were first found to be used in English. He also noted the first recipes in the English language for mango chutney and guacamole. A genus of Australian flowering plant known as 'Dampiera' is named in honor of William Dampier.
During his 1688 voyage, Dampier explored the coast of Western Australia and made detailed observations of the local flora and fauna.
The first circumnavigation and the pirate life of William Dampier began in 1679 when he became a part of Captain Bartholomew Sharp's crew on Central America's Spanish Main. This crew visited Mexico's Bay of Campeche twice. They captured Spanish ships off the Panama coast and later attacked Peru's Spanish settlements.
Dampier met John Cooke, another privateer, in 1683, and with him, he raided the Spanish assets in Galapagos and Peru. Dampier transferred to the ship (called Cygnet) of Charles Swan who was a buccaneer and started the journey towards the Pacific to loot the East Indies. This crew sailed to China, the Philippines, and eastern Indonesia. On January 5, 1688, Dampier reached King Sound in Western Australia. Dampier remained there with his ship until March 12 and when the ship was getting reeled, Dampier made notes on the people and nature. Among his crew were many important Spanish sailors, like the native of Peurto Rica's San Juan, Alonso Ramirez. Ramirez was later released from imprisonment by Duncan Mackintosh, a pirate.
Dampier was then deserted on a Nicobar island. He made use of a small canoe to sail to Sumatra before returning to England through the Cape of Good Hope in 1691. For the Roebuck expedition, Dampier was appointed as the commander of the HMS Roebuck warship on behalf of the British Admiralty. The mission of this voyage was to travel through Cape Horn to modern-day Australia. Dampier spent three weeks exploring the area before setting sail for home.
On January 14, 1699, Dampier set off and traveled through the Cape of Good Hope. He reached Shark Bay off the west Australian coastline on July 26, 1699. He then started taking notes of Australia's fauna and flora and continued to sail on the Roebuck Bay, passing through the Dampier Archipelago, and then the Lagrange Bay. He explored New Guinea and New Britain. He also named New Britain and circumnavigated it and proved it to be a separate island. He paused through this voyage to collect some specimens like giant clams.
As the Roebuck was in a bad condition, William Dampier decided to stop Australian exploration, and began his return to England. On February 22, 1701, the crumbling Roebuck was left on Ascension Island as it could not make it all the way through to England. Dampier and his crew were stranded there for five weeks and were picked up by an East Indiaman on April 3, and they then reached home in August, 1701.
Dampier died in March, 1715 in London's Parish of St. Stephen Coleman Street, before he could share the loot from his last voyage. William Dampier died at the age of 63. Although there is no evidence, it is often quoted that Dampier was the first Englishman to ever set foot on the mainland of Australia. Naturalists Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin used the observations and notes of Dampier on natural history as references.
Dampier was born in 1651 in Somerset, England. He began his career as a sailor at the age of 15 and made several voyages to the West Indies and South America over the next few years.
William Dampier was born in Somerset's East Coker at the Hymerford House in 1651. The accurate date of birth of William Dampier was not recorded, however, he was baptized on September 5. He was educated in Burton at King's School and was orphaned when he was 16. Before joining the Royal Navy, he sailed to Java and Newfoundland on two merchant voyages.
In 1673, Dampier joined the Royal Navy and in June of the same year, he was part of two Battles of Schooneveld. Due to illness, his service was cut short and Dampier returned to England to recover. He worked in various fields for several years including logging in Mexico and plantation management in Jamaica. He later joined a new sailing expedition. Before Dampier returned to sea, he married Judith around 1679.
Dampier went on a second voyage between 1702-1706 as commander of St. George to the South Seas with 120 crew members. Dampier and his crew managed to capture numerous small Spanish ships along the Peru coast. However, he released them after drawing in only a part of their cargo as he believed that they would cause problems with his larger plans. His plan was to raid a city located on the Gulf of Panama called Santa Maria, which was rumored to contain supplies of gold from neighboring mines. Dampier had to withdraw due to the strong resistance they faced from the seamen.
Their mission then became to attack the Manila galleons, which was their main objective. The 18 and 24-pounders on the galleon they found outnumbered that of the St. George ship and they were forced to stop this attack as the ship suffered severe damage. They failed at this mission and the St. George ship was abandoned in Peru. This failure completely ruined the success of the expedition. Dampier and his remaining men ventured towards the East Indies. Here they were sent to prison by the Dutch, their assumed allies. However, they were released after. Dampier returned to England in 1707 without a ship.
In 1708, on his third circumnavigation, he was the sailing master and not captain of the ship named Duke for Woodes Rogers, a privateer. The Duke sailed its way through Cape Horn and into the South Pacific Ocean with its partner, the Duchess, a second ship. In 1709, on this voyage, they were able to get hold of a Spanish galleon filled with spoils. Dampier sailed through the Pacific in the Duke along with the Duchess, and two other prize ships in January, 1710. Before they arrived in Batavia, they made a stop at Guam. They were also able to rescue a former crewmate of Dampier's, Alexander Selkirk. He was also the sailing master on the Encarnacion and returned to England in 1711.
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