Friday 6 November 2009

History Bites: Early Coastal Explorations Before Cook

CairnsBlog brings you our weekly column, History Bites, a series of historical vignettes, pertinent to our unique and special region.

Produced by Dr Timothy Bottoms, a published and widely respected historian based in Cairns, North Queensland. He has spent ten years researching and writing City of the South Pacific, A History of Cairns. History Bites is a series of unique and easily readable pieces for CairnsBlog readers.

Dr Bottoms is a specialist in Aboriginal and North Queensland history and has wide experience in writing, producing and presenting radio documentaries and music biographies.

After the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 brokered by Pope Alexander VI between Portugal and Spain, the world was divided into two spheres of influence; with the eastern coast of the Australian continent falling within the Spanish realm.

This possibly explains why so much secrecy surrounds early European exploration of the Australian coastline. Unfortunately the earthquake that destroyed the Portuguese archive of Casa da India in Lisbon, in 1755, also saw the destruction of many of the early Portuguese exploration maps of Cape York Peninsula and the Australian coastline.

It is thought that some maps were smuggled out of this archive and one became known as the Dauphin Map of 1536 which was used by Dutch navigators. K.G. McIntyre argues that the Dieppe map showed the harbour where Cooktown was later to be established, and that via the Englishman, Alexander Dalrymple’s composite map of explorations in the South Pacific, that Cook had access to this information by way of Joseph Banks to whom Dalrymple had given a copy. There are other claims that Spannish ships sailed the Australian eastern coastline (using the Portuguese maps), including Lope de Vega in 1595.

In 1605 Captain Pedro Fernandez de Quiros led a Spanish fleet from Callao, Peru to discover the great south land. On 14 May 1606 he landed on what he thought was a mainland continent (in the New Hebrides) and ‘took possession’ of all lands to the South Pole. Rather like Christopher Columbus, Quiros realized that he had not landed on the mainland, but an island.

Nevertheless he named the land: Austrialia del Espiritu Santo in honour of King Phillip III of Spain who came from the House of Austria. It appears that Matthew Flinders resurrected the term ‘Australia’ from Quiros’ original designation, which was then adopted by Governor Macquarie.

The Dutch East India Company sent Willem Jansz,in the Duyfken on a voyage down the west coast of Cape York Peninsula in 1606. They landed on the western most point of Cape York ‘Kunderatunna’, in the traditional lands of the Wik Nathan, and renamed the point ‘Cape Keerweer’ or ‘turn again’. Seventeen years later in 1623, Carstenz in the Pera and the Arnhem, sailed along the coast and captured two Thaayorre people, north of the main Mitchell River, then sailed around the coastline of the Gulf.

Japanese legend suggests that the Queensland coast was visited by Magamasa Yamada in 1626 and by Znaiza Gohei in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, however there is no specific record of this having occurred.

This is an extract from: A History of Cairns – City of the South Pacific 1770-1995, by Dr Timothy Bottoms, PhD, Central Queensland University, 2002, Photo 2.1, p.72.You can contact Dr Bottoms via email. There is more information on his website.

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