Voyages of Grand Discovery
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In Search of the Great Southland
Past Before Time
Dirk Hartog
Willem de Vlamingh
William Dampier
Nicolas Baudin
Saint Alouran
Matthew Flinders
de Freycinet
Lines of Fate
William Dampier became famous after his epic pirating travels were published in A New Voyage Around the World in 1697. The British Admiralty promised him a ship to examine the uncharted eastern coast of new Holland via the Pacific Ocean round Cape Horn. It was thought he might also solve the mystery of the mythical Terra Australis.

Delays with the fit-out and provisioning of Roebuck forced Dampier to take a much longer voyage via the Cape of Good Hope. He first made landfall at a place he named ‘Sharks Bay’. While on this coast he produced a chart and collected and described many plants, shells and other specimens including fish marine mammals, reptiles, shells and one insect.

Captain Dampier’s New Voyage to
New Holland & c. in 1699.
With his ship leaking, Dampier was forced to abandon his plans just short of his destination and return home, leaving the discovery of the east coast of New Holland to James Cook.

Though Roebuck sank at Ascension Island in February 1701, Dampier salvaged his journals, some of his Shark Bay plant specimens and a few shells.

His new book, A Voyage to new Holland, was another best seller. Dampier was widely recognised by his collections and his vivid descriptions as ‘Australia’s first natural historian’.

…I sent my Boat ashore to the Island, to see what Convenience there was to haul our Vessel ashore in order to be mended…but we could not land…I saw she would be a long Time in Repairing; which was one great Reason why I could not prosecute my Discoveries further. Wm Dampier. Quoted in the Masefield edition, 1906, Vol II: 543.

The World is apt to judge of every thing by the Success; and whoever has ill Fortune will hardly be allow’d a good Name.’ Letter from Dampier to the Earl of Pembroke, President of the Privy Council. Reproduced in the Williamson edition, 1939: xxii.

The Landing of William Dampier The landing of Dampier, c. 1925
Norman Lindsay 1879 – 1969
Oil on canvas

Norman Lindsay was captivated by stories of pirates and their ships. He painted his impression of William Dampier landing in Australia at the head of his men from his privateer Cygnet in 1688. Dampier also recorded this event in his journal.

On loan courtesy of Kerry Stokes collection, Perth 1988.037

The fourth day of January 1688 we fell in with the land of New Holland… We sent our boat ashore to speak with the natives but they would not abide our coming so we spent three days in seeking their houses…We tarried here till the twelfth day of Feb, in which time we cleaned our ship, mended our sails, filled our water.. the wind being NNE we stood out between the island and the shoals… Reference: Sloan 3236, Folio 222, British Library.

Drawings of their Majesties Ship Roebuck

R.T. (Bob) Sexton joined the Museum’s team to research the ship which resulted in the production of these detailed plans and report. He found that Roebuck was one of a number of small fireships constructed around 1689. Roebuck was not built to a standard design and there has been considerable disagreement on its size and appearance.

Roebuck Plan

I dined with Mr Pepys, where Captain Dampier, who had been a famous buccaneer….He is now going abroad again by the King’s encouragement, who furnished a ship of 290 tons.

Geoff Kimpton with the Roebuck Bell

Above: Museum diver Geoff Kimpton examining the bell and clam.

The Discovery of the Roebuck
In 1999, to mark the Tricentennial of William Dampier’s landing at Shark Bay, these expeditions became international with the decision to search for the wrecks of Dampier’s and de Freycinet’s ships Roebuck and Uranie off the Ascension and Falkland Islands in the Atlantic.

Funds for the expedition were provided to the Western Australian Museum by private donors and the Shire of Shark Bay. The Roebuck was found 300 years almost to the day since the ship was lost. The wreck still contained some of the Dampier’s specimens including a clam shell, perhaps one he had collected in Shark Bay. At the request of the Island’s administrator, the ship’s bell and clam shell were raised with the assistance of local divers. Both objects were conserved and returned to the Island with replicas presented to the Western Australian Museum.

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