1616 Dirk Hartog

Welcome to the 'Land of the Eendracht' website

This website commemorates the 400th anniversary of the first recorded European landing on the west Australian coast.

It provides a background to this historic occasion, and explores the impact and motivations of Europe’s at first tentative and then conflicting approaches to the southern continent. It encompasses the story of Dirk Hartog; profiles other early Dutch East India Company (VOC) skippers or commanders and their discoveries; VOC visits to the South Land; a brief background of the VOC including why the company never settled in Australia; the trials and tribulations of some of the Dutch vessels that were wrecked on the harsh west Australian coast in the 17th and 18th centuries; the stories of the two pewter dishes placed at Cape Inscription (by Hartog in 1616 and another by Willem de Vlamingh in 1697); and descriptions of the landscape of Dirk Hartog Island.

Early European voyages to southern oceans

Early European voyages to the southern oceans were often shrouded in mystery. The uncharted waters surrounding the mysterious southern continent had intrigued the Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch. Some cartographers hypothesised that there had to be a continent large enough to counterbalance the landmass of the northern hemisphere. European map-makers, from at least the 14th century, imaginatively depicted a vast irregularly shaped region across the bottom of the world map, which they labelled Terra Incognita (Unknown Land).

Motivated by desires to expand their empires, find new trading partners and other commercial opportunities, European maritime nations began searching for new sea routes to the East. However, because nations were sometimes at war with each other and keen to gain an economic advantage, they tended to keep secret any information they could obtain about new routes to, and discoveries of, unknown territories.

Starting in the early 17th century, Dutch mariners reported sightings, and mapped parts of, a landmass they variously called Eendrachtsland (Land of the Eendracht), Hollandia Nova (New Holland), and Terre de Diemens (Van Diemen’s Land).

Evidence of first European sightings

In 1616, Dutch skipper, Dirk Hartog, along with upper-merchant Gillis Miebais, in the ship Eendracht, accidentally discovered what proved to be the west coast of the Unknown South Land while sailing northwards.

At the northern end of Dirk Hartog Island—now known as Cape Inscription—Hartog's crew erected a wooden post embedded in a rock cleft, and attached to it a flattened pewter dish inscribed with text about the ship, the skipper and the senior officers, and their landing. This is the oldest physical record of a European landing in Australia. However, Hartog was not the first European to encounter the Unknown South Land. Ten years before he set foot on the west Australian island that now bears his name, another Dutch skipper and VOC employee, Willem Jansz (Janszoon) sighted the northern coast of Australia.


Hartog Plate
Image copyright Rijksmuseum

Shark Bay 1616: voyage of the Eendracht

On 23 January 1616, nine months before Hartog reached the west Australian coast, he had set sail from Texel in the Netherlands for the East Indies. The ship he commanded, named Eendracht, was part of a fleet owned by the Dutch East India Company or Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC). The VOC, formed in 1602 and arguably the world’s first multi-national conglomerate, was imposing a monopoly in the rich spice trade with what was then known as the ‘East Indies’, today better known as Southeast Asia, principally the Indonesian Archipelago. Hartog’s ship was laden with a rich cargo to be traded for spices and other products of the East Indies. A great profit would be made if the return voyage was successfully completed.

Eendracht became separated from the fleet in a storm and separately reached the Cape of Good Hope, the southern tip of Africa. From there, Hartog took an easterly route across the Indian Ocean before turning north to head towards Macassar in eastern Indonesia. That is why he was far enough east to accidentally encounter the west coast of what was a hypothesised but unknown continent, referred to as Terra Australis Incognita, or Unknown South Land.

After landing and exploring for about two days, the crew of the Eendracht left the engraved pewter dish to mark their landing and to proclaim it to future visitors. This 1616 dish is now preserved in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Significantly, the pewter dish—and the wooden post to which it was attached—are the earliest confirmed archaeological evidence of European presence in Australia.

The roads where Hartog anchored for those few days were named Dirk Hartog Roads (‘road’ or 'roadstead' is a nautical term referring to a partly sheltered body of water where vessels ride at anchor). From the anchorage, Hartog continued north past other islands and observed the mainland coast to the point where it trends away to the east in about 22 degrees South. Hartog called the new land Eendrachtsland (Land of Eendracht) after his ship, the Eendracht (Unity). That name was noted in the files of the VOC and was used by cartographers such as  Hessel Gerritsz on his chart of 1627.

Hartog’s landing at Shark Bay heralded the beginning of a succession of explorations by Dutch, and later English and French navigators, some of whom called at Shark Bay and charted its waters.

After leaving sight of the mainland coast, sources differ in their records of the Eendracht's final destination, before its homeward voyage. When the crew visited Dirk Hartog Island and engraved the pewter dish, they listed Bantam, Java, as their intended destination. According to the shipping log books kept by the VOC archives, Eendracht arrived in Macassar. Both sources are correct.

Although according to the pewter dish they were destined for Bantam the crew of Eendracht sailed first to Banda. On the way, they anchored in the roads of Macassar on 10 December 1616 to visit the Dutch factory there for some victuals (rice and water) and a pilot to help them navigate the waters. On 14 December Jan Steijns (‘Jan Stins’ on the pewter dish) went ashore and discovered that the Dutch factory had been abandoned more than a year earlier and that the King of Macassar felt great animosity towards the Dutch who were responsible for the deaths of the young king (probably the King’s son), the King’s son-in-law, and two high ranking officials of Macassar. Had it not been for two English ships and their captains, Steijns would not have survived. Less fortunate were sixteen other Dutchmen who came looking for Steijns’ party when Steijns had already left under the protection of the English. The sixteen men were massacred.

After these events Eendracht sailed on and arrived at Banda (probably Fort Nassau) on 30 December. Almost a year later the Eendracht arrived at Bantam in November 1617, carrying cloves as a major part of its cargo. On 17 December Eendracht departed Bantam for the voyage home, arriving in Zeeland on 16 October 1618.

Hartog's Journey plotted on a map
1616 journey of the Eendracht
Image copyright WA Museum

Commemorative activities in 2016

Activities are being planned to commemorate this first recorded landing of Dirk Hartog and the crew of the Eendracht on the western coast. Because of the significance of this event, various organisations have planned a series of activities and projects that will celebrate Hartog’s landing and legacy.


Government-funded initiatives

Funding has been provided by the Western Australian Government through Royalties for Regions and coordinated by the Department of the Premier and Cabinet with the WA Museum responsible for managing a number of the projects. Activities will include the installation of interpretative signage and a memorial to the seventeenth century historic events at Cape Inscription, an interpretative hub and a contemporary art piece along the Denham foreshore. The exhibition content in the Shark Bay World Heritage Discovery Centre in Denham will be upgraded, and development of this website will continue.

The Fremantle-built replica of the ‘Age of Discovery’ Duyfken (Little Dove) will sail the Western Australian coast to Cape Inscription, at the northern end of Dirk Hartog Island. This replica jacht will be opened to the public at Bunbury, Mandurah, Hillarys, Jurien Bay, Dongara and Geraldton during its six-week voyage to Shark Bay. Details about the Shire of Shark Bay's festival can be found here. Enquiries about the WA Government-funded initiatives can be sent to dirkhartog@dpc.wa.gov.au.

To find out more about Dirk Hartog commemorative events, please click here.

Other initiatives

A number of other initiatives are also planned across the State, including the STS Leeuwin sailing to Shark Bay, leaving Fremantle on 14 October and arriving in Denham on 21 October. Details of all initiatives can be found here.