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Adventures in Southern Seas A Tale of the Sixteenth Century   By: (1849-1936)

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E text prepared by James Tenison


A Tale of the Sixteenth Century



First published August 1920 by George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd. 39 41 Parker Street, Kingsway, London, W.C.2 Reprinted July 1924 Printed in Great Britain by Neill & Co. Ltd., Edinburgh


In the year 1801 was found by the chief coxswain of the "Naturalist" (a ship commanded by Captain Hamelin on a voyage of discovery performed by order of the Emperor Napoleon I), at Shark's Bay, on the coast of West Australia, a pewter plate about six inches in diameter, bearing a roughly engraved Dutch inscription, of which the following is a translation:


"On the 25th of October arrived here the ship 'Endraght', of Amsterdam; first supercargo Gilles Miebas Van Luck; Captain Dirk Hartog, of Amsterdam. She set sail again on the 27th of the same month. Bantum was second supercargo; Janstins first pilot.

"Peter Ecoores Van Bu, in the year 1616."

No connected account of the voyages of Dirk Hartog is extant, but the report of the discovery of this pewter plate suggested the task of compiling a narrative from the records kept by Dutch navigators, in which Dirk Hartog is frequently referred to, and which is probably as correct a history of Hartog's voyages as can be obtained. The aborigines of New Holland, as Australia was then called, judging by the description given of them by Van Bu, the author of the writing on the pewter plate, appear to have been a more formidable race of savages than those subsequently met with by Captain Cook on his landing at Botany Bay, and the dimensions of the tribe among whom Van Bu was held captive were certainly larger than those of the migratory tribes of Australian blacks in more modern times. The "sea spider" described by Van Bu in his second adventure was probably the octopus, which attains to great size in the Pacific. The "hopping animals" are doubtless the kangaroos, with which Australians are now familiar.

Captain Dampier, in 1699, first mentions the water serpents referred to by Van Bu. "In passing," he says, "we saw three water serpents swimming about in the sea, of a yellow colour, spotted with dark brown spots. Next day we saw two water serpents, different in shape from such as we had formerly seen; one very long and as big as a man's leg in girth, having a red head, which I have never seen any before or since."

From an examination of the Dutch records, it would appear that a ship named the "Arms of Amsterdam" drove past the south coast of New Guinea in the year 1623. This is, perhaps, the voyage described by Van Bu to the Island of Gems. The gigantic mass of ice seen by Van Bu in the South is particularly interesting, since it may have been the first sight of the ice barrier from which glaciers in the Antarctic regions break off into the sea.

The north portion of New Guinea was for the first time rightly explored in the year 1678, by order of the Dutch East India Company, and found almost everywhere to be enriched with very fine rivers, lakes, and bays. About the north western parts the natives were discovered to be lean, and of middle size, jet black, not unlike the Malabars, but the hair of the head shorter and somewhat less curly than the Kafirs'. "In the black of their eyes," says a report given of this voyage, "gleams a certain tint of red, by which may, in some measure, be observed that blood thirsty nature of theirs which has at different times caused so much grief from the loss of several of our young men, whom they have surprised, murdered, carried into the woods, and there devoured. They go entirely naked, without the least shame, except their rajahs or petty kings, who are richly dressed. The heathens of Nova Guinea believe there is some divinity in serpents, for which reason they represent them upon their vessels."

The "Golden Sea horse" is mentioned as one of the Dutch ships said to have taken part in the discovery of Australia between the years 1616 and 1624... Continue reading book >>

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