400 year anniversary of Dirk Hartog's arrival

Dirk Hartog's landing on what is now known as Dirk Hartog Island, just north of Shark Bay, was the second recorded landing of a European on Australian soil and the first in Western Australia.  We know this as Hartog left a pewter plate nailed to a post in a rock cleft on the top of a cliff (now known as Cape Inscription), announcing his arrival on 25 October 1616. That plate is the oldest known written record of a European landing in Australia. The plate was found 81 years later by another Dutch mariner, Willem de Vlamingh.

The first recorded European to make landfall in Australia was another Dutchman named Willem Janszoon in the Duyfken in 1606.

As part of the 400 year anniversary celebrations, Hartog’s plate is being displayed at the Western Australian Museum's Shipwreck Galleries in Fremantle, on loan from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Use Locate to see where Dutch ships and others were wrecked.

We know of at least four Dutch ships that were wrecked: Batavia, Vergulde Draeck, Zeewijk and Zuytdorp. These shipwrecks and others along the Western Australian coast are displayed in Locate.

Finding shipwrecks using Locate

Follow the steps below to find shipwrecks off the WA coast using Locate.

  1. Go to Locate
  2. Click on the layers button  Layer icon in Locate
  3. Open the Locate layers, Places, then select Shipwrecks

Layer list in Locate

The United Dutch East India Company (VOC)

The United Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC) was formed in the Netherlands in 1602, with the objective of sending ships to East Asia to buy pepper, cinnamon and other spices and trade them on the European markets. The VOC grew rapidly to become a multi-national company with trading forts in southern Africa and all over Asia. Halfway through the 18th century, the VOC employed 25,000 people, 3,000 were based in the Netherlands. The VOC built its own ships, a total of 1500, which together made 5000 journeys to Asia. It established a network of trading posts stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Chinese Sea.

Many of the voyages to East Asia passed along the coast of Western Australia (then called New Holland). History records that whilst some VOC ships landed on our shore successfully, others came to grief there.

See the four Dutch shipwrecks and others along the Western Australian coastline with Locate.

How Hartog ended up in Western Australia

On 23 January 1616, Hartog sailed from Texel in the Netherlands in the 'Eendracht' a 200 tonne vessel with 32 guns, a crew of 200 and ten money chests containing 80,000 reals (pieces-of-eight), valued at about 200,000 guilders. Apparently, it was so cold that immediately before sailing 21 members of the crew and eight soldiers deserted by walking ashore over the sea ice.

Hartog found the Western Australian coast because the VOC ships were encouraged to adopt a new and faster route (the 'Brouwer Route' to the Spice Islands in the East Indies - now called Indonesia). A Captain Brouwer pioneered the route in 1610. The ships were to sail in an easterly direction from the Cape of Good Hope for '1000 mijlen' (over 7,000 kms)  using the 'Roaring Forties' - and then turn north, skirting the 'Southland' on their way to the East Indies. This route shortened the journey from Europe by 6 months.

Given that longitude could only be estimated roughly back then, it was only a matter of time before a ship sailed too far east and came upon the western coast of Australia. This is what happened to Hartog and the Eendracht. After leaving a record of his visit - the famous plate - Hartog and his crew visited Macassar in Indonesia and other trading centres in the area, off-loading chests of money, before heading northwards up the coast with a rich cargo of goods.

On the journey, Hartog charted the shore line to the North West Cape before heading to his final destination, Batavia (now called Jakarta, Indonesia). He thereby started the process of unveiling the mysterious coast of a new land. He called that part of the South Land's coast 't'Landt van d'Eendracht' or 'Eendracht's Land'.

To find out more about Dirk Hartog, view an online replica of the Eendracht and follow its journey, go to the Western Australian Museum's webpage on Dirk Hartog

Effect of Hartog's Discovery

Dirk Hartog's discovery had a major effect on world mapping and soon afterwards 't'Landt van Eendracht' started to appear on world maps, replacing the names for the mythical southern continent used previously - Terra Australis, Nova Hollandia or New Holland and South Land.

Most of the west, south and north coasts of Australia were mapped by Dutch navigators of the VOC during the rest of the 17th century, thereby gradually revealing the Western Australian coastline to the world's cartographers. The East Coast was to remain a mystery until it was discovered by Captain James Cook in 1770.

Discovery of Hartog's Plate

Dirk Hartog's plate was recovered by Willem de Vlamingh in 1697 during his voyage of discovery along the coast of Western Australia between the Swan River and the North West Cape. Vlamingh replaced the pewter plate left by Hartog with a new one containing records of both Dutch sea captains' visits and nailed it to a post of cypress pine that he had collected at Rottnest Island. Dirk Hartog's plate, which de Vlamingh took with him, was housed in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam until recently, when it was brought back to Western Australia for the Dirk Hartog anniversary celebrations.

The plate left by Willem de Vlamingh was found at the base of the rotted timber post in 1801 by members of Nicolas Baudin's French expedition. Baron Emanuel Hamelin, the skipper of the Naturaliste, one of the expedition's ships, decided that it would be sacrilege to remove the plate from the place where it had remained for more than a century. Consequently, he nailed the plate to a new post, again putting it in place in the rock cleft at the top of the cliff. Hamelin left his own inscription on a piece of lead sheet, nailed to a post on a headland somewhere else on the island. It has remained undiscovered ever since.

Vlamingh's plate remained at Cape Inscription for only another 17 years. Louis de Freycinet, who had been one of Hamelin's junior officers, had been dismayed by his commander's decision to leave the plate, believing that its proper place was in a French museum. Consequently, after he had gained command of his own ship, he returned to Cape Inscription in 1818, recovered the plate, and took it to Paris.

Vlamingh's plate was eventually returned to Australia by the French Government in 1950 and is now on display at the Western Australian Museum's Shipwreck Galleries in Fremantle, along with Dirk Hartog's original plate.

For more information about the plates of Hartog and de Vlamingh, visit the Western Australian Museum website.

This page was last updated on: 20 Mar 2021