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A plate on a post

AUSTRALIA | Tuesday, 28 August 2007 | Views [1700]

Vlamingh Plate at the Discovery Centre in Denham

Vlamingh Plate at the Discovery Centre in Denham

In the early 17th century, the Dutch were the masters of the sea trade. To reach their colonies on Java, they were rounding the Cape of Good Hope, and using the recently discovered “roaring forties” to go straight east, before heading north to Batavia, saving themselves weeks of sailing along the coasts. In 1616, captain Dirk Hartog set sail onboard the Eendracht from Amsterdam to the Dutch East Indies. Leaving South Africa behind him, he set his vessel due east, but pushed a little too far, and landed on a group of islands on an undiscovered coast. The main island now bears his name, and is part of the Shark Bay World Heritage Site. It was the first recorded European landing on the West Coast of Australia, the second altogether on the Australian continent. But before leaving the place, Hartog had a pewter plate nailed to a post on the northern tip of the island. The plate read as follows:

  • 1616 On 25 October arrived the ship Eendracht, of Amsterdam: Supercargo Gilles Miebais of Liege, skipper Dirch Hatichs of Amsterdam. on 27 d[itt]o. she set sail again for Bantam. Deputy supercargo Jan Stins, upper steersman Pieter Doores of Bil. In the year 1616.

In 1696, another Dutch captain, the Flemish Willem de Vlamingh was sent to charter the west coast of Australia. He discovered places like Rottnest Island farther to the south, but also landed on Dirk Hartog Island, were his men luckily found the plate left some eighty years ago. It was half buried at the foot of the still standing pole. Vlamingh took it back with him to Amsterdam, but not before nailing his own plate, copying Hartog’s words and adding his own. The plate remained there for more than a century, when French captain and explorer Nicolas Baudin was sent by Napoleon to map the coast of Australia. Baudin left the plate on the post and erected another one to nail his own plate. In 1817, Louis de Freycinet, who was a member of the 1801 Baudin expedition, was captain of the Uranie, and upon visiting the west coast of Australia, recovered the Vlamingh plate. It was brought back to Paris, where it stayed until 1947, when the French government presented it to the Australian people as a token of gratitude for their contributions on the European battlefields of WWII.

The Vlamingh plate is now on display at the Fremantle Maritime Museum - and I will see it in a few days -, while I had the chance to see the two original posts at the brand new Discovery Centre in Denham. I have also probably seen the original Hartog plate while visiting the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, but to be quite honest, this story was still unknown to me and the plate left nothing but a blurred memory. But I have a very strong and deep feeling inside me that tells me I’ll have the chance to see it again one day.

To see more pictures of Shark Bay, click here

Tags: ambassador van, culture

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