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The European exploration of Australia encompasses several waves of seafarers and land explorers. The first documented encounter was that of Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon, in 1606. 164 years later Royal Navy Lieutenant (later Captain) James Cook, after an assignment to make observations of the 1769 Venus Transit, followed Admiralty instructions to explore the south Pacific for the reported Terra Australis and on 19 April 1770 sighted the south-eastern coast of Australia and became the first recorded European to explore the eastern coastline. Explorers by land and sea continued to survey the continent for many years after settlement.
The first documented and undisputed European sighting of and landing on Australia was in late February or early March 1606, by the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon aboard the Duyfken. It is possible that Luís Vaz de Torres, working for the Spanish Crown, sighted Australia when he sailed through the Torres Strait several months later, in October 1606.
Occasional claims have been made in support of earlier encounters, particularly for various Portuguese explorations. Evidence put forward in favour of this theory, particularly by Kenneth McIntyre, is primarily based on interpretation of features of the Dieppe maps. However, this interpretation is not accepted by most historians.
The most significant exploration of Australia in the 17th century was by the Dutch. The Dutch East India Company traded extensively with the islands which now form parts of Indonesia, and hence were very close to Australia already. In early 1606 Willem Janszoon encountered and then charted the shores of Australia's Cape York Peninsula. The ship made landfall at the Pennefather River in the Gulf of Carpentaria on 26 February 1606. This was the first authenticated landing of a European on Australian soil. Other Dutch explorers include Dirk Hartog, who landed on the Western Australian coast, leaving behind a pewter plate engraved with the date of his landing; and Abel Tasman, for whom Tasmania was eventually named—he originally called it Van Diemen's Land after a senior member of the Dutch East India Company. Maps from this period and the early 18th century often have Australia marked as "New Holland" on account of the voyages of these Dutch explorers. Joan Blaeu's 1659 map on the right shows the clearly recognizable outline of Australia based on the many Dutch explorations of the first half of the 17th century.
|1606||Willem Janszoon||Duyfken||Gulf of Carpentaria, Cape York Peninsula (Queensland)|
|1616||Dirk Hartog||Eendracht||Shark Bay area, Western Australia|
|1619||Frederick de Houtman and Jacob d'Edel||Dordrecht and Amsterdam||Sighted land near Perth, Western Australia|
|1623||Jan Carstensz||Pera and Arnhem||Gulf of Carpentaria, Carpentier River|
|1627||François Thijssen||het Gulden Zeepaerdt||1800 km of the South coast (from Cape Leeuwin to Ceduna)|
|1642–1643||Abel Tasman||Heemskerck and Zeehaen||Van Diemen's Land, later called Tasmania|
|1696–1697||Willem de Vlamingh||Geelvink, Nyptangh and the Wezeltje||Rottnest Island, Swan River, Dirk Hartog Island (Western Australia)|
One Dutch captain of this period who was not really an explorer but who nevertheless bears mentioning was Francisco Pelsaert, captain of the Batavia, which was wrecked off the coast of Western Australia in 1629.
The Australian mainland was first sighted by English sailors as early as 1622. On 1 May 1622, the Tryall, a British East India Company owned vessel of approximately 500 tons, under the command of John Brooke, sighted the coastline of Western Australia at Point Cloates, although they mistook it for an island sighted in 1618 by Willem Janszoon and in 1816 named Barrow Island by Phillip Parker King. They did not land there, and a few weeks later were shipwrecked on an uncharted reef northwest of the Montebello Islands; the reef is now known as Tryal Rocks. The shipwreck caused the death of 93 men, but the captain and nine men escaped, and made their way to Batavia by longboat, and later back to England. This was the first known shipwreck in Australian waters, and it was this wreck that William Dampier came looking for almost seven decades later. Dampier was the first Englishman to set foot on the Australian mainland, when his ship was marooned in King Sound in January 1688.
Dampier contributed to knowledge of Australia's coastline through his two-volume publication A Voyage to New Holland (1703, 1709). His book of adventures; "A New Voyage around the World," created a sensation when it was published in English in 1697. Though he was briefly marooned on the NW Australian coast on the trip described in this book, only his second voyage seems to be of importance to Australian exploration.
In 1768 British Lieutenant James Cook was sent from England on an expedition to the Pacific Ocean to observe the transit of Venus from Tahiti, sailing westwards in HMS Endeavour via Cape Horn and arriving there in 1769. On the return voyage he continued his explorations of the South Pacific, in search of the postulated continent of Terra Australis.
He first reached New Zealand, and then sailed further westwards to sight the south-eastern corner of the Australian continent on 20 April 1770. In doing so, he was to be the first documented European expedition to reach the eastern coastline. He continued sailing northwards along the east coast, charting and naming many features along the way.
He identified Botany Bay as a good harbour and one potentially suitable for a settlement, and where he made his first landfall on 29 April. Continuing up the coastline, the Endeavour was to later run aground on shoals of the Great Barrier Reef (near the present-day site of Cooktown), where she had to be laid up for repairs.
The voyage then recommenced, eventually reaching the Torres Strait and thence on to Batavia in the Dutch East Indies (now Jakarta, Indonesia). The expedition returned to England via the Indian Ocean and Cape of Good Hope.
Cook's expedition carried botanist Joseph Banks, for whom a great many Australian geographical features and at least one native plant are named. The reports of Cook and Banks in conjunction with the loss of England's penal colonies in America after they gained independence and growing concern over French activity in the Pacific, encouraged the later foundation of a colony at Port Jackson in 1788.
In 1756, French King Louis XV sent Louis-Antoine de Bougainville to look for the Southern lands. After a stay in South America and the Falklands, Bougainville reached Tahiti in April 1768, where his boat was surrounded by hundreds of canoes filled with beautiful women. "I ask you," he wrote, "given such a spectacle, how could one keep at work 400 Frenchmen? He claimed Tahiti for the French and sailed westward, past Samoa and Vanuatu, until his passage was blocked by a mighty reef. With his men weak from scurvy and disease and no way through he sailed north. When he returned to France in 1769, he was the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the globe and the first European known to have seen the Great Barrier Reef.
In 1772, two French expeditions set out to find Terra Australis. The first, led by Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne, found and named the Crozet Islands, and, in Blackmans Bay claimed Van Diemen's Land for France. He was the first to set foot there since Tasman and the first to make contact with the island's Aborigines. He sailed on to New Zealand where he and some crewmen were killed by Maori warriors. The survivors retreated to Mauritius.
Also in 1772, the two ships of the second French expedition were separated by a storm. The leader turned back but the second in command, Louis Aleno de St Aloüarn, sighted Cape Leeuwin and followed the coast to Shark Bay. He landed on Dirk Hartog Island and claimed the land for the French king.
In 1788, Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse visited Botany Bay, and in 1792, Bruni d'Entrecasteaux landed and named Esperance in Western Australia. His expedition also resulted in the publication of the first general flora of New Holland.
Once settlement in Sydney was established, the charting of Australia's coast continued into the 19th century. Matthew Flinders was one of the most important explorers of this period, and was the first to circumnavigate the continent.
|1773||Tobias Furneaux||Adventure||South and east coasts of Tasmania|
|1776||James Cook||Resolution||Southern Tasmania|
|1788||Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse||Astrolabe and Boussole||encountered First Fleet in Botany Bay|
|1796||Matthew Flinders||Tom Thumb||Coastline around Sydney|
|1798||Matthew Flinders and George Bass||Norfolk||Circumnavigated Tasmania|
|1801–1802||Nicolas Baudin, accompanied by Thomas Vasse and numerous naturalists (see below)||Le Géographe and Le Naturaliste||The first to explore Western coast; met Flinders at Encounter Bay|
|1801||John Murray||Lady Nelson||Bass Strait; discovery of Port Phillip|
|1802||Matthew Flinders||Investigator||Circumnavigation of Australia|
|1817||King expedition of 1817 – Phillip Parker King accompanied by Frederick Bedwell||Mermaid||Circumnavigation of Australia; charting of the north-western coasts|
The opening up of the interior to European settlement occurred gradually throughout the colonial period, and a number of these explorers are very well known. Burke and Wills are the best known for their failed attempt to cross the interior of Australia, but such men as Hamilton Hume and Charles Sturt are also notable—if only because major geographical features, landmarks, and institutions have been named after them. For many years, plans of westward expansion from Sydney were thwarted by the Great Dividing Range, a large range of mountains which shadows the east coast from the Queensland-New South Wales border to the south coast. The part of the range near Sydney is called the Blue Mountains. Governor Philip Gidley King declared that they were impassable, but despite this, Gregory Blaxland successfully led an expedition to cross them in 1813. He was accompanied by William Lawson, William Wentworth and four servants. This trip paved the way for numerous small expeditions which were undertaken in the following few years.
In 1824, Governor Thomas Brisbane asked Hamilton Hume and William Hovell to travel from Hume's station near modern-day Canberra, to Spencer Gulf (west of modern-day Adelaide). However, they were required to pay their own costs. Hume and Hovell decided that Western Port was a more realistic goal, and they left with a party of six men. After discovering and crossing the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers, they eventually reached a site near modern-day Geelong, somewhat west of their intended destination.
After the Great Dividing Range had been crossed at numerous points a great many rivers discovered; the Darling, Macquarie, Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers. All of these rivers flowed west. A theory was developed of a vast inland sea into which these rivers flowed. Another reason behind the idea of an inland sea was that Matthew Flinders, who had very carefully mapped much of Australia's coast had discovered no great river delta where these rivers should have emerged by had they reached the coast. The Murray-Darling basin actually drains into Lake Alexandrina. Matthew Flinders had noted this on his maps but viewed from the sea does not look like the outfall of a large watershed, but instead as a gentle tidal basin.
The mystery was solved by Charles Sturt, who in 1829–30 undertook an expedition similar to the one which Hume and Hovell had refused: a trip to the mouth of the Murray River. They followed the Murrumbidgee until it met the Murray, and then found the junction of the Murray and the Darling before continuing on to the mouth of the Murray. The search for an inland sea was an inspiration for many early expeditions west of the Great Dividing Ranges. This quest drove many explorers to extremes of endurance and hardship. Charles Sturt's expedition explained the mystery. It also led to the opening of South Australia to settlement.
The theory of the inland sea had many adherents. Major Thomas Mitchell, the Scottish born Surveyor-General of New South Wales, set out in 1836 to disprove Sturt's claims and in doing so made a significant discovery. He led an expedition along the Lachlan River, down to the Murray River. He then set off for the southern coast, mapping what is now western Victoria. There he discovered the richest grazing land ever seen to that time and named it Australia Felix. He was knighted for this discovery in 1837. When he reached the coast at Portland Bay, he was surprised to find a small settlement. It had been established by the Henty family, who had sailed across Bass Strait from Van Diemen's Land in 1834, without the authorities being informed.
Perhaps the most famous Australian explorers were Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills who in 1860–61 led a well equipped expedition from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Due to an unfortunate run of bad luck, oversight and poor leadership, Burke and Wills both died on the return trip.
Expeditions (in chronological order):
|1804||William Paterson||Port Dalrymple, Tamar River, North Esk River (Tasmania)|
|1813||Blaxland, Wentworth, and Lawson||From Sydney across the Great Dividing Range via the Blue Mountains; first penetration into inland New South Wales|
|1817–1818||John Oxley||Interior of New South Wales; discovered Lachlan River and Macquarie River|
|1818||Throsby, Meehan, Hume and Wild||Throsby and Wild discovered an overland route from Sydney to Jervis Bay via the Kangaroo and Lower Shoalhaven rivers|
|1820||Joseph Wild||discovered Lake George|
|1823||Currie, Ovens and Wild||Region south of Lake George; discovered Isabella Plains (now a suburb of Canberra), charted the upper reach of the Murrumbidgee River and discovered Monaro|
|1824||Hume and Hovell expedition||Sydney to Geelong; discovered Murray River|
|1828–1829||Charles Sturt and Hamilton Hume||Macquarie River area; discovered Darling River|
|1829||Currie, Drummond, Dr Simmons and Lieut Griffin||South of Fremantle; explored region, now Rockingham and Baldivis, and sighted the Serpentine River|
|1829||Dr Collie and Lieut.Preston||discovered Harvey, Collie and Preston rivers|
|1829–1830||Charles Sturt||Along the Murrumbidgee River; found and named Murray River, and determined that western-flowing rivers flowed into the Murray-Darling basin|
|1830||John Molloy||Blackwood River, Western Australia|
|1830–1834||Alfred and John Bussell||Blackwood River and the Vasse, Western Australia|
|1831||Robert Dale and George Fletcher Moore||Avon River area in Western Australia|
|1831||Collet Barker||Mount Lofty and the Murray Mouth|
|1834||Frederick Ludlow||Augusta to Perth; discovered Capel River|
|1834–1836||George Fletcher Moore||Avon River and Swan River; discovered that they are the same river; discovered rich pastoral land near the Moore River|
|1839–1841||Edward John Eyre||The Flinders Ranges and Nullarbor Plain|
|1840||Paweł Strzelecki||Ascended and named Mount Kosciuszko, New South Wales|
|1840||Patrick Leslie||Condamine River, New South Wales|
|1840–1842||Clement Hodgkinson||North-eastern New South Wales, from Port Macquarie to Moreton Bay|
|1844||Charles Sturt||North-western New South Wales and north-eastern South Australia; discovered the Simpson Desert|
|1847||Anthony O'Grady Lefroy and Alfred Durlacher||Gingin, Western Australia|
|1854||Austin expedition of 1854 – Robert Austin, Kenneth Brown||Geraldton, Mount Magnet, Murchison River|
|1858–1860||John McDouall Stuart||North-western South Australia; discovered water sources used as staging points for later expeditions; found and named Finke River, MacDonnell Ranges, Tennant Creek|
|1860||Burke and Wills expedition including Robert O'Hara Burke, William John Wills||Melbourne to Gulf of Carpentaria (traversing Australia south to north); determined non-existence of inland sea|
|1897||Frank Hann||Pilbara region of Western Australia; named Lake Disappointment|
Other explorers by land (in alphabetical order):
By the turn of the 20th century, most of the major geographical features of Australia had been discovered by European explorers. However, there are some 20th-century people who are considered explorers. They include:
A number of Indigenous Australians participated in the European exploration of Australia. They include:
There are a number of naturalists and other scientists closely associated with European exploration of Australia. They include: