Pirates on the Duyfken

Little bears are sailing on the Duyfken, the replica of the Dutch ship Duyfken, that reached the Australian coast in 1606 under the command of Willem Janszoon, in the first historically recorded European voyage to Australia.

In 1995, a group of passionate people formed the Duyfken 1606 Replica Foundation in Fremantle, Western Australia. A full size reproduction of the Duyfken was built by the Foundation jointly with the Maritime Museum of Western Australia. In January 1997, His Royal Dutch Highness Prince Willem Alexander laid the keel of the Duyfken at the building shed erected in front of the Maritime Museum. The building site was open to the public, which gave the West Australian people a great insight into the “ancient” ship building techniques.

The Duyfken sails off Fremantle, July 1999.

On Sunday 24th January 1999, the Duyfken Replica was launched in Fremantle, an event witnessed by 7000 people. On 10 July 1999, the Duyfken raised its sails for the first time and made its first journey in West Australian waters. She then undertook goodwill tours to Sydney, Queensland, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, South Africa, and finally Texel in the Netherlands, where the original ship sailed from. While in the Netherlands, the floor of the hold was replaced by antique Dutch bricks.

400 year-old bricks
Samples of spices carried by the original Duyfken

The original ship comes from a time when ship designs were not recorded on paper; a ship’s design was evolved in the master shipwright’s head, and ships were shaped largely by eye.

The Duyfken Replica was built as a project in experimental archaeology. She was built in the same way that the original ship would have been built, an undertaking which has been a huge leap in the dark for 20th century shipwrights who have been trained in a very different tradition. Like the original Duyfken, the replica was built plank-first, with no frames to predetermine the shape of the hull. The oak timbers which form the outer plank shell, some of them more than 100mm thick, were bent to shape by heating over open fires until they become plastic. This was done by shipwrights working entirely by eye. Learning the technique was very difficult and some valuable oak planks were burned, but the shipwrights succeeded. They have become skilful at the ancient practice of plank-first construction, and have produced a very beautiful ship.

Plank-first was the ancient way of building a planked vessel. Planked boats developed from dugout canoes, through the addition of a row of planks (called a strake by shipwrights), then more strakes, gradually introducing the need for some framing structure to help hold the planks together and to make rigid the shape of the plank shell. Above a certain size, some transverse struts or beams were necessary. The sequence in which these structural elements were put into the vessel during plank-first construction largely reflects the sequence in which they were invented, because the development from simple dugout canoe to large planked ship was incremental.

This cannon was cast especially for the Duyfken in Fremantle where the ship was built.

In plank-first ship-building the planks can be attached to each other by a range of methods: edge dowelling, tenons, skew nails, stitching, sewing, fastenings through overlaps and temporary cleats were all used. Some techniques were suitable for the construction of relatively large ships. Some were very labour intensive, some less so, and some of those techniques are still used today.

The hull is made from European oak from Latvia

The hull was built as a shell of planks, the shape more or less sculpted by eye, plank by plank, following a plan in the master shipwright’s head. Sophisticated hull shapes were possible, indeed likely, in maritime-oriented cultures. However, traditional plank-first methods made it virtually impossible to precisely follow a hull shape specified in scaled plans.

Frame-first construction is quite different. A skeleton of frames is erected first and the planks are then fitted to that skeleton. The shapes of the frames can be derived from plans.

By the time of the Renaissance and the European Age of Discovery, frame-first construction was used for building large ships in Italy, Spain and Portugal. It has been claimed that frame-first construction made it possible to develop large, sturdy ships, suitable for voyages of discovery and for carrying enough artillery to inspire trade with the local population for valuable spices, silks and metals. Why the sequence in which the components of a ship are assembled should make that possible is not explained.

The figureheads represent the winged-hat god Mercury. Port side was for fortune at war and starboard, fortune in sailing.

As the Renaissance spread north, frame-first technology spread to northern Europe, where it replaced lapstrake construction in which planks overlap one another and are fastened together through that overlap. Replacement of lapstrake was probably necessary for the successful building of large armed ships. Henry VIII brought Portuguese shipwrights to England to teach his shipwrights, and this might be seen as the inevitable diffusion of a superior technology.

But the Dutch were not influenced by this new fad for frame-first construction, and the Dutch were far and away the most successful builders and operators of merchant shipping at the time. They invented their own economical way of changing from overlapping planks without abandoning the plank-first tradition in which their ships were conceived and shaped by eye.

When the elements of a Dutch nation first coalesced, and began a war of independence against the Spanish monarchy in the 1570s, the people of the Netherlands owned more shipping tonnage than any other nation in Europe, something like six times as much as the English. The Spanish, who they were at war with, could not ban Dutch ships from their own ports, because they would have starved without the flow of grain in Dutch ships from Baltic ports.

Letters and reports from that time and on through the 17th century, show that the English and Spanish, amongst others, regarded Dutch ships as superior in many respects. Dutch ships were fast relative to cargo capacity, economically built, shallow-drafted yet good sailers, requiring relatively few crew and they were more likely to survive a grounding, not because they were structurally superior, but because their shape was better. A letter probably written by the merchant Pedro Lopez de Soto in 1631 or ’32, and translated by Paulo Monteiro, talks of their superiority. He wrote:

‘I arrive at the conclusion that the Flemish nation has understood better than any other, maritime matters, and that they practice them with much more perfection than any other (nation), and they go with their ships all over the world and to places where ours cannot navigate because of the great storms there are in those regions, and the Turks from Argal and Zale, practicing piracy on the coasts of Italy and Spain, will not use anything other than Flemish ships …’

With no plans and only a few sketches to guide the work, builders relied on research and computer modelling to arrive at an accurate reproduction of the Duyfken. The construction team had to learn 16th century techniques, such as bending planks by fire. They have done a remarkable job!

Duyfken Replica at sea

In 2002 the Netherlands celebrated the 400th anniversary of the VOC, the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie. The Duyfken participated in the celebrations during the spring and summer of 2002, having arrived in the Netherlands in April 2002. Commemoration activities included a memorial ceremony in the Ridderzaal (The Knights’ Hall) in the parliamentary building in The Hague, and festivities in the six VOC port cities of Amsterdam, Delft, Enkhuizen, Hoorn, Middelburg and Rotterdam, as well as on the island of Texel.

Duyfken in Enkhuizen, Netherlands, June 2002

The little yacht Duyfken which explored the Australian coast in 1606 was not the only Dutch vessel with that name to visit the Indies. The list of ships that went to the East at the end of the 16th and in the 17th and 18th century, shows that there were seven vessels named Duyfken, plus a White Duyfken and a Duif. It was a common name for a small vessel that accompanied the larger cargo-carriers in a fleet, and may have been a biblical allusion to Noah’s dove sent out to search for new land or her use as a carrier of mail similar to a carrier pigeon.

Duyfken means little dove or little bird in Dutch.

It has long been thought that the Duyfken which reached the Australian shore, and the Duyfken of the first fleet of the Dutch, which sailed to the Indies in 1595, was one and the same ship. However, archival research shows that the departure and arrival dates of the fleets and the ships reveal that this cannot be the case. Confusion is understandable because we now know that the Duyfken of the first fleet was renamed Overijssel after her first voyage. An account in German of the second voyage of the Duyfken (now named Overijssel), in the fleet under command of Van Neck in 1598 reads in translation:

…stayed together the following [ship], to wit the ship Overijssel, which one sometimes named Duyfken or Daublein [German word for little Dove], and which was the small yacht [of the fleet], and the ship Hollandia and the ship Mauritius

Thus the Duyfken that visited Australia was the second vessel named Duyfken.

A 19th century illustration depicting the Duyfken in the Gulf of Carpentaria. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

The first fleet of the Dutch sailed to the Indies on 2 April 1595. It was a small fleet of four ships, equipped by the Compagnie van Verre (Company from Far) of Amsterdam consisting of the three merchantmen Mauritius, Hollandia and Amsterdam, accompanied by a small pinas that was named Duyfken. This yacht was built in May 1594 in Amsterdam at a shipyard called Uylenburg. This first voyage which lasted two years was long and difficult and during the voyage many lives were lost. The fleet returned to the Netherlands on 11 August, 1597.

Following the return of the fleet, the Duyfken was renamed Overijssel and this vessel sailed to the Indies on 1 May 1598 in the fleet of Admiral Van Neck, which was equipped by the Oude Oost-Indische Compagnie (Old East India Company).

Why was Duyfken renamed Overijssel? When van Neck’s fleet sailed, it consisted of eight ships, seven of which were named after a province or a city of the Netherlands, and one was called the Mauritius, the name of the Prince Stadtholder of the United Provinces of the Netherlands. It is possible that the Duyfken was recruited for the fleet and renamed Overijssel to fit this policy. Van Neck’s fleet departed from Bantam for the Netherlands on 12 January 1599, and arrived at Texel island on 19 July of the same year.

The Return to Amsterdam of the Second Expedition to the East Indies, 19 July 1599, by Hendrik Cornelisz Vroom, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

The Overijssel departed Texel on 21 December 1599 on her third and last voyage. She arrived at Bantam on 1 September 1600. After sailing in the Indies, the Overijssel left for the Netherlands on 9 September 1601, arriving at Texel again in June 1602.

However, more than a year earlier, on 23 April 1601, another yacht named Duyfken departed from Texel arriving at Bantam on 26 December 1601. This is almost certainly the Duyfken that was to sail to Australia in 1606.

A third Duyfken left the Netherlands on 29 December 1611 (she ran aground and was lost near Surat in 1617), but by this time the second Duyfken had already been lost in 1608 off Ternate, one of the Molucca’s Spice Islands.

We know that the first Duyfken was built in 1594, if we assume that the second and third Duyfken were built in the same year as they set sail to the Indies for the first time, then all three ships reached an age of about 8 years before they were lost, abandoned or fell into disuse.

On April 23, 1601, a large fleet of thirteen ships under command of Admiral Jacob van Heemskerck left Texel and set sail for the Indies. Part of the fleet was a smaller fleet of five ships under command of Admiral Wolfert Harmensz, consisting of the ships Gelderland, Utrecht, Wachter, Zeeland and the Duyfken, the last captained by Willem Cornelisz Schouten. It was the first time that this Duyfken sailed for the Indies.

Wolfert Harmensz’s so-called Moluccan (Maluku) Fleet was equipped by the Oude Oost-Indische Compagnie and had cost 224,601 guilders. This was one of the so called Voorcompagnien (pre-companies), which were the predecessors of the VOC, or Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, the United East India Company. The Voorcompagnien equipped the ships for the Indies before the VOC was founded in 1602. After the foundation of the VOC, other companies were no longer allowed to sail for the Indies.

This Duyfken left the Netherlands before and returned after the founding of the VOC. The fact that the Duyfken was built and equipped at a time of transition from the pre-companies to the VOC makes it complicated to find information about her in the archives.

The directors of the Oude Oost-Indische Compagnie, which had equipped Harmensz’s Maluku Fleet had been very specific in their “instruction for our fleet of five ships, destined under command of Admiral Wolffert Hermenssen [Harmensz] to the Islands of the Moluccas, and Banda”. The fleet was to set sail straight to Bantam, Java to get information about the affairs of the Dutch at Banda and Maluku. After having done this the ships were to sail eastward to either Jurtan, Tubon or Bali to buy rice, cotton and other fabrics, and other goods that could be of use in Maluku.

Subsequently, the Admiral, with the ship Gelderland and the ship Wachter, was to set sail to Ternate, and the Vice-admiral with the ships Zeeland and Utrecht was to set sail to Ambon and Banda. They were to stay as long together as was possible, depending of the winds.

Concerning the Duyfken the instruction is even more specific:

Concerning the yacht called tile Duyffgen [sic], [she] should stay with those [two] ships from which she could sail in the easiest way to the other [two] ships in order to bring news and to sail to Banda, and if there is apparently more cargo of nuts than the ships are able to take in, and to sail with it to Ternate. And if possible the same yacht should sail back from Ternate to Banda to bring the news on the Ternate trade to Banda in this way.
And in case at Ternate for some reason there won’t be enough [crop], the same yacht should go to Ternate with the cargo of nuts…

On 20 April 1602 the VOC directors discussed the matter of the ships equipped by the Oude Oost-Indische Compagnie. It is obviously that they wanted to buy the smaller yachts, but exactly from whom, and why only the smaller yachts are mentioned, is not clear.

The Duyfken arrived back in the Netherlands in February 1603 after having left the Indies on 25 August 1602 with the ships Gelderland and Zeeland under Admiral Wolfert Harmensz.

The Duyfken was bought by the VOC sometime before October 1603. A bookkeepers journal from this early period of the Amsterdam Chamber has survived.

The Duyfken, now under Captain Willem Jansz, set sail again for the Indies on 18 December 1603. This time she was part of a fleet under command of Admiral Steven van der Haghen, aboard the ship Geunieerde Provincien. Van der Haghen’s fleet of twelve ships was the first fleet fully equipped by the VOC. The ships were heavily armed and it was obvious that they were not meant only for trade, they were ordered to attack the Portuguese where possible, but it was only after opening the secret instructions on the open sea Admiral Van der Haghen knew fully the bellicose intentions of the Company. Announcement of these instructions brought upheaval amongst the crew, most of whom had not mustered to fight.

The directors of the VOC had instructed Steven van der Haghen that he should leave the four yachts Delft, Medenblick, Enkhuysen and Duyfken, or at least three of them, in the Indies for at least three years, “to sail from one place to another and to act as be instructed by the upper-merchants who stay there”. According to this, there appears good reason to believe that the voyage of the Duyfken for the discovery of New Guinea was ordered by Steven van der Haghen. As he left almost immediately for Holland in October 1605, the responsibility for its execution would devolve to someone else. At that time the headquarters of the Dutch in the Indies was at Ambon, and Frederik de Houtman had been appointed Governor.

Portrait of Willem Janszoon, by Jeremias Falck Blaeu, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

In 1605, the yacht Duyfken with Captain Willem Janszoon was placed at the disposal of Govemor de Houtman by Admiral Steven van der Haghen. De Houtman gave orders for the expedition to the so-called “southern lands” to Captain Willem Janszoon, “but as Janszoon had to obtain some very necessary provisions and ship’s stores before he could sail”, De Houtman sent him to Bantam with orders to the VOC agent Jan Willem Verschoor, asking him to assist the captain.

We do not know the exact movements of the Duyfken directly from the Dutch records, only from the English Captain Saris of the English East India Company at Bantam. The sources do not mention the exact dates of the voyage of the Duyfken to Australia or her return. According to Saris’ quotation they left on 18 November 1605 and were back in June 1606. Several contemporary 17th century documents in Dutch refer to the voyage of the Duyfken, the Captain Willem Janszoon and second officer Jan Lodewijck Roossengin, including the “Instruction to Commander Abel Jansen Tasman” written in 1644.

But the most important document is the copy of the Duyfken Chart which was found in 1933 in Vienna. The chart is extremely informative, as it shows the whole course of the vessel from Banda on the outward and the homeward voyages; it shows that the Duyfken visited the Kei and the Aru Islands, it shows the actual landfall on the coast of Australia, and it locates the position of Cape Keerweer where the Duyfken turned back to Banda. The legend on the map reads: “This map shows the route taken by the yacht Duifien (sic) on the outward as well as on the return voyage when she visited the countries east of Banda up to New Guinea”.

The chart of the Duyfken, 1606
A map of the possible route taken by the Duyfken on its journey to Australia

From the chart it is easy to locate the point where the Duyfken made her first landfall: the Pennefather River, about 150 kilometres south of the tip of present-day Cape York, on the western side. The copies of the original chart place the Pennefather River, named by the Dutch ‘R. met het Bosch’ (River with the bush), at 11°48’S. This represents an error of less than half a degree, or about 50 kilometres, which is quite accurate considering the rudimentary instruments and methods for determining latitude and longitude at sea in the Duyfken’s time.

It’s still possible to ascertain what the little yacht found at the Pennefather River, because it has changed little since 1606! A sandy spit covers part of the entrance to an inlet half a kilometre wide that broadens to tidal flats stretching a few kilometres inland. The vegetation is a mix of scrub and casuarinas. In March, the heat and humidity of the wet season may have abated, but the atmosphere was still decidedly tropical.

From the Pennefather, the Duyfken headed south. Some 40 kilometres down the coast, at 12°8’ (actually 12°34’), she rounded what Matthew Flinders named Duyfken Point in her honour in 1802. She then entered Vliege Bay, ‘vliege’ meaning flies, suggesting the first European encounter with these ubiquitous Aussie insects 🙂

Janszoon and his men charted Vliege Bay, then continued south. They entered another bay 10 kilometres down the coast. Here they marked their chart ‘Dubbel Rev’ (Double River). This section of coast was characterised by low cliffs and particularly shallow water. The Duyfken kept well out to sea (10 kilometres or more in places) while her boats explored inshore. On his chart Janszoon also marked ‘R. Vis’ (Fish River, now known as the Archer) suggesting they’d enjoyed a good catch, possibly of barramundi.

The Duyfken then sailed another 35 kilometres down the coast to a point on their charts marked as ‘Cabo Keerweer’ (Cape Turn-about). Janszoon has it at 13°40’ (it actually extends from around 13°50’ to 14°). It’s more of a small outlet for the Kirke River than a cape, but it was certainly a significant point for Janszoon.

While there’s no first-hand account of what happened at Cape Keerweer, a surprising amount of information comes from the descendants of people who were there. Since the 1970s researchers have been recording the oral histories of Wik elders, keepers of the stories of the Dutch visit in 1606.

Gladys Nunkatiapin told Kevin Gilbert for his book Living Black in 1978:

One day the first six white men came to this country. They crossed the river and met our people. They took one young woman back across the river. Her husband go and say, ‘Let her go, give her back’. No one spoke the language; they could only use signs. The husband came back and said to our people, ‘Help me get my wife back.’ so the husband and tribesmen went back across the river and made signs. The white men wouldn’t let her go. The husband pulled the white man into the river and choked him. I think that’s when it all started.

Jack Spear Karntin told Dr Peter Sutton his version in 1986:

If the Dutchmen had behaved properly, [the Aboriginals] would not have killed them. But they detained their wives…
The rest of the boats came from way out to sea, from well out to sea off Thewena [Cape Keerweer].
From there they wrongly blamed [the Aboriginals] on the south side [of the river mouth], they shot them with guns as they lay sleeping, bang bang bang bang bang bang bang! But they were innocent! Yes!

The Englishman John Saris noted:

The Flemmings’ [Dutch] Pinnasse which went upon discovery for Nova Ginny, were returned to Banda [in the Moluccas], having found the island: but in sending their men on shoare to intreate for Trade, there were nine of them killed by the Heathens.

If that number is correct, Janszoon may have lost nearly half his crew (which probably numbered 20). Yet he didn’t turn and run for home. He headed back along the coast and continued his exploration north of the Pennefather River.

His chart clearly shows the indentation of what is now the Wenlock River and Port Musgrave. It was here that Janszoon again ran into difficulties with the locals. Later explorer Jan Carstenszoon recorded on 11 May 1623:

‘In the afternoon we sailed past a large river (which the men of the Duifken went up with a boat in 1606, and where one of them was killed by the arrows of the blacks)’.

Still Janszoon and the Duyfken pressed on. They passed the western side of what is now the Endeavour Strait, just a few kilometres from the tip of the Australian continent at Cape York. Janszoon charted ‘de Hooghe Eylandt’ (the High Island, later named Prince of Wales Island by Cook), at the Strait’s entrance but went no further. At that time of year he may have experienced strong headwinds and currents that prevented him from making any further progress to the east.

As he gazed at the Strait, he had sufficient belief that the land he’d explored to the south was part of New Guinea to the north. He described it as such on his chart, but didn’t go so far as to connect the two. Not having sighted a coastline, he left the space and the question of an actual connection open.

Soon the unwittingly famous Duyfken was heading west, back to a Dutch base at Banda, where she arrived in June 1606. Her voyage was significant in its own right but it also marked the beginning of an extraordinary period of Australian exploration. Over the next 36 years Dutch voyages charted nearly three-quarters of the Australian coastline. For the first time in history, the island continent took its place on the maps of the world.

Double hemispherical world map showing results of early explorative voyages in Australian and New Zealand waters, 1648. (National Library of Australia. Map RM 3451.)

It’s unlikely pirates boarded the original Duyfken, but little pirates had fun exploring the replica 🙂

In the captain’s cabin
Finding treasure 🙂
Giving sailing instructions 🙂

And they have explored the Duyfken replica just in time!

Apparently in September 2012 the Western Australian Government committed funds for 10 years to see the Duyfken stay in Perth, but that has already changed. In January this year, Premier Mark McGowan said the Government would not be renewing the annual grant of $160,000 for staff, from April this year, giving the Duyfken 1606 Replica Foundation only three months notice, and would not be renewing the annual grant of $125,000 for maintenance from 2021. The Government needs all the money it can get hold off to finance the incredibly inefficient government departments it has under its umbrella and to keep throwing money at rescuing failed projects rather than address the competency level in the same departments.

The Duyfken Replica was courted by the Netherlands earlier this decade when the Queensland and WA governments were deciding its future. Duyfken 1606 Replica Foundation chief executive Peter Bowman said the Foundation would have to once again look at the Netherlands if its finances could not be assured in WA. That would be a bit far for little bears to travel but then the Netherlands has bear-size poffertjes!

Poffertjes at De Vier Pilaren, Stadhouderskade 11, Amsterdam

Spice Chaser

Duyfken Replica at sea

Little bears are aboard the Duyfken 🙂 the replica of the VOC Duyfken that reached the coast of Australia in 1606 and charted 300km of the coast around the Cape York Peninsula.

The Duyfken was one of the first Dutch ships to get to the Spice Islands to load spices. The VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie), or Dutch East India Company in English, was after the exotic cloves and nutmeg of the Moluccas, as the “Spice Islands” of Indonesia were then known.

Map of the Moluccas

Amsterdam was the centre of the international trade in the exotic luxuries of the Americas, India and the “Spice Islands”. The Amsterdam stock exchange, founded in 1602, was the world’s first, created by the VOC for dealing in its own stocks and bonds. The VOC was the first-ever trading company with a permanent share capital. This joint stock company attracted huge wealth in initial capitalization from over 1,800 investors, most of whom were merchants and other wealthy middle-class citizens, and the speculation on the fluctuating value of these shares relied on the success or failure of the company’s ships in bringing spices back to Europe from the Far East.

The first great global corporation, the VOC, was by the late 17th century the most powerful and richest company in the world. Its private fleet boasted nearly 150 merchant ships and 40 giant warships. At the height of its power, it employed nearly 50,000 people worldwide—seamen, artisans, stevedores, labourers, clerks and builders. The company was involved in a multitude of commercial activities, such as construction, sugar refining, cloth manufacturing, tobacco curing, weaving, glass making, distilling, brewing and other industries related to its global business enterprises. The payroll also included a 10,000-man private army.

The VOC, one of the foundations of Dutch prosperity and with its mighty fleet a key force propelling the young republic to look to the world for commerce, held a virtual monopoly over the global spice supply. It achieved this in a bloody struggle at the dawn of the Age of Heroic Commerce. Ironically, the company’s wealth was founded on a system and on values imposed in Indonesia that ran counter to the liberal and tolerant culture of many of its shareholders. Furthermore, its rise to global supremacy as a state monopoly, and its contribution to the artistic and cultural flourishing of the Dutch Republic, was founded on the ruthless strategy of a man whose character was entirely at odds with the character of his nation.

Sailing as part of Peter Verhoef’s expedition, and witness to what he termed the “Vile Bandanese Treachery of 1609”, was a junior trader named Jan Pieterszoon Coen. The Bandanese uprising and resistance to the VOC, he believed, had been sponsored by perfidious English agents and furthered by the untrustworthy nature of the Bandanese. Coen was destined for historical greatness and, some would argue, infamy. More than a decade later, as the governor general of the VOC’s enterprise in the East Indies, Coen would see to it that such disrespect for his company did not go unpunished.

The spices of the East Indies came from a variety of sources. Nutmeg and mace grow together on the same tree, a shiny-leaved evergreen that can reach a height of nearly twenty metres. The fruit is yellow and peach-like and bursts open when fully ripe, exposing a small brown nut encased in a red membrane. The meat of the nut is the nutmeg and the red membrane, after being dried in the sun until brown, is the mace.

Nutmeg tree and its fruits
Nutmeg seed

Cloves are the unopened flowers of the clove trees which blanket hillsides with their reddish new-growth leaves. The pink buds are harvested by hand and dried in the sun. A mature tree yields upwards of fifteen kilograms of dried buds per year.

Cloves tree

Pepper comes from a dark-leaved climbing vine, whose berries grow in clusters of as many as fifty. Picked unripe and green, the berries dry black in the sun. White pepper is derived from fully ripened red berries.

Pepper vine

The aromatic inner bark of the cinnamon and cassia trees is cut off the branches and dried in the sun until it rolls up.

Cinnamon tree

The bulbous root of a narrow perennial with leaves like grass yields ginger, historically eaten fresh in the East but dried and ground for shipment to Western markets.

Ginger plant

Bright yellow turmeric is likewise derived from a rhizome of a plant in the ginger family, and other exotic spices also have their prosaic origin in plants that grew historically in Indonesia.

Turmeric plantation
Turmeric powder and roots

These well-known spices were used as primary ingredients in medicines, perfumes and food flavourings, as an aid to digestion and as a preservative of meat. Their aromatic properties were so powerful that minute amounts masked foul odours and enlivened otherwise monotonous cuisine. Their odour disguised the stench of crowded cities and the reek of slightly rotten salted meats. These spices were so valuable that they doubled as currency, and people killed for them. A single pouch of some spices could be exchanged for a small herd of cattle or sheep, or offered as a fabulous wedding dowry.

Spices were presented as gifts to kings, demanded as tribute by conquering generals and graciously received by popes as their due. The Roman Emperor Tiberius complained of the drain on the empire’s resources that resulted from paying for “exotic Asian products”. In AD 408 King Alaric of the invading Goths demanded three thousand pounds of pepper as payment for not plundering Rome. Nutmeg and ginger were even believed to ward off the plague. For centuries, gold and silver flowed east while dried and powdered plant matter flowed west.

In 17th century Europe fashionable and well-off households possessed ornate spice graters and storage canisters, as well as small silver plates specially designed to serve spice cake and candied spiced fruit. Gentlemen and ladies wore pomanders loaded with spices and perfume blends to ward off infectious diseases and disguise body odours. An orange or apple might be punctured with dozens of cloves and left to scent a room of hanging clothes. Cloves were especially popular as breath fresheners; in ancient Han China a rule of the imperial court dictated that supplicants and courtiers must chew cloves to sweeten their breath before speaking to the emperor.

Apothecaries and physicians prescribed a melange of spices to ward off a variety of both minor and serious ailments. Nutmeg was reputed to stifle coughs and improve memory; pepper cured common colds, improved eyesight and reduced liver pains; cloves were a remedy against earache; tamarind was efficacious against the plague. Last, but certainly not least, it was widely rumoured that many spices, including nutmeg, mace and ginger, were aphrodisiacs. Not surprisingly, demand for these spices had long outstripped supply, and their prices frequently put them out of reach of all but the wealthy, except on special occasions. “The art of their various uses was common among civilized peoples,” writes historian J. Innes Miller in The Spice Trade of the Roman Empire, “in their homes, their temples, their public ceremonial, and in the seasoning of their food and wine. A peculiar attribute was their medicinal power. That they were dried and of small bulk made them easy of transport, and their rarity a form of royal treasure.”

For centuries, most people who used cloves, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg and ginger, and even most of those who trafficked in them, had no idea where these spices originated or how they grew. Most of what the purchasers and users “knew” about these aromatic and astringent seeds, berries, roots and barks was myth and fantasy. The famous Roman natural philosopher Pliny the Elder described the adventurous methods by which spices were believed to be transported from distant lands—lands that he himself had never visited: “They bring spices over vast seas on rafts which have no rudders to steer them or oars to push . . . or sails or other aids to navigation but instead only the spirit of man and human courage . . . These winds drive them on a straight course, and from gulf to gulf. Now cinnamon is the chief object of their journey, and they say that these merchant sailors take almost five years before they return, and that many perish.”

The journey along the trade routes running east and west from the spiceries was long and arduous. The most desirable spices originated in two of the remotest island clusters of the Far East. The Indonesian archipelago, which ranges southeast from mainland Asia, is the largest archipelago in the world and comprises thirteen thousand islands, spattered like stars in the night sky, over roughly five thousand square kilometres of water. Bordering the equator, the archipelago has a climate that is hot and humid, and its soil is fertile due to frequent volcanic activity. The islands of Java and Sumatra, in the west of the archipelago, produced pepper (of all spices the greatest in demand), ginger, cinnamon and resinous camphor and were well positioned to dominate the spice trade through control over both the Malacca and Sunda straits. The second spice region in the archipelago was the famed Moluccas. Only five of these small islands had the soil and climatic conditions required to grow cloves. All were clustered together west of the giant island Halmahera and were dominated by sultanates on two islands, Ternate and Tidore. Hundreds of kilometres to the south, in the lonely expanse of the Banda Sea, were the tiny Banda Islands, the sole home of the elusive nutmeg tree.

The commerce in spices dates back to before the recorded history of the area, preceding the arrival of the first European ships by two thousand years. Javanese, Malay and Chinese ships were frequent visitors to the early, remote marketplaces where local spices were exchanged for rice, cotton, silk, coins, porcelain or beads in an ancient and intricate web of commerce. The demand inspired merchants to create elaborate trade routes that wound their way through these mostly tiny islands by sea and over land. Spices found their way to the great trading centres of Sumatra and Java, changed hands and then wended their way to India, where they were passed on to Hindu merchants who resold them to Arab merchants, who in turn took them west across the Indian Ocean to Egypt and the Middle East, and eventually north to the rim of the Mediterranean. There, Alexandria was the first great trading emporium for this lucrative commerce; centuries later, commercial power in the region shifted to Constantinople. And, of course, each time the goods traded hands, the prices increased as successive merchants took their profits and successive governments took their taxes and tariffs. By the time the spices reached Europe, what could be had for a basket of rice or a few pieces of cloth on the Banda Islands might be worth a small fortune in silver.

For hundreds of years during the Middle Ages, the spice trade in the West was dominated by the city-state of Venice. Venetian merchants shut out all others from the marketplaces in Alexandria, and then Constantinople, where the Arab merchants offered their exotic wares for sale while concealing what they knew of their origin. In 1453, however, in a devastating siege, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks and was sacked by the invading army, ending what remained of the Byzantine Empire. The fall of Constantinople placed the spice trade entirely in the hands of the Ottomans, who soon raised taxes and increased tariffs to virtually shut off the spice supply to “infidel” Europe.

During the late 15th century, however, the Portuguese discovered a sea route to the East by pushing south along the coast of Africa and around the Cape of Good Hope, conquering numerous east African cities and founding the colony of Goa on the western coast of India in 1510. A few years later Portuguese adventurers seized cities in Indonesia, where they constructed fortified settlements to dominate and control the local spice trade. Soon Portugal was one of the richest nations in Europe, boasting a complex trade network that extended around the world. But in its very success was the kernel of Portugal’s downfall: the nation had a population of only two million, and the Eastern spice trade, with its continuous wars, shipwrecks and deaths from disease, took a heavy toll on Portugal’s small population of males. To keep the enterprise running, Portugal hired foreign sailors, who soon shared the knowledge of this astonishing wealth. Others also wanted a share of the spice trade.

Map of the East Indies

Beginning in 1519, in one of the greatest voyages of all time, a Spanish expedition led by the disaffected Portuguese nobleman Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigated the world by sailing around South America, crossing the Pacific Ocean and establishing a Spanish presence in the Spice Islands. Despite their quarrelling, the Spanish and Portuguese reaped great profits by monopolizing the spice trade in Europe for decades. In the mid-sixteenth century, dynastic politics in Europe resulted in Charles V, the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, inheriting the throne of Spain as well as the dukedom of Burgundy and the provinces in the north, roughly in the region of today’s Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. In 1549 these provinces became an independent state under the emperor’s rule. When he abdicated the throne in 1555 to devote his life to the church, he divided this vast and unwieldy empire between his brother, Ferdinand, and his son, Philip. While Ferdinand retained control of the old Holy Roman Empire, Philip became king of Spain and the newly created Spanish Netherlands. The powerful chartered cities of this region were vital to the prosperity of the Spanish Crown. In 1580 Philip annexed Portugal, uniting the competing nations under one monarchy and one spice monopoly.

The Protestant reformation interrupted this cosy arrangement. In 1567 King Philip sent the ruthless Duke of Alva and an army of Spanish soldiers to the Netherlands to put down a revolt and collect a new series of taxes on the cities of the Lowlands. On February 16, 1568, the Inquisition declared that all three million citizens of the Netherlands, apart from a few exceptions, were heretics and were therefore condemned to death. Now Philip ordered Alva to carry out the Inquisition’s sentence. The cities of the Lowlands, chafing under their financial burden, Alva’s brutal massacre and the execution of thousands of citizens by rope, fire and sword, rose in revolt. Declaring the Spanish to be “cruel, bloodthirsty, foreign oppressors,” they coalesced around the leadership of William III of Orange. Since Spanish rule was strongest in the southern Netherlands, most leading merchants and capital fled north during the conflict, as economic and religious refugees from Spanish and Catholic rule.

Little Puffles and Honey in Amsterdam

The prime beneficiary of this movement of wealth and knowledge was the city of Amsterdam. For decades in the late 16th century, Spanish and rebel armies clashed inconclusively, effectively shutting down the port of Antwerp, and with it Portuguese commercial access to northern Europe. Amsterdam merchants began sailing to Lisbon to acquire spices until 1595, when King Philip shut down Lisbon, and thus closed Europe’s spice centre, to merchants from the Netherlands. This closure gave the merchants of what was becoming one of the greatest trading centres of northern Europe the incentive to launch their own voyages to the East.

The first Duyfken was built around 1595 in the Netherlands, a fast, lightly-armed ship intended for small valuable cargoes – of spice! The Duyfken was selected as the jacht, or scout, for the “Moluccan Fleet” sailing to the Spice Islands. On Christmas day 1601, the five ships of the Moluccan Fleet reached Bantam (Banten), Java and encountered a blockading fleet of Portuguese ships totalling eight galleons and twenty-two galleys. The Dutch engaged the Portuguese fleet in intermittent battle until they drove it away on New Years day. The undisputed dominance of the Iberians (Portuguese and Spanish) in the Spice Trade to Europe was now over.

Frank Talen on the Duyfken

Frank Talen is one of the many dedicated Duyfken volunteers, the son of Dutch immigrants to Australia.

This is one of Frank’s poems, that he shares with passengers that sail aboard the Duyfken.

Spice Chaser, by Frank Talen

the VOC jacht Duyfken
Hew for me an oaken tree
and stretch it on the ground;
and launch me on the Zuyder Zee,
I’m for the Indies bound.
Lay the keel from stem to heel
and raise her decks above
and step the masts and set them fast
to fly my little dove.
With hempen ropes to stay our hopes,
to rig her shrouds and sails,
spread wide her wings before the winds
to fly from gusts and gales.
With guns to arm and fend off harm,
with food and drink in store,
with our brave crew will sail the blue
till we’re again on shore.
But at the start how leaps my heart
as Holland falls astern!
Oh family dear, God soothe your fear
and pray for my return.
Then set our course by nature’s force
to turn around the Cape,
through Zanzibar and Nicobar
to trace the ocean’s shape.
By swiftly faring trade winds bearing
for Banda and Ternate,
we’ll fill our hold with spice and gold,
with cloves and nootmuskaat.

Fourier’s 250th Anniversary

The 250th anniversary of Joseph Fourier’s birth has been added to the French national commemorations of 2018 by the High committee of the French Academy.

Portrait of Joseph Fourier, mathematician

March 21 marks the 250th birthday of one of the most influential mathematicians in history. He accompanied Napoleon on his expedition to Egypt, revolutionized science’s understanding of heat transfer, developed the mathematical tools used today to create CT and MRI scan images, and discovered the greenhouse effect.

He wrote of mathematics: “There cannot be a language more universal and more simple, more free from errors and obscurities … Mathematical analysis is as extensive as nature itself, and it defines all perceptible relations.”

Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier is the most illustrious citizen of Auxerre, the principal city of western Burgundy, where he was born on March 21, 1768. Both his father Joseph, who was a master tailor originally from Lorraine, and his mother Edmie died before he was ten years old. Fortunately certain local citizens took an interest in the boy’s education and secured him a place in the progressive École Royale Militaire, one of a number run by the Benedictine and other monastic orders. Science and mathematics were taught there, among other subjects, and, while the boy displayed all-round ability, he had a special gift for mathematics. He went on from there to complete his studies in Paris at the College Montagu. His aim was to join other the artillery or the engineers, the branches of the army supposedly open to all classes of society, but when he applied he was turned down, despite a strong recommendation from Legendre, who was an inspector of the Écoles Militaires. Although he could have been rejected on medical grounds the reason given by the minister was that only candidates of noble birth were acceptable.

After this setback Fourier embarked on a career in the church. He became a novice at the famous Benedictine Abbey of St. Benoît-sur-Loire, where he was called on to teach elementary mathematics to the other novices. After taking monastic vows he became known as Abbé Fourier (Father or Reverend), but instead of pursuing a career in the church he returned to Auxerre to teach at the École Militaire. By this time he was twenty-one and had already read a research paper at a meeting of the Paris Academy.

During the first years of the Revolution, Fourier was prominent in local affairs. His courageous defence of victims of the Terror led to his arrest by order of the Committee for Public Safety in 1794. A personal appeal to Robespierre was unsuccessful, but he was released after Robespierre himself was guillotined. Fourier then went as a student to the short-lived École Normale. The innovative teaching methods used there made a strong impression on him and it gave him the opportunity to meet some of the foremost mathematicians of the day, including Lagrange, Laplace and Monge. Fourier was amused when it emerged that, due to administrative error, the proud Laplace had been enrolled as a student rather than a professor. The next year, when the École Polytechnique opened its doors, under its original name of the École Centrale des Travaux Publiques, Fourier was appointed assistant lecturer to support the teaching of Lagrange and Monge. However, before long he fell victim to the reaction against the previous regime and was arrested again. He had an anxious time in prison but his colleagues at the École successfully sought his release.

In 1798 he was selected to join an expedition to an undisclosed destination. This proved to be Napoleon’s Egyptian adventure, Campagne d’Égypte. Once the newly formed Institut d’Egypte was established in Cairo, with Monge as its president and Fourier as permanent secretary, the cultural arm of the expedition set to work studying the antiquities, some of which were appropriated. On top of this activity Fourier was also entrusted with some negotiations of a diplomatic nature, and he even found time to think about mathematics. He proposed that a report be published on the work of the Institut d’Égypte, and on his return to France was consulted as to its organisation and deputed to write a historical preface describing the rediscovery of the wonders of the ancient civilisation. When the Description de l’Égypte (a twelve-volume report which founded modern Egyptology) was published, Fourier’s elegant preface, somewhat edited by Napoleon, appeared at the front of it.

Meanwhile Fourier had resumed his work at the École Polytechnique. Before long, however, Napoleon, who had been impressed by his capacity for administration, decided to appoint him prefect of the Departement of Isère, based at Grenoble and extending to what was then the Italian border. The office of prefect is a demanding one but it was during this period that Fourier wrote his classic monograph on heat diffusion entitled On the propagation of heat in solid bodies and presented it to the Paris Academy in 1807. It was examined by Lagrange, Laplace, Lacroix and Monge. Lagrange was adamant in his rejection of several of its features (essentially the central concept of trigonometric or, as we say, of Fourier series) and so its publication in full was blocked; only an inadequate five-page summary appeared, written by Poisson. Outclassed as rivals in the theory of heat diffusion, Poisson and Biot tried for years to belittle Fourier’s achievements. Later he received a prize from the academy for the work, but it was not until 1822 that Fourier’s theory of heat diffusion was published.

Pierre-Simon de Laplace (L) and Joseph Louis Lagrange (R) were not initially convinced by Fourier’s work.

To quote from the preface to the Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur, this ‘great mathematical poem’ as Clerk Maxwell described it:

First causes are not known to us, but they are subjected to simple and constant laws that can be studied by observation and whose study is the goal of Natural Philosophy… Heat penetrates, as does gravity, all the substances of the universe; its rays occupy all regions of space. The aim of our work is to expose the mathematical laws that this element follows… But whatever the extent of the mechanical theories, they do not apply at all to the effects of heat. They constitute a special order of phenomena that cannot be explained by principles of movement and of equilibrium… The differential equations for the propagation of heat express the most general conditions and reduce physical questions to problems in pure Analysis that is properly the object of the theory.

One major novelty of his work was the systematic use of a decomposition of a general ‘signal’ (think of the sound of a violin) into the sum of many simpler ‘signals’ (think of the sound of many tuning forks). One of the British physicists who took up Fourier’s ideas and ran with them was William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) of Thomson and Tait’s Treatise on Natural Philosophy. Thomson used Fourier’s ideas to understand why the first Atlantic telegraph cable failed and to ensure that the second cable succeeded.

As prefect, Fourier’s administrative achievements included securing the agreement of thirty-seven different communities to the drainage of a huge area of marshland to make valuable agricultural land, and the planning of a spectacular highway between Grenoble and Turin, of which only the French section was built. Napoleon conferred on him the title of baron, in recognition of his excellent work as prefect.

Fourier was still at Grenoble in 1814 when Napoleon fell from power. The city happened to be directly on the route of the party escorting the Emperor from Paris to the south and thence to Elba; to avoid and embarrassing meeting with his former chief, Fourier negotiated a detour in the route. But no such detour was possible when Napoleon returned on his march to Paris in 1815, and so Fourier compromised, fulfilling his duties as prefect by ordering the preparation of the defences – which he knew to be futile – and then leaving the town by one gate as Napoleon entered by another. His handling of this awkward situation did not affect their relationship. In fact the Emperor promptly gave him the title of count and appointed him prefect of the neighbouring Département of the Rhône, based at Lyon. However before the end of the Hundred Days Fourier had resigned his new title and appointment in protest against the severities of the regime and returned to Paris to concentrate on scientific work.

This was the low point in Fourier’s life. For a short while he was without employment, subsisting on a small pension, and out of favour politically. However a former student at the École Polytechnique and companion in Egypt was now prefect of the Département of the Seine. He appointed Fourier director of the Statistical Bureau of the Seine, a post without arduous duties but with a salary sufficient for his needs.

Fourier’s last burst of creative activity came in 1817/18 when he achieved an effective insight into the relation between integral-transform solutions to differential equations and the operational calculus. There was at that time a three-cornered race in progress between Fourier, Poisson and Cauchy to develop such techniques. In a crushing response to a criticism by Poisson, Fourier exhibited integral-transform solutions of several equations which had long defied analysis, and paved the way for Cauchy to develop a systematic theory, en route to the calculus of residues.

In 1816 Fourier was elected to the reconstituted Académie des Sciences, but Louis XVIII could not forgive his acceptance of the Rhône prefecture from Napoleon and at first refused to approve the election. Diplomatic negotiation eventually resolved the situation and his renomination the next year was approved. He also had some trouble with the second edition of the Description de l’Égypte (for now his references to Napoleon needed revision) but in general his reputation was recovering rapidly. He was left in a position of strength after the decline of the Société d’Arcueil, and gained the support of Laplace against the enmity of Poisson. In 1822 he was elected to the powerful position of permanent secretary of the Académie des Sciences. In 1827, like d’Alembert and Laplace before him, he was elected to the literary Académie Française. Outside France he was elected to the Royal Society of London.

Fourier’s health was never robust, and towards the end of his life he began to display peculiar symptoms which are thought to have been due to a disease of the thyroid gland called myxoedema, possibly contracted in Egypt. As well as certain physical symptoms, the disorder can lead to a dulling of the memory, apparent in the rambling papers he wrote towards the end of his life. Perhaps it was also partly responsible for the unfortunate incident which occurred in February 1830 when he apparently mislaid the second paper on the solution of equations sent to the Academy by Galois for the competition for the Grand Prix de Mathématiques. The prize was awarded jointly to Niels Abel (posthumously) and Carl Jacobi for their work on elliptic functions.

Fourier was terminally ill by that time. Early in May 1830 he suffered a collapse and his condition deteriorated until he died on May 16, at the age of sixty-two. The funeral service took place at the church of St Jacques de Haut Pas and he was buried in the cemetery of Père Lachaise, close to the grave of Monge.

Today, Fourier’s name is inscribed on the Eiffel Tower. But more importantly, it is immortalized in Fourier’s law and the Fourier transform, enduring emblems of his belief that mathematics holds the key to the universe.

Visualisation of an approximation of a square wave by taking the first 1, 2, 3 and 4 terms of its Fourier series

Thiis interactive animation will keep little bears occupied for hours 🙂

Fourier’s law states that heat transfers through a material at a rate proportional to both the difference in temperature between different areas and to the area across which the transfer takes place. For example, people who are overheated can cool off quickly by getting to a cool place and exposing as much of their body to it as possible.

Fourier’s work enables scientists to predict the future distribution of heat. Heat is transferred through different materials at different rates. For example, brass has a high thermal conductivity. Air is poorly conductive, which is why it’s frequently used in insulation.

Remarkably, Fourier’s equation applies widely to matter, whether in the form of solid, liquid or gas. It powerfully shaped scientists’ understanding of both electricity and the process of diffusion. It also transformed scientists’ understanding of flow in nature generally – from water’s passage through porous rocks to the movement of blood through capillaries.

Fourier applications

Modern medical imaging machines rely on another mathematical discovery of Fourier’s, the “Fourier transform”.

In CT scans, doctors send X-ray beams through a patient from multiple different directions. Some X-rays emerge from the other side, where they can be measured, while others are blocked by structures within the body.

With many such measurements taken at many different angles, it becomes possible to determine the degree to which each tiny block of tissue blocked the beam. For example, bone blocks most of the X-rays, while the lungs block very little. Through a complex series of computations, it’s possible to reconstruct the measurements into two-dimensional images of a patient’s internal anatomy.

Thanks to Fourier and today’s powerful computers, doctors can create almost instantaneous images of the brain, the pulmonary arteries, the appendix and other parts of the body. This in turn makes it possible to confirm or rule out the presence of issues such as blood clots in the pulmonary arteries or inflammation of the appendix.

Fourier is also regarded as the first scientist to notice what we today call the greenhouse effect.

His interest was piqued when he observed that a planet as far away from the sun as Earth should be considerably cooler. He hypothesized that something about the Earth – in particular, its atmosphere – must enable it to trap solar radiation that would otherwise simply radiate back out into space.

Fourier created a model of the Earth involving a box with a glass cover. Over time, the temperature in the box rose above that of the surrounding air, suggesting that the glass continually trapped heat. Because his model resembled a greenhouse in some respects, this phenomenon came to be called the “greenhouse effect”.

Simply put: The earth is warmed by the sun’s radiation. The sun is very hot, so why is the earth not very hot? Because the earth reradiates heat. But if the earth radiates heat, why is it not much colder (as the moon is)? Because the atmosphere slows down the process of re-radiation.

Just as Fourier was the first to give an interesting answer to why the earth is the temperature it is, so John Tyndall (1820-1893) was the first to give an interesting answer to why the sky is blue.

John Tyndall (1820-1893).
Smithsonian Institution’s digital collection of portraits

His answer has undergone substantial modifications by Lord Rayleigh and Albert Einstein, but his general idea of atmospheric scattering has proved correct.

A keen Alpine climber, he was fascinated by glaciers and worked on their flow. Glaciers led him to ice ages and thence to the problem of the earth’s temperature.

By experiment, he was able to identify those gases, primarily water and carbon dioxide, whose presence interferes with the passage of heat radiation. Ice ages could, perhaps, be accounted for by relatively small changes in the chemical composition of the atmosphere.

It was not until the development of quantum theory that Tyndall’s discoveries could be understood from a theoretical perspective, and not until the middle of the 20th century that the complexities of the misnamed Greenhouse Effect were understood (what happens in greenhouses is rather different).

Mankind may now be in the position of a lobster in a very slowly warming pot but, thanks to people like Fourier, Tyndall and their successors, we do, at least, know what is happening to us.

Happy, Happy Bears

Today is the International Day of Happiness, one of the United Nations awareness day campaigns, coordinated with the charity Action for Happiness, whose patron is the Dalai Lama.

Little bears don’t need a special day to be happy 🙂 and nothing makes them happier than a new adventure! Today’s adventure finds them in the colourful wilderness of The Cunning Little Vixen.

WA Opera’s The Cunning Little Vixen costume exhibition
Enex Perth

WA Opera is preparing for Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen and the amazing costumes by Roger Kirk are on display at Enex Perth.

Janácek’s charming opera is set against the backdrop of a forest, where we witness the juxtaposition of human and animal life. Past design approaches to the production have varied broadly, and Roger Kirk had one note from director and frequent collaborator Stuart Maunder: ‘Stuart said don’t make it look like Cats!’

Well, it looks nothing like Cats!

The Cunning Little Vixen – The Vixen
The Cunning Little Vixen – The Caterpillar
The Cunning Little Vixen – The Green Grasshopper
The Cunning Little Vixen – The Blue Jay
The Cunning Little Vixen – The Mosquito
Mummeeeee! We want one!

Roger Kirk’s approach was to find things that make the costumes look animal-like, without necessarily being one. The human world, drawn from ’20s and ’30s style, is monochromatic and stark in comparison to the vibrancy and colour variation drawn from the natural world. There is a clear distinction between the human and animal worlds on stage and colour is the perfect way to achieve that, in this instance.

The Cunning Little Vixen – Chickens and Rooster

The chickens are white and red. The costumes are built from all kinds of materials: corsets, skirts, mesh tops and knotted fabric to create chicken feathers.

It’s just as well that Roger Kirk started out on Playschool. It’s proved perfect training for the way he needed to think about designing these costumes! Today, Roger Kirk AM is a Tony Award winning set and costume designer for theatre, film and television. He can design the bears’ costumes anytime 🙂

The next happy stop is the Guylian Café on St George’s Terrace for the special Vixen desert.

Guylian Café, Perth
The Cunning Little Vixen desert at Guylian Café, Perth

Happy little bears! Obviously! 🙂

The Cunning Little Vixen desert at Guylian Café, Perth
The Cunning Little Vixen desert at Guylian Café, Perth

The delicate dome of orange chocolate mousse with caramelised passionfruit cream is divine! Guess who’s making our next birthday cake!