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