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William Dampier

William Dampier, buccaneer, navigator and explorer
Born August 1651 (baptised 5 September 1651)
East Coker Somerset
Died March 1715 (1715-04)
Nationality English
Occupation explorer
Known for Discovering Australia and recording what he discovered

William Dampier (born August 1651, East Coker, Somerset, England — died March 1715, London)[1] was an English buccaneer, sea captain, author and scientific observer. He was the first Englishman to explore or map parts of New Holland (Australia) and New Guinea. He was the first person to circumnavigate the world three times.

Diana and Michael Preston, in A Pirate of Exquisite Mind, describe him as the greatest nautical explorer-adventurer, British or otherwise, between the Elizabethans (notably Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh) and James Cook. Yet, though described by natural scientist Alex George, as "Australia's first natural historian", he is relatively little known in Australia, and even less known in his native country.


First circumnavigation

Map from "A New Voyage Round the World", published in 1697 by William Dampier, the English sea captain, naturalist, and occasional buccaneer. The Miskito coast is marked with a star. Dampier and his associate, the surgeon and buccaneer Lionel Wafer describe the Miskito peoples in the period 1690-1700. These tribal groups, often mixed with runaway slaves, formed a distinct culture in the coastal region, sometimes forming alliances with pirates against Spanish authorities in the 16th-18th centuries.

In 1678 he crewed with buccaneers on the Spanish Main of Central America, twice visiting the Bay of Campeche.[1] This led to his first circumnavigation: in 1679 he accompanied a raid across the Isthmus of Darién in Panama and captured Spanish ships on the Pacific coast of that isthmus; the pirates then raided Spanish settlements in Peru before returning to the Caribbean.

Dampier made his way to Virginia, where in 1683 he engaged with the privateer John Cooke (or Cook). Cook entered the Pacific via Cape Horn and spent a year raiding Spanish possessions in Peru, the Galápagos Islands, and Mexico.[1] This expedition collected buccaneers and ships as it went along, at one time having a fleet of ten vessels. In Mexico Cook died, and a new leader, Captain Edward Davis, was elected captain by the crew. Dampier transferred to Captain Charles Swan's ship, the privateer Cygnet, and on 31 March 1686 they set out across the Pacific to raid the East Indies, calling at Guam and Mindanao. Leaving Swan and 36 others behind, the rest of the privateers sailed to Manila, Poulo Condor, China, the Spice Islands, and New Holland (Australia).

Early in 1688 Cygnet was beached on the northwest coast of Australia, near King Sound. While the ship was being careened Dampier made notes on the fauna and flora and the Indigenous peoples he found there. Later that year, by agreement, he and two shipmates were marooned on one of the Nicobar Islands. They obtained a small canoe which they modified after first capsizing and then after surviving a great storm called at "Acheen" (Aceh) in Sumatra. After further adventures Dampier returned to England in 1691 via the Cape of Good Hope, penniless but in possession of his journals. He also had as a source of income the famous painted (tattoed) Prince Jeoly and his mother who he had purchased as slaves and subsequently exhibited in London, thereby also coming to be better known while his book was being printed.

The Roebuck expedition

Map of the area charted in HMS Roebuck in 1699

The publication of these diarys as New Voyage Round the World in 1697 was a popular sensation creating interest at the British Admiralty[2] and in 1699 Dampier was given the command of the Roebuck[3] with a commission from the Admiralty and by inference King William III and Queen Mary II, who reigned jointly. His mission was to explore the east coast of New Holland, the name given by the Dutch to what is now Australia, and Dampier's intention was to travel there via Cape Horn.

The expedition set out on 14 January 1699, far too late in the season to round the Horn and it approached New Holland via Cape of Good Hope. Following the Dutch routes to the Indies, on 26 July 1699, Dampier reached Dirk Hartog Island at the mouth of what he called Shark Bay in Western Australia. He landed and began producing the first known detailed record of Australian flora and fauna. The images are believed to be by his clerk James Brand. Dampier then followed the coast northeast, reaching the Dampier Archipelago and then LaGrange Bay, just south of what is now called Roebuck Bay all the while recording and collecting specimens, including many shells. From there he bore away north for Timor. Then he sailed east and on 3 December 1699 rounded New Guinea, which he passed to the north. Sailing east, he traced the southeastern coasts of New Hanover, New Ireland and New Britain, charting the Dampier Strait between these islands (now the Bismarck Archipelago) and New Guinea. En route he paused to collect specimens with one stop resulting in a collection of many giant clams.

His ship was rotten and with an apparently inept carpenter, so Dampier was forced to abandon his plan to examine the east coast of New Holland while less than a hundred miles from it. In danger of sinking he attempted to make the return voyage to England but Roebuck foundered near Ascension Island on 21 February 1701.[1] While anchored offshore the ship had started to take water, and though sent below to effect repair, the carpenter only made it worse. As a result the ship was run ashore. His crew was marooned there for five weeks before being picked up on 3 April by an East Indiaman and returned home in August 1701.

Although many papers were lost with the Roebuck, Dampier was able to save many new charts of coastlines, and his record of trade winds and currents in the seas around Australia and New Guinea. He also saved a few of his specimens.

On his return Dampier was court-martialled for cruelty.[3] On the outward voyage Dampier had crewman George Fisher removed from the ship and jailed in Brazil. Fisher returned to England and complained about his treatment to the Admiralty. Dampier wrote an angry vindication of his conduct, but he was found guilty, docked his pay for the voyage, and dismissed from the Royal Navy.

Second circumnavigation

He wrote an account of the 1699–1701 expedition, A Voyage to New Holland and returned to privateering.

The War of the Spanish Succession broke out in 1701 and English privateers were being readied to assist against French and Spanish interests. Dampier was appointed commander of the 26-gun government ship St George, with a crew of 120 men. They were joined by the 16-gun galleon Cinque Ports (63 men) and sailed on 30 April 1703.

En-route they unsuccessfully engaged a French ship but captured three small Spaniard ships and one vessel of 550 tons.

The Cinque Ports separated from the St George on the Pacific coast of the Americas and, after putting Alexander Selkirk ashore alone on an island for complaining about its seaworthiness, sank a month later.

Third circumnavigation

Dampier was engaged in 1708 by the privateer Woodes Rogers as sailing master on the Duke.[3] This voyage was more successful: Selkirk was rescued on 2 February 1709, and the expedition amassed nearly £200,000 (over £20,000,000 in 2009) of profit. However, Dampier died in London in 1715 before he received his share.


Dampier influenced several figures better known than he:

In 2001, a team from the Western Australian Museum located the place where the Roebuck was lost, identifying the site by the location of a bell inscribed with a "broad arrow" consistent with those fitted to Fifth Rates, a clam shell from the Indo-Pacific and from other indications. The originals were replicated at the Mary Rose Laboratories in Portsmouth and the originals returned to the island where they are now on exhibit. The long lost contract for building the ship was later found and an analysis and model of the ship Roebuck have since been produced.


In 1985 he was honoured on a postage stamp depicting his portrait issued by Australia Post [1].


  • A New Voyage Round the World, (1697)
  • Voyages and Descriptions, (1699)
  • #A Supplement of the Voyage Round the World
  • #The Campeachy Voyages
  • #A Discourse of Winds
  • A Voyage to New Holland, (Part 1 1703, Part 2 1709)

There is also a public house in Yeovil, Somerset UK named in his honour in Silver Street part of the Wetherspoon chain.

Further reading

  • Diana and Michael Preston, A Pirate of Exquisite Mind
  • Anton Gill, Devil's Mariner
  • Riccardo Capoferro, Frontiere del racconto. Letteratura di viaggio e romanzo in Inghilterra, 1690-1750, Meltemi, 2007.
  • Woodes Rogers, Cruising Voyage Round the World, 1712.
  • Clennell Wilkinson, William Dampier, John Lane at the Bodley Head, 1929.
  • McCarthy, M., 2004, HM Ship Roebuck (1690-1701): Global Maritime Heritage? The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 33. (2): 330-337.
  • Gerald Norris (editor), Buccaneer Explorer William Dampier's Voyages, ISBN: 1843831414


External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From LoveToKnow 1911

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