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Crew of William Dampier's CYGNET

Date: 1795-1805
Overall: 197 x 136 mm, 0.002 kg
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00017860
Place Manufactured:London
Related Place:King Sound, Western Australia,

User Terms

    In January 1688, the European privateer CYGNET was careened on the coast of Western Australia for six weeks whilst undergoing repairs. On board was William Dampier who made some of the earliest recorded observations of the Australian continent, describing a barren, dry and uninhabitable land. This work depicts the crew interacting with local Indigenous population during this period.
    SignificanceThis engraving represents one of the first encounters between Europeans and Indigenous Australians. In 1688, Dampier became the first English navigator to explore and map parts of Australia. His text, 'A New Voyage Round the World', was published in 1729 and is the earliest known description of Australia's Aboriginal inhabitants written by an Englishman. His disparaging tone is evident through his language: 'The inhabitants of this country are the miserablest People in the World...setting aside their humane shape, they differ but little from brutes.' In addition to this, the text also relays Dampier's first impressions of Australia's vast landscape and diverse flora and fauna.
    HistoryWilliam Dampier (1651-1715) was an English seaman and explorer who took part in a number of privateer voyages along the coasts of Central America. In 1683, he joined a group of buccaneers on their way to the Pacific and three years later joined the privateer ship CYGNET, under the command of Captain Charles Swan. The ship was operating as a private warship under the authority of the British government to attack foreign shipping such as Spanish and French merchant vessels. CYGNET careened on the north-west Australian coast in 1688 near King Sound. Over a period of six weeks while the ship was being repaired Dampier compiled descriptions of Australia's flora, fauna and landscape. He collected at least 24 known plant specimens and produced sketches of the continent.

    In 1697, Dampier published his account 'A New Voyage Round the World' detailing his adventures. His descriptions of the continent and the Aboriginal people were less than favourable. He recorded that 'New Holland is a very large tract of land. It is not yet determined wether [sic] it is an island or a main continent but I am certain that it joins neither to Asia, Africa nor America' and 'The land is of a dry sandy soil, destitute of water, except you make wells; yet producing divers sorts of Trees; but the woods are not thick, nor the trees very big'. The work became one of the most widely read narratives written by a sailor in the 17th century. Dampier's privateer expeditions and narrative helped cement his reputation as a seaman and navigator with the British Admiralty.

    In January 1699, Dampier was elevated to the rank of Captain and given command of HMS ROSEBUCK. ROEBUCK reached the west coast of New Holland in July 1699 and began charting the area around Shark Bay. Dampier moved north away from the continent and reached Timor in December 1699. He charted several islands of New Guinea and then turned south and was close to reaching the east coast of New Holland when ROEBUCK developed a serious leak. Dampier attempted to return to England but with the ship in danger of sinking, ROEBUCK was run ashore at Ascension Island in February 1701. Dampier managed to salvage some of his charts and specimen samples and he and the crew were rescued by a ship of the East India Company in April 1701. This voyage was the basis of ‘A Voyage to New Holland, etc. In the year 1699’.

    Upon Dampier’s return to England in 1702, he was court martialled for cruelty, found guilty and declared unfit to command any ship of the Royal Navy. Despite this, Dampier made another voyage around the world between 1708 and 1711. In the meantime, his popularity as an author only strengthened over time, with a seventh edition of ‘A New Voyage Round the World’ available by 1727. The expedition of 1708 accumulated nearly £200,000 of profit, which today amounts to around £20,000,000. Dampier died before receiving his share in London on 8 March 1715.

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