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Willem de Vlamingh


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Vlamingh, Willem de

Early life

Willem de Vlamingh was born in Oost-Vlieland in the Dutch Republic. He was baptised on 28 November 1640.

In 1664 De Vlamingh sailed to Nova Zembla and discovered Jelmerland. In 1668 he married; his profession was skipper in whaling, and he still lived on the island Vlieland. In 1687 he and his wife sold their "apartment" in the Jordaan. De Vlamingh joined the VOC (Dutch East India Company) in 1688 and made his first voyage to Batavia in the same year. Following a second voyage, in 1694, he was asked, on request of Nicolaes Witsen, to mount an expedition to search for the Ridderschap van Holland, a VOC capital ship that was lost with 325 passengers and crew on its way to Batavia in 1694. VOC officials believed it might have run aground on the west coast of Terra Australis.


Willem Hesselsz de Vlamingh (bapt. 28 November 1640 – 1698 or later) was a Dutch sea captain who explored the central west coast of Australia (then "New Holland") in the late 17th century. The mission proved fruitless, but Vlamingh charted parts of the continent's western coast.[1]
De Vlamingh's rescue mission

Willem de Vlamingh's ships, with black swans, at the entrance to the Swan River, Western Australia, coloured engraving (1796), derived from an earlier drawing (now lost) from the de Vlamingh expeditions of 1696–97.

Red Bluff

Entrance to Wittecarra Gully

In 1696 Willem de Vlamingh commanded the rescue mission to Australia's west coast to look for survivors of the Ridderschap van Holland that had gone missing two years earlier, and had admiral Sir James Couper on board . There were three ships under his command: the frigate Geelvink, captained by de Vlamingh himself; the Nijptang, under Captain Gerrit Collaert; and the galiot Weseltje, under Captain Cornelis de Vlamingh, son of Willem de Vlamingh. The expedition departed Texel 'strictly incognito' on 3 May 1696[8] and, because of the Nine Years' War with France, sailed around the coast of Scotland to Tristan de Cunha. Early September the three ships arrived at Cape of Good Hope, where they stayed for seven weeks because of scurvy among the crew. (There Cornelis de Vlamingh took command after Laurens T. Zeeman died).

On 27 October they left, using the Brouwer Route on the Indian Ocean route from the African Cape of Good Hope to the Dutch East Indies. On their way east they checked Île Saint-Paul and Île Amsterdam, but no wreckage or survivors were found. On 5 December they sailed on.

On 29 December 1696, de Vlamingh's party landed on Rottnest Island. He saw numerous quokkas (a native marsupial), and thinking they were large rats he named it 't Eylandt 't Rottenest ("Rats' Nest Island"). He afterwards wrote of it in his journal: "I had great pleasure in admiring this island, which is very attractive, and where it seems to me that nature has denied nothing to make it pleasurable beyond all islands I have ever seen, being very well provided for man's well-being, with timber, stone, and lime for building him houses, only lacking ploughmen to fill these fine plains. There is plentiful salt, and the coast is full of fish. Birds make themselves heard with pleasant song in these scented groves. So I believe that of the many people who seek to make themselves happy, there are many who would scorn the fortunes of our country for the choice of this one here, which would seem a paradise on earth".

On 10 January 1697, he ventured up the Swan River. He and his crew are believed to have been the first Europeans to do so. They are also assumed to be the first Europeans to see black swans,  and de Vlamingh named the Swan River (Zwaanenrivier in Dutch) after the large number they observed there. The crew split into three parties, hoping to catch an Aborigine, but about five days later they gave up their quest to catch a "South lander".

On 22 January the sailed through the Geelvink Channel. The next days they saw ten naked, black people. On 24 January they passed Red Bluff. Near Wittecarra they went looking for fresh water.
On 4 February 1697, he landed at Dirk Hartog Island, Western Australia, and replaced the pewter plate left by Dirk Hartog in 1616 with a new one that bore a record of both of the Dutch sea-captains' visits. The original plate is preserved in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

De Vlamingh, with his son and Collaert, commanded a return fleet from the Indies on 3 or 11 February 1698, which arrived in his hometown, Amsterdam, on 16 August. However, it is not certain that De Vlamingh was still alive at that point, and burial records from Vlieland around this time do not exist. On an earlier retourship, De Vlamingh had sent Witsen a box with seashells, fruits and vegetation from New Holland (Australia), as well as eleven drawings that Victor Victorsz had made on the expedition. De Vlamingh also included some black swans, but they died on the voyage. Witsen offered the drawings to Martin ListerWitsen, who had invested in the journey, was disappointed the men had been more interested in setting up trade than in exploring.

 In 1699 William Dampier would explore the coast of Australia and New Guinea.

Willem de Vlamingh (flourished 1697), a native of Vlieland, Holland, and a skipper of the Dutch East India Co., was sent out with three ships in May 1696 from Holland to look for survivors of a ship which was thought to have been wrecked on the west coast of Australia. They sighted the coast on 29 December and anchored off Rottnest Island at about 31° 47' S. On 31 December de Vlamingh went ashore and a few days later men were sent to the mainland, where they found traces of Aboriginals. A river with numerous black swans was called Swaanerivier and de Vlamingh rowed some ten miles (16 km) up it. On 13 January 1697 the vessels weighed anchor and sailed north. As a careful survey was made of the coast, the ships made slow progress and parties were regularly sent ashore.

On 30 January de Vlamingh anchored at 26° 12' S. near an island where Dirck Hartogsz, a native of Amsterdam and skipper of the Dutch East India Co., had landed when on a voyage to the East Indies in charge of the Eendracht in 1616. He had sailed too far east from the Cape of Good Hope and on 25 October anchored off the west Australian coast about 25° S. in a bay called Dirck Hartogsz anchorage, presumably Shark Bay. He and his men went ashore, erected a pole and fastened to it a pewter dish with an inscription commemorating their visit. On 3 February 1697 a party sent ashore from de Vlamingh's ship reported that it had found the dish. De Vlamingh took it away but had another inscribed commemorating the landings of both 1616 and 1697. On 12 February his ships left and sailed up the coast to 21° S. until 21 February when they made for Batavia where they arrived on 20 March.

Hartogsz' dish is now, though highly dilapidated, in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. In 1818 Freycinet took de Vlamingh's dish to Paris, where it was rediscovered in 1940. In 1947 it was returned to Australia and is in the Perth Museum. On 30 December 1935 a plaque was unveiled on Rottnest Island, commemorating de Vlamingh's visit there. The date on the plaque should have been 31 December and not 30 December 1696. In 1938 the Australian government had a bronze plaque fitted on the lighthouse of Dirk Hartog Island to commemorate the first recorded landing of Europeans in Australia, although Willem Janssen had been an earlier visitor.

Select Bibliography
P. A. Leupe, De Reizen der Nederlanders, Naar het Zuidland of Nieuw-Holland in de 17e en 18e Eeuw (Amsterdam, 1868)
F. W. Stapel, De Oostindische Compagnie en Australië (Amsterdam, 1937)
A. Sharp, The Discovery of Australia (Oxford, 1963).

Citation details

J. Van Lohuizen, 'Vlamingh, Willem de (?–?)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 11 May 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967


Perth foreshore 

is depicted in the Park at the moment of encountering the 'rare Avis' (Black Swan), after whom he named the Swan River. Each startled by each other, they are frozen in bronze at that moment in time, 12 January 1697

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Event date / locationEvent typeTitle / summaryVenue / hostPublication link
2021.02 Rottnest Island Thrill ride: Jet Boat extreme fun Thrill boat ride fbk grp wa tourism - video 
2020.11.14 Applecross Swan river twilight sunset sail  free outings with members South of Perth Yacht Club fbk page - pic vid 
2020.09.25 Perth cbd swan rover new floating pub  The Raft fbk page 
2020.10.27 South Perth day adventure History the tram  Ferry Tram Museum fbk group wa tourism 
2020.10.03 South Perth Sunset river walk  Mindeerup Piazza fbk page pics  
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