William Dampier (1651 – 1715) was the first Englishman to explore parts of Australia and the first person to circumnavigate the world three times. He has also been described as Australia's first natural historian.
Born the son of a Somerset farmer he sailed to Newfoundland and the East Indies while still a boy. He returned to England penniless but with his journals and in 1697 published A New Voyage Round the World, an account of his adventures, extensive travels and pursuit of knowledge whilst joining with privateers and pirates between 1679 and 1691. A further publication, A Discourse of Trade-winds, Breezes, Storms Seasons of the Year, Tides and Currents of the Torrid Zone throughout the World in 1699 was of long lasting benefit to mariners. However it was the New Voyage that proved to be a literary sensation.
These publications were both an inspiration to explorers, mariners and naturalists such as James Cook, Lord Nelson and Charles Darwin as well as a great influence on the literature of the time, for example Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. They established Dampier as an authority on the South Seas and enabled him to influence the Admiralty to support him leading a voyage to explore the east coast of New Holland (what is now Australia). As a civilian and former privateer, Dampier’s appointment to command a naval vessel was remarkable, but such was his fame and influence; notably derived from his literary, rather than leadership, talents.
Dampier was provided with HMS Roebuck, an armed three-masted vessel, 96 feet long, with a beam of 25 feet and a crew of 50 men. The expedition set out on 14 January 1699, making landfall on the Australian continent in August at the place he subsequently named Sharks Bay on the mid-west coast.
There he he collected many plants, shells and other specimens and began producing the first known detailed record of Australian flora and fauna, producing detailed descriptions of all he encountered.
As the voyage continued the condition of the Roebuck deteriorated and Dampier was forced to abandon his plans. Having supplied the carpenter with the necessary stores to repair the vessel he records that the ship “prov’d more leaky after he had caulk’d her then she was before”.
In danger of sinking, he attempted to make the return voyage to England, but the ship foundered at Ascension Island on 21 February 1701. While anchored offshore and despite constant pumping the ship began to take on more water. The leak was found but nothing could be done with the worm-eaten planking. The vessel was run aground so that the crews could carry their possessions and bedding ashore on rafts. Finally on 24th February Dampier and the other officers went ashore, having ordered the sails to be cut from the yards for tents.
To their great relief a spring of fresh water (Dampier’s Drip) was found a few days later (26th). This and the ready supply of turtle meat assured their survival.
Dampier's crew was marooned on Ascension for five weeks before being returned home aboard an East Indiaman. Although many papers were lost with the Roebuck, Dampier was able to save some new charts of coastlines, and his record of trade winds and currents in the seas around Australia and New Guinea. He also preserved a few of his specimens although he wrote that many strange and beautiful shells were lost. His account of the expedition was published as A Voyage to New Holland in 1703.
Despite the detailed accounts of its loss and many searches over the years the Roebuck was never found until the Western Australian Maritime Museum's Expedition of 2001 located the wreck in Clarence Bay, Ascension Island. Among the finds was a giant clam shell, of the type to be found in the Pacific or Indian oceans but quite alien to Atlantic waters. Also found were the ship’s bell (only the Roebuck is known to have to have carried and lost a bell with a broad arrow in the vicinity of Clarence Bay), a grapnel located near the shore, various ironworks and other debris including ceramics.
Upon his return to England Dampier was court martialled for cruelty and dismissed from the Royal Navy. It seems the verdict did Dampier little harm with the War of the Spanish Succession seeing Dampier appointed commander of a new ship.
Dampier’s final voyage aboard the Duke amassed quite a fortune (perhaps the equivalent of £20 million today) yet Dampier died in unknown circumstances, before receiving his share of the spoils and in debt.
Designer: Robin Carter
Printer: BDT International Security Printing Ltd
Process: Stochastic Lithography
Stamp size: 28.45 x 42.58mm
Perforation: 14 per 2cms
Release date: 1 December, 2015
Production Co-ordination: Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd