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William Dampier: hydrographer and naturalist

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Creator: Dampier, William, 1652-1715

Object Source: A new voyage round the world. : Describing particularly, the isthmus of America, several coasts and islands in the West Indies, the isles of Cape Verd, the passage by Terra del Fuego, the South Sea coasts of Chili, Peru, and Mexico; the isle of Guam ... and other Philippine and East-India islands ... New Holland, Sumatra, Nicobar Isles; the Cape of Good Hope, and Santa Helena ... By William Dampier ... The second edition corrected

Place of Creation: London

Published by printed for James Knapton

Date of creation : 1697-1709

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Format : Book

William Dampier, long considered a pirate and buccaneer, was a keen observer of nature, curious of all around him. Orphaned as a young boy, he eventually became a seaman and made several voyages before going to the West Indies to work on a sugar plantation. He later took on other work there before joining a group of privateers. Eventually he joined the crew of the Cygnet for a voyage in the Pacific Ocean. Arriving in the Philippines the crew including Dampier mutinied, abandoned the captain and some of the crew and sailed off. After cruising through the islands of Indonesia, the Cygnet arrived on the Australian coast, at a place now known as Dampier's Landing.

After many more adventures Dampier returned to England and wrote an account of his travels. This proved very popular and his experience sailing in the Pacific led the Admiralty in 1699 to appoint him to the command of the Roebuck and exploration in the South Seas, in particular the land on which he had so briefly landed. Dampier discovered Shark Bay on the Western Australian coast and then cruised north along the coast for some distance, discovering Dampier Archipelago and Roebuck Bay but because of the lack of water abandoned the coast to head for Timor. From here he sailed north around New Guinea and discovered the islands of New Britain and New Ireland. The unseaworthy Roebuck on its return voyage to England, sank off the Ascension Islands, but Dampier and crew reached safety and finally England. Where he was court martialled for the loss of his ship and poor management of his crew after a complaint was lodged. But while a poor manager of men Dampier was a good observer of nature: his collection of botanical specimens is still held in Oxford. These include a specimen of Sturt Desert Pea, first collected by Dampier on Rosemary Island in the Dampier Archipelago.

In 1699 as part of his account of his voyages he published 'A discourse of the winds ...' his observations of the winds and currents of the world's oceans. This was the first of its kind and was of great benefit to navigators and of interest to later meteorologists.


Further reading

Preston, Diana A pirate of exquisite mind: explorer, naturalist, and buccaneer; the life of William Dampier New York: Walker & Company, 2004

Marchant, Leslie R. An island unto itself: William Dampier and New Holland Victoria Park, W.A.: Hesperian Press, 1988

George, Alexander S., William Dampier in New Holland: Australia's first natural historian Hawthorn, Vic.: Bloomings Books, 1999

Mallock, A. Dampier's "Discourse of the winds" and the distribution of wind on the earth's surface Nature vol. 110 7 October 1922 pp. 478-80


Australian Dictionary of Biography online: Dampier, William (1651-1715)

BBC: William Dampier, pirate, explorer and naturalist

Sturt's Desert Pea

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