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Exploration & Discovery

Discovering The New World

New Holland is a very large tract of land. It is not yet determined whether it is an island or a continent, but I am certain that it joins neither to Asia, Africa, nor America.

– William Dampier

In the mid eighteenth century the Pacific Ocean was, for most Europeans, a vast unexplored void. Since the time of the ancient Greeks, there had been the myth of a large land mass to the south named Terra Australis Incognita, believed to be necessary to balance the weight of the known world of the northern hemisphere. Various theories were advanced about how this land mass might look.

Some islands had been marked on the map: in 1642 Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman had discovered and mapped part of a large land mass, which he named Anthony van Diemenslandt after his employer, the governor general of the Dutch East Indies. Later, in 1856, it was renamed Tasmania to honour its discoverer.

Tasman didn’t circumnavigate Van Diemen’s land and so didn’t discover it was separate from the mainland. Instead he sailed east to what became later known as New Zealand, assuming it also to be part of the same great land mass. 

Tasman, in service of the Dutch East India Company, was – among other things – in search of new shipping routes and goods to trade. The land he called New Holland yielded nothing to suit this purpose.

Englishman William Dampier made two voyages to New Holland, in 1688 and 1699. Like Tasman, he found the land barren and inhospitable, with little to recommend it for trade or habitation. Dampier added to the knowledge of Terra Australis, but it was Captain Cook who first charted the east coast of Australia in 1770. The journals documenting his voyages made popular reading for eighteenth-century audiences.

Melchisedech THEVENOT
French c.1620-1692
Hollandia Nova detecta 1644; Terre Australe decouuerte l'an 1644
ink on paper
50.0 x 37.0 cm
Published in De l'imprimerie de Iaqves Langlois, 1663
National Library of Australia, Canberra (MAP NK 2785)
Photo: National Library of Australia

Think, Investigate, Create

VELS The Humanities – History – Level 4 & 5

The early explorers progressively charted the coastline of Australia, naming the places and geographical features.

Look at the early map of Australia. Which parts can you see that are missing or inaccurate?
Using a current map to help you, complete the missing parts.

Can you find any of the place names given by the Dutch explorers on the current map? Make a list of them and mark them on your own map.


Educator's Guide