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Discovery of Australia

The people of Arnhem Land were exposed to continuous interaction with various visitors from Asia. Early Indian visitors from around the time of Christ are said to be the motivation for what is known as the Bradshaw figurines in Kimberly art. It is likely that the Chinese have had some knowledge of Australia since the 13th century or before. In c. 1300, Marco Polo made reference to the reputed existence of a vast southern continent. More evidence exists for visits by Chinese fleets, especially the Great Fleet that sailed in the 13th century though the first recorded sighting is the subject of some uncertainty.

Some Australians believe that Australia was first sighted by a Portuguese expedition led by Cristovao de Mendonca in about 1522. A number of relics and remains have been interpreted by some people as evidence that the Portuguese arrival at Australia in the early to mid 1500’s, 200 years before Cook. These clues include the Mahogany Ship, an alleged Portuguese caravel that was shipwrecked six miles west of Warrnambool, Victoria (although its remains have never been found); a stone house at Bittangabee Bay; the so-called Dieppe map, a secret map drawn by the Portuguese; a cannon and five keys found near Geelong. Professional historians do not accept these relics as proof that the Portuguese discovered Australia.

The French navigator Binot Paulmyer claimed to have landed at Australia in 1503, after being blown off course. However later investigators concluded it was more likely he was in Madagascar. French authorities again made such a claim in 1531. Macassan traders from the Spice Islands (e.g. Banda) to the north of Darwin were said to have been visiting for at least 600 years prior to the establishment of British garrisons on the Coburg Peninsula in 1830.

In 1606, the Dutch vessel Duyfken, captained by Willem Jansz, explored perhaps 200 miles of western side of Cape York, in the Gulf of Carpentaria. They made one landing, but were promptly attacked by Aboriginals and hence did not attempt to explore further.

A Portuguese expedition commanded by Luis Vaez de Torres and piloted by Pedro Fernandez de Quiros set out for Australia in 1605. They sailed from east to west along the southern coast of Papua, and sighted the islands of Torres Strait.

The name 'Coste Dangereuse' for the tropical Queensland coast on later French charts is taken by many historians to imply that someone who spoke Portuguese had first-hand and apparently unhappy knowledge of the Reef. Some of the 'shoals' Torres reported may have been the northernmost atolls of the Reef

De Quiros was a Counter-Reformation Catholic. When he landed on the New Hebrides, he christened the island group "Austrialia del Espiritu Santo", translated as "South Land of the Holy Spirit". This voyage occurred a couple of weeks after the discoveries made by the Duyfken. Despite their vigorous efforts elsewhere, the Dutch navigators never saw the east coast of Australia.

In 1616 Dirk Hartog landed on what is now called Dirk Hartog Island, off the coast of Western Australia, and left behind an inscription on a pewter plate. (This plate may now be seen in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.) The Dutch named the western half of the continent New Holland, but made no attempt to colonise it.

In 1642, Abel Tasman sailed on a famous voyage from Batavia (now Jakarta), to Papua New Guinea, Fiji, New Zealand and, on November 24, sighted Tasmania. He named it Van Diemen's Land, after Anthony van Diemen, the Dutch East India Company's Governor General at Batavia, who had commissioned his voyage. Tasman claimed Van Diemen's Land for the Netherlands.

1659 map prepared by Joan Blaeu based on voyages by Abel Tasman and Willem Jansz. As copied by Frenchman Thevenot. In turn copied by Englishman Emmanuel Bowen in 1744 and thought to have been used by James Cook. Tasman sailed north from New Zealand through the area marked Terre Australe.

The discovery that sailing east from the Cape of Good Hope until land was sighted, and then sailing north along the west coast of Australia was a much quicker route than around the coast of the Indian Ocean made Dutch landfalls on the west coast inevitable. Most of these landfalls were unplanned. The most famous and bloodiest result was the mutiny and murder that followed the wreck of the Batavia.

William Dampier first explored the north-west coast of Australia in 1688, in the Cygnet, a small trading vessel. He made another voyage in 1699, before returning to England. The first Englishman to see Australia, he was able to describe some of the flora and fauna of Australia, being the first to report Australia's peculiar large hopping animals.

James Cook is widely regarded as the most important naval explorer of Australia. Cook had been sent ostensibly to chart the eclipse of Venus from Tahiti, but he also charted a lot of the Australian and New Zealand coastline. He reached New Zealand in October 1769, and mapped its coast. He then sailed across to south-east Australia, and all the way up the east coast. He claimed the east coast, which he named New South Wales, for Great Britain on August 22, 1770. Cook's expedition identified Botany Bay as an appropriate place for settlement.

The last great naval explorer was Matthew Flinders, who was responsible for filling in the gaps in the map left by other explorers. In 1796 (after settlement), with George Bass, he took a 2.5 metre long open boat and explored some of the coastline south of Sydney. He suspected from this voyage that Tasmania was an island, and in 1798 he led an expedition to circumnavigate it and hence prove his theory. He returned to his homeland of England, but was soon sent back to Sydney with a much more ambitious task—to circumnavigate Australia. He did this in 1802-03, sailing first along the south coast to Sydney, then completing the circumnavigation back to Sydney.

After the loss of the United States, Britain felt a need to find an alternative destination to take the population of its overcrowded prisons (full mainly due to the unemployment created by the Industrial Revolution) and needed somewhere to send their overflow. Sir Joseph Banks, the eminent scientist who had accompanied Cook on his 1770 voyage, recommended Botany Bay as a suitable site. In 1787 the First Fleet of 11 ships and about 1350 people under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip set sail for Botany Bay. On arrival, Botany Bay was considered unsuitable and on January 26, 1788—a date now both celebrated and mourned as Australia Day—a landing was made at the nearby Sydney Cove. Phillip named the settlement after Thomas Townshend, 1st Baron Sydney (Viscount Sydney from 1789), the Home Secretary. The new colony was formally proclaimed as the Colony of New South Wales on February 7.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Australia".