First Australian native plants given scientific names
Vlamingh’s expedition was well equipped, its emphasis on natural history presaging the Enlightenment voyages of scientific exploration to follow. While on this unsuccessful mission he charted a major part of the west coast. On 29 December 1696 he landed on Rottnest island (assuming the native marsupial quokkas were large rats he named the island Rat’s Nest (Rattennest in Dutch); in January 1697 a party of 89 men was sent ashore at Cottesloe to explore inland just north of the Swan River and a few days later another party penetrated the Swan River estuary itself.
On 4 January an armed party had landed at Cockburn Sound observing how a tree had been ‘notched’ by the Aborigines to assist climbing and with signs of zamia nut cooking the crew decided to try the nuts themselves, only making themselves extremely ill.
On 4 February 1697, Vlamingh landed at Dirk Hartog Island, Western Australia where he replaced the pewter plate left by Dirk Hartog on a post in 1616. The new plate carried an inscription recording both Dutch visits and the original Dirk Hartog plate was returned to Holland where it is now preserved in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. A report of the expedition notes that there was ‘a small chest containing shells collected on the beaches, fruits, plants, etc. . . . ’ returned to Holland as well as eleven drawings executed by Victor Victorsz on the voyage. The precise fate of this collection has not been determined but it indicates that the first recorded botanical collections may have been made by the de Vlamingh expedition in 1697.
Vlamingh’s own account of events was first published in 1998 (in French) and Mabberley reports his observation of quokkas, black swans, the Rottnest Island Cypress (Callitris preissii) as ‘the finest wood in the world, from which the whole land was filled with a fine pleasant smell’, a tea tree (Melaleuca lanceolata) as well as ‘gum’ trees. He also mentions the illness caused by eating the cycad (Macrozamia riedlei) fruit. Mabberley also reports that a log of Callitris was used for a pewter plate recording his 4 February 1697 visit to Cape Inscription on Dirk Hartog Island in Shark Bay, this log being now held in the Western Australian Maritime Museum where it constitutes the oldest documented botanical specimen collected by Europeans in Australia. However, there appears to be some confusion in the historical record as to whether the log was installed by Vlaminghs expedition or was the same log used for Dirk Hartog’s pewter plate left in 1616.
On the mainland they found trees ‘dripping with gum’, possibly species of Acacia, and probably in what is now Kings Park a Eucalyptus tree with a trunk diameter of 5 metres.