Voyage of the Roebuck 1699-1701
Dampier was keen to return to the South Seas and so, having established his scientific credentials with the Royal Society, his request to the British Admiralty for a ship was immediately approved. His brief was to investigate the uncharted eastern coast of New Holland sailing via the Pacific Ocean round Cape Horn and, in the process, perhaps solve the mystery of the fabled Terra Australis Incognito.
As an expedition dedicated to both exploration and scientific study this was a first for the British Admiralty. He was to survey ‘all islands, shores, capes, bays, creeks and harbours, fit for shelter as well as defence’ also bringing back specimens of animals and plants with an artist to ‘sketch birds, beasts, fishes and plants’ and even to bring back a a sample native ‘providing they shall be willing to come along’.
As captain of HMS Roebuck, he departed England on 14 January 1699, but because of delays in preparation he sailed, not via the Horn, but via Bahia in Brazil, bypassing the Cape of Good Hope which was controlled by the Dutch, and sailing directly to New Holland. He had with him a chart of the western coast of New Holland made by Abel Tasman more than 50 years before.
Within six months of his departure from England he was back on the west coast of New Holland and by 6 August 1699 was making notes on the organisms he had found in an inlet where the ship landed to pick up water, naming it Shark Bay because of the numerous sharks hooked by his men. Sailing north he landed on Dirk Hartog Island, staying from 16th to 21 August then again proceeding north, collecting specimens (stored between the pages of books)at East Lewis Island in the Dampier Archipelago off present-day Dampier, on 1 September. In today’s Dampier Archipelago he visited an island that he called Rosemary Island on account of a blue flowered plant that looked like the Mediterranean Rosmarinus officinalis which today we assume was Olearia axillaris. There was then a final third period of collecting at Lagrange Bay about 150 km south of Broome from 9-15 Sept, mostly on Dirk Hartog Island.
Having little idea of how to preserve his specimens Dampier had the plants, birds and fish sketched by a crew member (a procedure encouraged by the Royal Society as early as 1665) and these sketches were later combined with his descriptions in his published journal which was the first recorded graphic representation of plants and animals of New Holland.
With the ship in poor condition charting the east coast was abandoned (it would be 80 years before Cook would complete this task and exactly 100 years before settlement) and he headed for Timor and home, but the decrepit Roebuck foundered at Ascension Island between Brazil and the west coast of Africa on 21 February 1701, running ashore to leave about 60 sailors marooned for five weeks before being picked up and returned to England in August 1701, along with Dampier’s plant specimens.
On arriving back in England his account of this second 1699–1701 expedition to New Holland appeared as A Voyage to New Holland (1703 and 1709) but he was court-marshalled from the navy for, among other things, loss of the Roebuck, and cruelty to his Lieutenant and a boatswain, and as a penalty his pay for the voyage was docked. To recoup his costs Dampier returned to writing and, in 1703, published another travelogue, A New Voyage to New Holland &c in the Year 1699 which appeared in two volumes released in 1703 and 1709.
Third global circumnavigation
But with an obvious wanderlust he could not stay on land, returning to the sea for a third circumnavigation in 1708 in two ships the Duke and Duchess following a life of privateering until 1711 when he returned to England living long enough to enjoy his wealth and dying in London in 1715 at age 64.
As a swashbuckling adventurer and observant writer who recorded tides, winds and currents Dampier earned the admiration of many distinguished explorers including von Humboldt, Banks, and Darwin. Remarkably, being an early recorder of novelty, over 1000 words in the Oxford English Dictionary are first used in his books e.g. ‘avocado’, ‘barbeque’ and ‘chopsticks’ .