DIRK HARTOG ISLAND

 

Vlamingh / Hartog - Pewter plate inscription

 

 

 

 

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Dirk Hartog Island is the largest island in Western Australian waters. It is 76 kilometres long and ranges from 3 to 11 kilometres wide. The total land area of the island is 62,000 Ha and there is 200 kilometres of coastline.

Aboriginal shell middens on the island suggest that it was connected to the mainland as little as 3,500 years ago.

The western edge of the island is rugged and cliffs drop into rough water. The eastern side is much more sheltered and sandy beaches fringe calmer waters.

The Island is named after the first European known to have landed there in 1616.

Dirk Hartog (more properly spelled Dirck Hatichs) made the first confirmed landing on the west coast on the island that now bears his name. The expedition was sailing aboard the Eendragt. (sometimes spelled Eendracht).

Dirk Hartog called the island Eendrachsland after his ship but this name did not become official.

Hartog left an inscribed pewter plate fixed to a post an inscription of the (second) plate is shown above. The English translation is as follows:

'On the 25th October, arrived here the ship Eendracht of Amsterdam; the first merchant, Gilles Mibais, of Luyck; Captain Dirk Hartog; of Amsterdam; the 27th ditto set sail for Bantam; under merchant Jan Stoyn, upper steersman, Pieter Dockes, from Bil [Brielle], Ao, 1616'

Willem de Vlamingh arrived in the waters of Shark Bay in February 1697. A party was sent ashore and as they explored they found an old wooden post with an old inscribed pewter plate lying in the sand close to its base.

It was the plate that had been left by Dirk Hartog in 1616.

Vlamingh had a new plate inscribed with Hartog's original message and added his own inscription. The original plate was taken to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam where it still resides.

 

(C) Richard Connery

 

In March 1772 the French Explorer St. Alouarn landed at Turtle Bay on the island. He took possession of the country in the name of the French throne and buried a bottle with a parchment inside and two silver coins wrapped in lead.

The bottle and coins were found in 1998 but the parchment (along with French claims to Australia) had long since disintegrated.

In 1801 Nicolas Baudin (another French explorer) visited the area but he was not at all impressed with what he saw. He wrote:

"During the entire afternoon we coasted, a league off, along the western shores of Dirk Hartog's Island. For its entire length, it looked arid, disagreeable and dreary. It was in fact, worse than the part of the Teres de la Concorde that we had seen the day before. The sea broke heavily all along the coast, and we often saw it rise to the height of the cliffs, which are straight and sheer like a wall and with not one noticeable slope."

A month later the French vessel Naturaliste arrived. Capt. Hamelin came ashore and found Vlamingh's plate. It had fallen from the post it was originally attached to so Hamelin had it re-mounted and placed a plate of his own there as well. Hamelin regarded any suggestions of removing the plate as sacrilege.

Louis de Freycinet had been Hamelin's deputy during the 1801 voyage but when he returned in 1818 he removed Vlamingh's plate and took it back to the French Academy in Paris where it lay forgotten until it was found mixed in with a pile of cold copper engravings.

The plate was presented to Australian Prime Minister J.B. Chifley on May 28th 1947 by the French Ambassador. The plate eventually returned to Western Australia on June 5th 1950.

The Dirk Hartog plate is the oldest European artefact connected with West Australian History.

The plate is now displayed in the Maritime Museum at Fremantle .

The island has seen a number of industries develop and fade over the years. First it was whaling, guano collection and pearling and later pastoralism.

The guano industry led to a garrison being established on the island at Quoin Bluff. 12 soldiers were stationed there to collect taxes from guano collectors who had previously avoided paying government fees. The industry was short lived as the guano ran out and the soldiers were recalled. Today the ruins of their stone storehouse are all that remains to tell of their presence.

In 1868 a sheep lease was granted on the island and a lighthouse was built at Cape Inscription between 1908-10.

When the light was automated, the lighthouse keepers quarters fell into disrepair but restoration work was later done by the local shire.

The leases on the island changed hands a number of times before they were taken up by the Wardle family (Thomas Wardle ran the well known supermarket chain Tom's) in 1968.

Due to its isolation from the mainland, the island has become a haven for many bird and native mammal species. The island supports the largest breeding colony of loggerhead turtles in Australia with over 1000 turtles digging nests on the northern beaches each year. The loggerhead is one of the most threatened turtles in Australian waters and this breeding site is one of the top five most important in the world.

In 2009 the state government purchased the pastoral lease and most of the island was declared a national park. A program was started to remove feral animals and to re-introduce native species that had previously inhabited the island.

With over 250 plant species, 48 reptile species and 84 bird species, the isalnd has very good biodiversity. Originally there were 15 native mammal species on the island including the dibbler, chuditch, boodie, woylie and western barred bandicoot. Many became extinct mainly due to feral cats but with the removal of the cats and other introduced species, the native mammals are being successfully reintroduced.

The Wardle family retained some small areas of the island and offer nature based camping and accommodation. To find out more about staying on the island visit Dirk Hartog Island Website.

 

 

 

 

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