1640 - 1698?
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Christened Willem Hesselzoon De Vlamingh van Oost Vlieland (William son of Hesseel the Fleming of East Vlieland), Vlamingh worked as a whaler in the arctic before joining the Verenigde Oost Indische Compagnie (dutch East India Company) or V.O.C. in 1688.
After completing 2 successful voyages to the East Indies, Vlamingh was selected to lead an expedition to New Holland to look for survivors from the lost ship Ridderschap van Holland which was last seen leaving the Cape of Good Hope in February 1694.
On May 3rd 1696 Vlamingh et sail from the Netherlands with three ships, De Geelvinck (Yellow finch), De Nyjptangh (Nipper or Pincer) and Het Weseltje (Little Weasel). Geelvinck was also the surname of a prominent Director of the V.O.C. and the ship may have been named after him.
After calling in at the Cape of Good Hope to recover from the effects of scurvy (it is reported that only 1 in three Dutch sailors who set sail for the East Indies ever saw Holland again.) the expedition continued east arriving off the west coast of Australia on December 29th 1696.
The first land sighted was Rottnest Island which was mentioned in the ships logs variously as Island of Mist, Island of Fog, Rats Island and Rats Nest Island.
Vlamingh has often been credited with naming the island but the name Rats nest (Rottenest) was actually made in the log of the Nyjptangh.
De Vlamingh’s log talks about the island as follows: “I felt great pleasure in admiring the island, which is a very pleasant place. Here it seems nature has spared nothing to render this isle delightful above all others I have ever seen. It is well disposed for the support of man, having wood and stone and lime for building houses, and wanting only labourers to cultivate these fine plains where one finds salt in abundance, while the coast swarms with fish. There one hears the chatter of birds, which makes these odorous woods resound with their sweet songs.”
The word odorous is a bit misleading as in English it tends to mean smelly, De Vlamingh actually meant perfumed.
Next Vlamingh explored and named the Swan River after the large flocks of black swans which inhabited the area. The original name was actually Swartte Swaane Drift – Black Swan River (quoted as Swaanerivier in some sources).
As black swans were unknown in Europe he ordered his men to catch some and three were taken aboard ship. Sadly they died soon after reaching Java.
As they explored the area around the Swan River some of the crew ate Zamia Palm nuts, they had probably seen the remnants of these in Aboriginal campsites. Unfortunately for the crew, they did not know how to properly prepare the nuts and were very ill as a result. They had also tried to make contact with the local Aborigines but were never able to get more than just a glimpse of the elusive locals.
After completing the exploration of the Swan River and finding nothing of value the expedition continued north along the coast to the Shark Bay area. He named Steep Point (Steyl Hoeck) and landed on Dirk Hartog Island where the inscribed plate left by Hartog was found. The plate was taken aboard the Geelvinck and Vlamingh had his own plate inscribed and placed up on the cliff. 104 years later the plate left by Vlamingh was found by a sailor from the French ship Naturaliste. 17 years on another Frenchman, Louis de Freycinet, found it again and removed it but it was then lost. (The plate was re-discovered in 1940 and was eventually returned to W.A.)
The expedition sailed north once more to North West Cape but the land became even more barren and hostile. After he sailed away there are few clues to what became of Vlamingh when he returned home. Vlamingh had not been impressed with the south land and wrote: “I found neither good country, nor did I see anything of note.”
No references to Vlamingh can be found after 1698 and it is presumed that he may have died then or shortly afterward. Nicholas Wittsen, one of the most senior Directors of the V.O.C., wrote scathingly that Vlamingh had been 'overmuch inclined to drinking... ...not gone much ashore... ...stayed nowhere longer than three days...' and '...wasted his time at the Cape with feasting and merrymaking.'