Pieter Nuyts

Pieter Nuyts.

During the initial discovery of the north coast of Australia by Dutchman Willem Janszoon in 1606, captain of the Duyfken, 350 kilometres of the northern coastline from the West Coast of Cape York Peninsula to Cape Keerweer were mapped. It was not until 1622 that the Governor General of Dutch East Indies, Jan Pieterszoon Coen, made plans, and gave instructions, for a thorough investigation of the South Land. He wanted 'to ascertain as much of the situation and nature of these regions as God Almighty shall vouchsafe to allow'.

This was done by 1627 when parts of Australia’s south coast were discovered and mapped. Early that year the crew of the Gulden Zeepaerdt, under the command of Francois Thijssen, sighted the most southerly part of the continent, which was already known as New Holland, and sailed east as far as present day Ceduna. On board was Pieter Nuyts (Nuijts) who was on his way to Batavia to work for the Dutch East Indies Company, VOC.

Pieter Lauwerijszoon Nuyts' sole claim to fame, as far as Australia is concerned, was his presence on the Gulden Zeepaerdt, which accidentally discovered the Australian south coast on its way to Batavia, after been carried too far south by the strong westerlies. As Nuyts was probably the highest ranking individual on board, Captain Francois Thijssen named the coast and one of the islands after him.

Born in Middelburg, Holland in 1598, Nuyts was raised in the textile business of his parents Lauwerijs and Elisabeth Waelrans and the ships trading in the Far East and Asia. He was enrolled at the University of Leiden on 14 December 1613. During his studies he lived at the house of Professor Thomas van Erpen, a specialist and lover of anything Arabian.

After completing University Nuyts was well versed in the classics, bible and law studies. He returned to Middelburg to work in his father's business. Nuyts married Cornelia Jansdochter Jacot on 26 April 1620 within a few weeks of the death of his parents. Before long Nuyts and his wife had two sons, Laurens and Pieter and twin daughters Anna Cornelia and Elisabeth. Nuyts used most of his business profits to buy land and invest in reclaiming some of the Dutch polders. It was not enough though to keep him happy or even at home. He wanted to see the world and particularly the Far East. What better way to do this than secure a position with the Verenigde Oost Indische Compagnie, VOC.

On 20 March 1602 the Dutch Republic, on the instigation of Johan van Oldenbarneveldt, had granted a trade monopoly to the VOC in the East Indies. Not only was it granted a trade monopoly, it was also allowed to wage war and make treaties with Asian rulers. Within a short time the VOC had secured the Far East for the Dutch. Heaving driven the Portuguese from Amboina in 1605 it established its headquarters in Batavia, Jakarta, in 1619 and took possession of Formosa, Taiwan, in 1624.

With his university education and practical experience gained from his merchant father, Nuyts gained employment with the VOC, where he made rapid promotion. To do even better Nuyts decided to move to Batavia, the main centre of activity of the company. Nuyts and his son Laurens left Vlissingen on the Gulden Zeepaerdt, fitted out by the Middelburg Chamber of the VOC and commanded by Francois Thijssen on 22 May 1626. They arrived at Batavia on 1 January 1627. Nuyts' wife, who was pregnant and their son Pieter, would follow at a later date. The ship carried a crew of 158 varent volck, 56 soldiers and six women and was part of a fleet of nine under the command of Admiral Wijbrandt Janszoon Schrans.

After rounding the Cape of Good Hope, the Gulden Zeepaerdt, sailed into history when it was carried too far south by the winds of the Southern Ocean. It touched the south coast of Terra Australis, the South Land, on 26 January 1627 in the neighbourhood of Cape Leeuwin. The date, however, varies according to the chart consulted. Both the Mar di India and Pieter Goos’ chart state 26 January whereas Tasman’s chart, published in 1859, gives the date as ‘Ano. 1627 den 26 Februaris’.

The ship now turned eastward, according to the instructions given by Jan Pieterszoon Coen, Governor General of the Dutch East Indies, in 1622. The ship was to sail to the Great South Land and ascertain as much as possible of its nature.

Sailing along the southern coast from Cape Leeuwin for more than 1500 kilometres, the Dutch mapped and named 't Land van Pieter Nuyts and the islands of St. Francis and St. Pieter, the second largest island of South Australia being about thirteen kilometres in length. This encounter resulted in the first definite map of any part of the Southern Coast and the first knowledge of South Australia. From here it turned around to make its way back to Batavia where the ship arrived, after eleven months at sea, on 10 April 1627. Twenty-eight of the crew and passengers had died on the voyage.

Nuyts was not impressed with what he had seen from the southern coast. No records were made, or if there was, none of them have survived. When D'Entrecasteau visited the same area 165 years later he wrote,"It is not surprising that Nuyts has given us no details of this barren coast; for its aspect is so uniform, that the most fruitful imagination could find nothing to say of it".

Lately, after extensive research, it has been suggested by Jan Vel that "maybe the ship did not turn around, as it would have been very difficult to sail against strong currents and the westerlies, but continued eastward". He advanced many good reasons for this and strongly argued that the ship was not lost at all. If this had the case then it would have been the Dutch who first circumnavigated Australia and not Matthew Flinders!

The VOC was very impressed with Nuyts and his important connections which he never omitted to mention, and their full titles, in his letters. Within three weeks, on 30 April, Nuyts was appointed Ambassador to Japan. He left Batavia on 12 May 1627 in command of five ships, 240 sailors and 60 soldiers to head a special mission to restore and improve relations between the VOC and Japan. After a month of complicated negotiations and his own ignorance of Japanese customs, he had to admit defeat and returned to Formosa. The mission had been a failure.

Part of Formosa had been settled by the Dutch in September 1624, to establish a colony to administer the island, conduct missionary work and especially to establish international trading relations with both Japan and China. Outside of Anping Harbor, they had already built a castle called Casteel Zeelandia in 1624. This castle (fort) served as the headquarters of the ruling Dutch Council. On 28 June 1627 Nuyts became Governor of Taiwan. Very soon though the VOC realised that there was something wrong with Nuyts. Not only was he arrogant, haughty and domineering but also a troublemaker who never stopped complaining and often looked more after his own financial interests than those of the company. In 1628, fort Zeelandia was attacked and Governor Pieter Nuyts, his small son Laurens, and four other Dutchmen taken hostage by a band of Japanese buccaneers.

In an effort to free Governor Nuyts it was decided that his son and the four men would be taken to Japan with the Japanese buccaneers. Upon reaching Japan all would be exchanged and set free. After reaching the Japanese shore the plan was not carried out and all Dutch were imprisoned. The governor's son Laurens died in prison three years later on 29 December 1630. Nuyts turned out to be a disaster as a governor. He alienated most of the locals, his own staff, and his superiors in Batavia who had decided to recall him as early as March 1629. While in Formosa Governor Nuyts had himself married, against the wishes of the bride and her parents, to one of the island's ladies. He also had numerous affairs with other women. To solve the language problems he had an interpreter under his bed to translate his or the ladies' amorous conversations.

Before news of his recall reached Formosa, Nuyts launched another unsuccessful expedition. This time against Chinese smugglers on the island of Mattau in July 1629. It also ended in disaster. Nuyts arrived back in Batavia on 11 October 1629 where he was heavily fined. After several inquiries he was relieved from his duties, suspended and arrested on 9 May 1630. While in prison, Nuyts' wife Cornelia, son Peter and daughter Anna, Elisabeth had died in Holland, arrived in Batavia on 15 September 1631. His wife died soon after on 22 October 1631.

When no improvement between the VOC and Japan had occurred by 1632, it was decided to hand Nuyts as hostage to the Japanese Imperial Court. Relations improved immediately but Nuyts remained imprisoned. While locked up he studied Japanese and ordered the Latin works of Erasmus, Petrarca, Machiavelli, Seneca and others. He now wrote learned essays on such topics as the Elephant and the origin of the River Nile. He also wrote about the importance of further discoveries and explorations of Australia. He was released on 5 July 1636 and arrived back in Batavia on 11 December 1636. Before returning to Holland a year later, he was made to pay a further fine of 22,000 guilders.

Back in Holland, where he arrived on 18 July 1638, Nuyts was able to come to an arrangement with the VOC who returned some of his money on the condition that he would refrain from making any further claims. On 1 January 1640 Nuyts, now 43, married Anna van Driel but she died nine months later while giving birth to a son called Pieter. His son Pieter by his first wife Elisabeth had died in Batavia.

Business went well for Nuyts. Being a large land owner around the city of Hulst, it did not take long before he became a member of its Council. Eventually he became a tax collector of Hulster Ambacht and Hulst. Once again he was involved in many struggles, fights and financial mismanagement. On 26 April 1649, when he was more than 50 years old, he once more married, this time to Agnes Abrahams Granier. It lasted until his death on 11 December 1655. He was buried at Hulst on 9 December. After the funeral it turned out that he had collected far more tax than was shown in the Council's books. The difference was eventually repaid by his son Pieter.

Meanwhile, the land charted by Thijssen was named Pieter Nuytsland and two of the islands St Peter and St Francis. Later, both the French and English navigators, including Matthew Flinders, praised the accuracy of the Dutch mapping, the first of any part of the southern coast. They are now the oldest place names in South Australia. Later it was Governor Anthonio van Diemen who sent Abel Tasman for some further investigations resulting in the discovery of Van Diemen’s Land, Tasmania.

Apart from being the first to discover and map Australia, the Dutch were also the first to transport their convicts to the Australian mainland. In 1629 Wouter Loos and Jan Pellegrimsz de Beye were put ashore in Western Australia for their part in the murders of the passengers of the wrecked Batavia. There may also have been some survivors of shipwrecks who settled in Australia.

In 1834 the English newspaper, The Leeds Mercury reported on 25 February that a secret English expedition to Australia in 1832, led by Lieutenant Nixon, had discovered a small group of 300 white people, descendants of Dutch survivors from shipwrecks of the late 1600s. The story was later reported again in the Perth Gazette of 1837. Daisy Bates also noted that some Aborigines had distinctly Dutch traces. To her there was no mistaking about their flat heavy Dutch face, curly hair and heavy stocky build.

More recently Les Hiddens, of Bush Tucker Man fame, gave it some publicity in his ABC programme The Dutch Settlement. The VOC Historical Society, formed in 2000, has been working with the Nanda Indigenous people of Western Australia collecting blood samples hoping to find a genetic link with the Dutch.

Not finding anything of their liking or to trade, most of the Dutch soon lost interest in New Holland and very few thought of colonising it or establishing a small foothold or port. However on 20 May 1717, Jean Pierre Purry, who had been working for the VOC, tried to convince the Governor of Batavia that a colony should be established in Nuytsland, in the vicinity of Cape Leeuwin. He came up with several good reasons, including that it would provide large profits for the company, but was unsuccessful. When back in Holland he put together a small book on the subject, which was published in Amsterdam in 1718.

Although unsuccessful once again the ideas were not forgotten altogether. When the First Fleet arrived at Botany Bay, seventy years later in 1788, it brought convicts of some forty different nationalities, including Dutch. It was Dutch Captain Detmer Smit, of the ship Waaksamheyd, who brought the first news of the Mutiny on the Bounty to Governor Philip in Sydney. Some of the first escaped convicts from Sydney, including Mary Bryant, were later taken on Dutch ships on the way to England to face the hangman.

During his life, Nuyts had a kind of poesiealbum, album of verses, which had 158 pages. Only 26 had even been written on. Most of the texts were in Arabic, Latin, Greek Hebrew and Castilian. Only two pages were in Dutch. In 1869 Amsterdam publisher and book seller Frederick Muller donated a copy to the Public Library of Victoria, now the State Library of Victoria. Nuyts original map is kept in the State Library of New South Wales.

On 28 January 1802 Matthew Flinders named Nuyts’ Reef and Cape Nuyts and on 8 February Pt Nuyts. After having mapped the island group charted by the Gulden Zeepaerdt he named them Nuyts Archipelago. A memorial obelisk, commemorating the Gulden Zeepaerdt and Nuyts’ voyage, was erected at Streaky Bay in 1927 and a plaque added in 1938. Another plaque was placed at Fowlers Bay. A street in Red Hill, ACT was named after him as were some topographical and geological maps.

In 1946 the Pastoral and Marginal Agricultural Areas Inquiry Committee subdivided the State into regions, one of which was called Nuyts. Dutch migrants donated a plaque in 1986 to commemorate Nuyts and Thyssen's voyage. It was unveiled in February of that year in Thevenard. There is also the Nuyts Reef Conservation Park in South Australia. There is Point Nuyts in Western Australia and The Western Australian Christmas tree was later named Nuytsia floribunda. The Nuytsland Nature Reserve in Western Australia was gazetted in 1969.


The Dutch in South Australia

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