November 1786 saw the publication of An Historical Narrative of the Discovery of New Holland and New South Wales, which sought to explain the reasons for the British Government’s decision to establish a settlement at Botany Bay. Although the book was published anonymously, the London publishers, John Fielding and John Stockdale, were often used by the Home Office and its adviser, Sir Joseph Banks. The title of the book made a clear distinction between “New Holland” and “New South Wales”. Years later, Banks explained this distinction. He indicated in November 1811 that the ancient boundary between New Holland and Terra Australis, which was delineated following Tasman’s voyage of 1644, had been chosen as the western boundary of the British territory of New South Wales when the Botany Bay colony had been established:

It was not until after Tasman’s second voyage, in 1644, that the general name TerraAustralis, or Great South Land, was made to give place to the new term of New Holland; and it was then applied only to the parts lying westward of a meridian line, passing through Arnhem’sLand on the north, and near the Isles St Peter and St Francis on the south: All to the eastward, including the shores of the Gulph of Carpentaria, still remained Terra Australis. This appears from a chart by Thevenot in 1663, which he says “was originally taken from that done in inlaid work upon the pavement of the new Stadt‑House at Amsterdam“.

It is necessary, however, to geographical precision that the whole of this great body of land should be distinguished by one general term, and under the circumstances of the discovery of the different parts, the original Terra Australis has been judged the most proper. Of this term, therefore, we shall hereafter make use when speaking of New Holland and New South Wales in a collective sense; and when using it in an extensive signification, the adjacent isles, including that of Van Diemen, must be understood to be comprehended.

In dividing New Holland from New South Wales, we have been guided by the British patent to the first Governor of the new Colony at Port Jackson. In this patent a meridian nearly corresponding to the antient line of separation between New Holland and Terra Australis has been made the western limit of New South Wales, and is fixed at the longitude of 1350 east from the meridian of Greenwich. From hence the British Territory extends eastward to the islands of the Pacific, or Great Equinoctial Ocean. Its northern limit is at Cape York, and the extremity of the Southern Van Diemen’s Land is its opposite boundary.

In placing the western limit of New South Wales at 1350 we suppose His Majesty’s Ministers to have had in view the Dutch line of demarcation. One reason for its adoption might probably have been, that thereby the projected discoveries on the South Coast, and those that might be made in the inland parts, behind the new settlement, would be secured as British territory.”

What Banks wrote was based on what Matthew Flinders had written in a letter to him from captivity on the “Isle of France” (Mauritius), with which he sent him his “general chart of New Holland”. In the letter, dated 23 March 1804, Flinders wrote:

The propriety of the name Australia or Terra Australis, which I have applied to the whole body of what has generally been called New Holland, must be submitted to the approbation of the Admiralty and the learned in geography. It seems to me an inconsistent thing that captain Cooks New South Wales should be absorbed in the New Holland of the Dutch, and therefore I have reverted to the original name Terra Australis or the Great South Land, by which it was distinguished even by the Dutch during the 17th century; for it appears that it was not until some time after Tasmans second voyage that the name New Holland was first applied, and then it was long before it displaced T’Zuydt Landt in the charts, and could not extend to what was not yet known to have existence; New South Wales, therefore, ought to remain distinct from New Holland; but as it is requisite that the whole body should have one general name, since it is now known (if there is no great error in the Dutch part) that it is certainly all one land, so I judge, that one less exceptionable to all parties and on all accounts cannot be found than that now applied.

The Amsterdam Town Hall map which Thevenot had copied had been made familiar to the British public by John Campbell, whose editions of John Harris’s Navigantium atque Itinerantium Bibliotheca, or Voyages and Travels (1744-1748, and 1764) contained an engraving of it by Emmanuel Bowen. Bowen had added a legend which read: “It is impossible to conceive a Country that promises fairer from its Situation than this of TERRA AUSTRALIS, no longer incognita, as this Map demonstrates, but the Southern Continent Discovered. It lies precisely in the richest climates of the World….and therefore whoever perfectly discovers and settles it will become infalliably possessed of Territories as Rich, as fruitful, and as capable of Improvement, as any that have hitherto been found out, either in the East Indies or the West.”

The Navigantium was originally published by John Harris in 1705 and was often referred to as “Harris’s Voyages”, although substantial additions were made by Campbell in the subsequent editions published by him. Bowen’s map legend was based upon the ideas of Jean Pierre Purry, a Swiss who, as a servant of the Dutch East India Company in Batavia in 1717, had proposed to the Governor‑General the settlement of Nuyt’s Land, because he considered it to be located in what could be scientifically determined as the best climate in the world. Purry’s ideas were published in Amsterdam in 1718 and in London in 1744.

Although Bowen’s map legend referred to Quirós’ discovery of Australia del Espiritu Santo, it also stated that the eastern and southern coasts of Terra Australis still awaited actual discovery and settlement: “The Reader is desired to observe that nothing is marked here but what has been Actually discovered which is the reason of the white Space between New Holland and New Zealand and again between New Zeland and New Guinea which make the South and East sides of Terra Australis”. The Spanish claims based on Quirós’ discoveries were dismissed by the Historical Narrative of the Discovery of New Holland and New South Wales: “The memorials presented by Quiros, and his proposals for making more ample discoveries in the South Seas, though not absolutely rejected by the court of Madrid, failed, nevertheless, to produce any beneficial effect to his country, or information, to the rest of Europe”. The Narrative also implied that Dutch claims were questionable:

“It has appeared (says that judicious collector Dr. Harris — See his Collection of Voyages and Travels, Vol.I, p.320) very strange to some very able judges of voyages, that the Dutch should make so great account of the southern countries as to cause the map of them to be laid down in the pavement of the Stadthouse at Amsterdam, and yet publish no description of them…. This suspicion gained ground the more, when it was known the Dutch East-India Company from Batavia had made some attempts to conquer a part of the southern continent, and had been repulsed with loss.”

Harris was apparently referring to the attempt by Willem Jaensz in 1606 to establish a settlement at Albatross Bay in Carpentaria. During late 1786 a lively discussion took place in the English press over possible Dutch claims to New Holland forming an obstacle to British colonisation. An article in The Morning Post of 11 October, and The Public Advertiser of 20 October 1786 stated:

New Holland, (in which Botany Bay is situated nearly the Antipodes to Great Britain), was first discovered by Ferdinando de Quier. The East-India Companies in Holland pretend to have a property in it, although they were ill-used by the inhabitants when they attempted to settle there. That country is so highly esteemed by the Dutch, that they have had the map thereof cut in the stones of their Stadthouse, at Amsterdam.

The article appears to have been designed to forestall Dutch claims to priority by attributing the discovery of New Holland to Quirós. Bowen’s map legend stated:

It is also requisite to observe that the Country discovered by Ferdinand de Quiros lies according to his description on the East Side of this Continent directly opposite to Carpentaria which if Attentively considered will add no small weight to the Credit of what he has written about that Country and which has been very rashly as well as very unjustly treated by some Critical Writers as a Fiction; Whereas it Appears from this Map of Actual Discoveries, that there is a Country where Ferdinand de Quiros says he found one: And if so why may not that Country be such a one as he describes?

A Dutch objection to English colonisation of New Holland was reported in the Dublin Evening Herald of 30 October 1786:

An opposition to the intended settlement of Botany Bay has lately started from a quarter from which it was little expected. The Dutch have always claimed sovereignty of it by the right of discovery, a right which has been greatly respected by the different powers of Europe; and we are credibly informed that his Excellency the Baron de Leyden, the Dutch ambassador to our Court, has received orders to remonstrate with our Ministers, in the name of the States‑General, against our regular planting of a territory which they assert belongs to another country.

Whether or not the report was an accurate reflection of the views of the Dutch Government (which was currently distracted by the imminent prospect of civil war between pro-French and pro-British factions), it betrayed English insecurity on the question of Dutch prior rights to the territory. The Whitehall Evening Post of 2-4 November 1786 carried an article critical of the Botany Bay scheme, which challenged its supporters: “Will they say, that Ministers are authorised to risque a quarrel with the Dutch and their new allies about our felons taking possession of that distant region? We should not be surprised to hear that the Dutch had been before-hand with us by sending a small squadron to oppose the debarkation of our hopeful planters on that new found Garden of Eden…” An article in The General Advertiser of 6 November 1786 stated:

Two very spirited memorials have been presented by the French and Dutch Ambassadors, against our intended Settlement at Botany Bay, in which they threaten to resist our sending the Convicts there; in consequence of which, a Cabinet Council met a few days ago, and sat all night on the subject, when it was determined (but it is said not unanimously) to persist in the measure; and an additional frigate is ordered to the Settlement in case the threats should be carried into execution.

The Whitehall Evening Post of 4-7 November 1786 reported “representations, which we understand the French and Dutch have lately made to our Court, against the projected settlement at Botany Bay”. An article in The Morning Post of 9 November asserted: “As to the Dutch claiming a right to Botany Bay, because they first discovered the vast tract of land called New Holland, those who first discovered New-York, might with as much justice lay claim to the Floridas, because they make a part of the vast continent of America”. The General Evening Post of 9-11 November 1786 stated: “Our Botany-bay scheme, it seems, for the present is at a stand still; the Dutch have sent a strong memorial against our planting a settlement in those regions of the South…”

“Another Faulkland island business is on the tapis,”cried an article carried in The Public Advertiser of 10 November and The Daily Universal Register of 11 November 1786, “the Botany Bay scheme is laid aside, as there is a strong presumption that a squadron from Brest are now, or soon will be, in possession of the very spot we meant to occupy in New Holland”. This may have been a wild reference to the expedition led by Lapérouse, which the British Ambassador to France had believed when it set out from Brest in August 1785 had as one of its objectives the establishment of a settlement in New Zealand to forestall the British. “If what we hear be true,” the article in The Public Advertiser went on, “the Botany Bay plan, about which we have been so cock-a-hoop of late, is likely to meet with some delay, if not a total disappointment. The Dutch, it is said, have not only remonstrated against the measure, on the ground of a prior discovery, but have likewise engaged the Court of Versailles in their interest, by means of a memorial warmly complaining of the intended usurpation of their just rights, and soliciting the federal stipulations with that power to prevent them from violation, if circumstances should render such interference necessary”.

The Morning Post of 13 November 1786 declared: “Our right, as a nation, to the territorial possession of the surrounding country of Botany Bay, is disputed by those who are determined to dispute every inch of ground with the Ministry. The best authorities have established it as a maxim, that in all parts uninhabited, formal possession confers property”.

The Morning Herald went so far as to declare, on Friday 17 November 1786: “On Tuesday last, the ill-concerted plan of Government, to found a Colony at Botany Bay, expired in the Cabinet; with all the shame upon its projectors, that could appertain to so unconstitutional and impolitic a proceeding”. This was refuted by The Public Advertiser on Monday 20 November 1786, in an article which asserted: “The intelligence so pompously announced in a print of last Friday, relative to Botany Bay, is extremely groundless — it is malicious and imprudent in a high degree… The steps previous to the settlement at Botany-Bay have been taken with much regularity. They have never experienced any interruption: nor are likely to do so, as no power on earth can, in justice, dispute Britain’s right to the soil on which the Colony is to be settled…” A further article in The Public Advertiser of 1 December affirmed: “The truth is, the Minister has no dispute with the French or Dutch concerning the Botany-Bay plan”.

All the talk about Dutch objections did betray English awareness of the potential strength of a Dutch position in international law. Bowen’s map of Terra Australis was, essentially, a chart of Dutch discoveries, as the map legend openly declared: “This Map is very exactly Copied from the Original and therefore the Dutch Names have been preserved that if hereafter any Discoveries should be Attempted all the places mentioned may be readily found in the Dutch Charts which must be procured for such a Voyage”. When taking possession of the east coast of New Holland on 21/22 August 1770, James Cook had noted in his journal that he could, “land no more upon this Eastern coast of New Holland, and on the Western side I can make no new discovery the honour of which belongs to the Dutch Navigators and as such they may lay Claim to it as their property” [underlined part crossed out in the original]. Cook was careful therefore to take possession only of that part of the coastline not previously visited by Dutch navigators, i.e. from latitude 38ºS, Point Hicks, north of Van Diemens Land, to Cape York, East of Carpentaria.

The desire to avoid an unnecessary confrontation with the Dutch seems to have influenced the definition of the British territorial claim to New South Wales. Holland was much better as an ally than an enemy, and British interest in New Holland related to the Pacific rather than the Indian Ocean.

Bowen’s engraving of the Amsterdam Stadthouse map, with its division of the continent into New Holland to the west and Terra Australis to the east of “the antient line of demarcation” at 135°E, provided a convenient western boundary for the British claim. The History of New Holland was published in London by Stockdale in January 1787 as, in effect, a revised edition of An Historical Narrative of the Discovery of New Holland and New South Wales. The citation of “Campbell’s edition of Harris’s Collection of Voyages” by this work, and its reference to the map of Dutch discoveries in New Holland “laid down in the pavement of the Stadthouse at Amsterdam” (pp.4-5) indicates the high regard in which Campbell’s work was held as an authority on geography. Dutch prior rights by discovery to the western and northern coasts were recognised, but Quirós’ achievements were not seen as giving Spain any rights by discovery to the eastern coast. The 135oE Meridian formed the line of demarcation between Dutch and Spanish claims, between Britain’s allies and her enemies. The territorial definition given in Phillip’s commission, and proclaimed by him at Port Jackson on 7 February 1788, shifted New South Wales to the eastward of Matra’s definition, and left any Dutch claim to western New Holland undisturbed. The claim was published in the London press on 30 April 1789. An article in The Diary (clearly drawn from Watkin Tench’s Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay) stated:

The extent of our possessions in New Holland, have not been explained to the publick. In Governor Phillip’s commission, the extent of this authority is defined to reach from the latitude of 43 deg. 49 min. south, to the latitude of 10 degrees 37 min. south, being the northern and southern extremities of the continent of New Holland. It commences again at [the] 135th degree of longitude east of Greenwich, and proceeding in an easterly direction, includes all the islands within the limits of the above specified latitudes in the Pacifick Ocean. By this partition, it may be fairly presumed, that every source of future litigation between the Dutch and us, will be for ever cut off, as the discoveries of English navigators only are comprised in this territory.

Tench’s Narrativewas promptly translated into Dutch in Amsterdam by Martinus de Bruijn. He commented on the “truly astonishing extent” of the British territorial claim, pointing out that:

the outermost or easternmost of the Marquesas Islands lie, even according to the English maps, at least eighty-five degrees eastward of the line where they place the commencement of the Territory of New South Wales. They have therefore formed a single province which, beyond all doubt, is the largest on the whole surface of the earth. From their definition it covers, in its greatest extent from East to West, virtually a fourth of the whole circumference of the Globe. Thus have the English, by simply reading that commission on a small scrap of the ground of New Hollandand by founding the Territory of New South Wales, assumed and reserved to themselves the territorial dominion and right of jurisdiction, first over almost half of the whole of New Holland and secondly over all those islands named in the Pacific Ocean.

De Bruijn also expressed what was apparently a commonly held Dutch view on the colonisation by the British of a region to which the Dutch themselves might be thought to have had a prior claim, saying:

it is known that New Holland, whose eastern half has now been called by the English New South Wales, had already been discovered in the first part of the previous century by Dutch navigators, who touched there at more than one latitude. One can therefore assume with sufficient certainty that our East India Company, especially at a time when it was greatly flourishing, would not have neglected to colonise that which lies so extraordinarily convenient with respect its possessions in the East Indies and which was too important, then, to leave to another European sea-power to examine closely, or rather, by establishing itself there, to be able also to gain some notable benefits for itself; and since, as we know, this has not occurred now in the course of so many years, although it could have been done by it with less cost, can, indeed must not, one conclude readily that, from having their own exceptionally detailed reports concerning that country and its inhabitants, instead of being encouraged, on the contrary they were discouraged from seeking a firm footing there?

Researched and published by the Australia On The Map Committee in 2009

The term “Australia” is first known to have been used on a map in 1545. It was applied to an imaginary southern landmass on a map in a German work Astronomia-Teutsch Astronomei.