In 1696, De Vlamingh commanded the rescue mission to Australia’s west coast to look for survivors of the Ridderschap van Holland that had gone missing two years earlier. There were three ships under his command: the frigate Geelvink, captained by De Vlamingh himself; the Nijptang, under Captain Gerrit Collaert; and the galiot Weseltje, under Captain Cornelis de Vlamingh, son of Willem de Vlamingh.
On 29 December 1696, De Vlamingh’s party landed on Rottnest Island. He saw numerous quokkas, and thinking they were large rats he named it ‘t Eylandt ‘t Rottenest (“Rats’ Nest Island”). He afterwards wrote of it in his journal:
“I had great pleasure in admiring this island, which is very attractive, and where it seems to me that nature has denied nothing to make it pleasurable beyond all islands I have ever seen, being very well provided for man’s well-being, with timber, stone, and lime for building him houses, only lacking ploughmen to fill these fine plains. There is plentiful salt, and the coast is full of fish. Birds make themselves heard with pleasant song in these scented groves. So, I believe that of the many people who seek to make themselves happy, there are many who would scorn the fortunes of our country for the choice of this one here, which would seem a paradise on earth”.
Pictures above – Rottnest Islands with the quokkas – 2003
On 10 January 1697, he ventured up the Swan River. He and his crew are believed to have been the first Europeans to do so. They are also assumed to be the first Europeans to see black swans, and De Vlamingh named the Swan River (Zwaanenrivier in Dutch) after the large number they observed there. The crew split into three parties, hoping to catch an Aborigine, but about five days later they gave up their quest to catch a “South lander”.
On 22 January, they sailed through the Geelvink Channel. The next days they saw ten naked, black people. On 24 January they passed Red Bluff. Near Wittecarra they went looking for fresh water. On 4 February 1697, he landed at Dirk Hartog Island, Western Australia, and replaced the pewter plate left by Dirk Hartog in 1616 with a new one that bore a record of both of the Dutch sea-captains’ visits.
On board was also Victor Victoszoon, he was a painter and cartographer he painted Willem de Vlamingh’s ships, with black swans, at the entrance to the Swan River, Western Australia.
The Willem de Vlamingh monument on the island of Vlieland, the birthplace of the explorer. The pictures below were taken by Hans Woldring in June 2023.
Article about Willem de Vlamingh in a 1969 issue of Walkabout.