Our History and the Christian Connection

Who are they?

The dark skinned Aboriginals could not believe what they were seeing. They look human but they look so pale, so ghost like, they are so white. Where do they come from? What are they doing here? What do they want?

How difficult it is for us to imagine what was going on at this first encounter of two different cultures on Australian soil. The dark skinned Aboriginals and the sudden appearance of white skinned strangers striding along their shore.

This encounter between the indigenous people of Western Australia—probably members of the Bardi tribe—and a group of English buccaneers desperate for water was recorded by William Dampier in the best-seller, A New Voyage Round The World.

It is just over 300 years since his death. Almost 100 years before the First Fleet sailed into Botany Bay, William Dampier sailed into King Sound in Western Australia—one of the first Englishmen to set foot on the Australian mainland.

Dampier’s impact on scientific disciplines was profound. Renowned as a navigator, he produced maps still used a century later by sailors like Captain Cook. His study of winds formed the basis of modern meteorology, and his research of currents was foundational to the science of hydrography. His detailed observations of species laid the groundwork in several biological disciplines. And he contributed over 80 words to the English language, such as ‘avocado’, ‘barbecue’ and ‘chopsticks’.

His commentary on this initial contact between Europeans and the first Australians influenced Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe that was based on a real life character, Alexander Selkirk, who was an acquaintance of Dampier. He witnessed Selkirk’s miraculous rescue after four years marooned on a remote island.

Despite his fame during his lifetime, Dampier is sadly almost unknown today.

His buccaneer background is suggested as the reason. Sent to the Caribbean to the sugar-growing estate of an English squire, he was worried he would become a victim of human trafficking. The seventeenth century was a brutal era. Men were regularly assaulted and taken away just walking down the road.

Dampier went to the Caribbean voluntarily, but quickly linked up with buccaneers. This lifestyle appealed to many men. Democratic decision-making, potential to share a fortune, government sanction to attack the enemies of England were all far better than indentured servitude or slavery. Dampier found buccaneering provided ample opportunity to indulge his curiosity and sense of adventure. He loved inquiring into ‘the various and wonderful Works of God in different parts of the world.’

His book offers tantalising glimpses of a complex faith. Not long after leaving the coast of ‘New Holland’—now Australia—Dampier sailed into a horrific storm. ‘I had a lingering View of approaching Death, and little or no hopes of escaping it… I had long before this repented of that roving Course of Life, but never with such concern as now. I also called to mind the many miraculous Acts of God’s Providence towards me in the whole Course of my Life, of which kind I believe few Men have met with the like. For all these I returned Thanks in a peculiar Manner, and once more desired God’s Assistance…’*

Dampier’s final resting place is unknown. His will reveals this same reliance on God. ‘I, Capt. William Dampier, of London, Mariner, being diseased and weak in body, but of sound and perfect mind and memory (praised be God therefore)……I recommend my soul into the hands of almighty God, my Creator, hoping by and through the merits, death and passion of my ever blessed redeemer to enjoy external life’**

Annie Hamilton                                   www.diduno.info

* 18 May 1688, as noted in William Dampier, A New Voyage Round The World: The Journal of an English Buccaneer, published 1697

Diana & Michael Preston, A Pirate of Exquisite Mind—Explorer, Naturalist and Buccaneer: The Life of William Dampier, Walker & Company 2004

** See Adrian Mitchell, Dampier’s Monkey: The South Sea Voyages of William Dampier, Wakefield Press