Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Ol’ Robbo picked up this story over on FazeByuke and thought he would share it here: Search for 500-year-old shipwreck could rewrite Australia’s history.
CAIRNS, Australia – An Australian explorer has begun a search for a Portuguese shipwreck off Australia’s northeast coast that, if found, could rewrite how the continent was discovered.
“I’ve got some very strong clues of a possible Portuguese discovery of Australia,” 78-year-old filmmaker Ben Cropp said.
The discovery would be significant because the first records of non-indigenous mariners to visit the continent credit Dutch explorers for sailing here as early as 1606 to chart the west coast of the continent’s northern Cape York Peninsula. Famed English Captain James Cook charted the continent’s east coast in 1770, which later opened the door to British colonization.
Cropp, a self-described “wreck hunter,” set off Sept. 20 on his two-month expedition to the coast of Cape York from his base in Cairns — the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Cropp says two Portuguese ships and a Spanish vessel were lost near Cape York in the 16th century, prior to the arrival of the Dutch.
Ol’ Robbo loves this sort of thing. I knew the Portuguese had been the first round Africa and had reached India and (I believe) China, but the notion that they made it to Australia as well, 80-odd years before the Dutch and over 200 before the Brits, is pretty cool.
Hard to say if this Cropp fellah is working on much more than a hunch, however:
Cropp has searched for evidence of pre-Cook Portuguese exploration of Australia’s east coast before, without success.
“I’m sure the Portuguese were here first, but proving it is very, very difficult,” Cropp said.
But now Cropp says he has new evidence that may indicate the Portuguese made landfall along Australia’s northeast coast as early as 1522. Among the clues: a ship’s cannon, ballast and 16th century European maps that seem to show a detailed outline of Australia.
One European map produced in 1542 shows a large sixth continent located in the position of present-day Australia, called “Java-la-Grande” in many similar charts and navigational aids.
“There’s a whole lot of little finds, but none of them give you a true date — and that’s what I’m searching for,” Cropp said.
Well, good luck, mate!
The article also has this to say about this Cropp fellah:
Among Cropp’s previous discoveries was the remains of HMS Pandora, which is regarded as one of the most significant shipwrecks in the Southern Hemisphere. The British frigate ran aground in the Great Barrier Reef at the edge of the Coral Sea and sank in 1791, killing many onboard. Cropp and two others discovered the wreck in November 1977.
Perhaps it’s outside the scope of the article, or perhaps it’s such common knowledge that the fact was not deemed worthy of mention, but I was surprised the piece failed to note that the Pandora, Captain Edward Edwards, was the ship sent to hunt down the mutineers from HMAV Bounty.¹ She caught 14 of them, too. Captain Edwards had a steel cage erected on his quarterdeck in which he kept the prisoners, which became known as “Pandora’s Box”. When the ship struck, the prisoners would all have been drowned had they not been released as the ship was actually going down. (Patrick O’Brian sharks will know that he puts the story of the wreck of the Pandora in the mouth of Peter Heywood, who had been one of Bligh’s midshipmen and survived capture, the wreck and court-martial, when he comes to dinner with Jack and Stephen in Desolation Island.)
As a matter of fact, until I read this article, I didn’t even know the wreck of the Pandora had been discovered. Here’s the Queensland Museum’s page on the subject.
¹Yes, HMS Bounty is NOT correct. She was a merchie bought by the Royal Navy specifically for a botanical mission, and was no warship at all.