This month we are celebrating the explorations of William Dampier. The following is a short biography of his life;
William Dampier, son of George and Ann Dampier was born in 1651 at East Corker, Somerset, England. He was granted a good education and though orphaned by the age of 15, at the age of 19 he was apprenticed to a ship builder in Weymouth. During which he went on a short voyage to France and then onto Newfoundland and in 1670 he sailed to Java via the Cap of Good Hope East before deciding to join the Royal Navy in 1672. Dampier’s travels had only just begun as he served on board the Royal Prince in the battle of Texel against the Dutch.
Between 1674 – 1680 his decisions and engagements became messy and somewhat disorganized. Firstly he sailed to Jamaica to work on Squire Helyar’s sugar plantation, then departed to the Bay of Campeachy with Captain Hudsel, experiencing the illegal ‘log-wooding’ (dye extraction) he then sailed back to Jamaica with Captain Hudsel, at which they were almost captured by the Spanish. Deciding to return to Campeachy to enter the logwood trade, they had started to become successful until a hurricane struck the coast destroying their entire camp. There were rumours of him joining buccaneers before he returned back to England, however he arrived to purchase an estate and married his wife Judith but only months after their marriage ceremony he left England once again for Jamaica at which, upon his arrival, he sent the deeds of his estate back to England leaving some to believe he had few intentions of returning.
Dampier began his life as a buccaneer in 1680 along with a crew as he crossed the Isthmus of America, sacked Santa Maria, seized a number of Spanish Ships whilst plundering and burning as they sailed as far southwards as the island of Juan Fernandez. After various other adventures he joined a French privateer ship on which he remained until 1683, when he and other pirates joined the crew of a vessel commanded by Captain Cook, not to be mistaken for Captain James Cook, and sailed round Cape Horn to the Pacific Ocean. In 1684 Captain Cook died and Edward Davis succeeded to the command and successfully operated off the coast of South America.
In a change of pace, he set his sight to Captain Swan's ship the Cygnet and spent over two months moored off the west coast of Australia. During this time he made extensive contact with the local Aboriginal population although his descriptions of them are largely derogatory. He explores the local vegetation, fauna and topography in some detail and makes several references to the total lack of fresh water. Then they sailed westward across the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines Islands at which point the crew mutinied and left Captain Swan with some of his crew on shore. They cruised between China and New Holland for the next eighteen months, though as hardened to the extreme conditions from a life at sea, Dampier became seriously ill and convalesced at Acheen, when he recovered he spent the next two years employed in local trade making voyages to Tonquin, Madras and other places. He returned to England in 1691 and published his account "Voyage Round the World" in 1697, the book had immediate success and this prompted the author to write a second volume containing accounts of his first voyages from Acheen, Tonquin and Madras, which were published in 1699.
Charles Montague recommended Dampier to the Admiralty as a man qualified to command a voyage of exploration to the Pacific Ocean, at which he was appointed commander of the "Roebuck" and sailed in 1699 to New Guinea. During which he discovered that New Guinea was an island then onwards to New Holland, arriving on the Western Coast near Houtman's Abrolhos, sailing northwards along the coast to an inlet which was named Shark's Bay.
Dampier made another voyage in 1703 in command of the St. George a privateer of 26 guns and 126 men, from Dampier himself we have no account of his voyage, but an account by Funnell the ship's mate, the main object of the voyage was to attack and capture one of the Spanish Manila treasure ships but they were unsuccessful. Upon his return the ships owner was reluctant to entrust Dampier with another command, instead he was engaged as a pilot on board Captain Woodes-Rogers privateer voyage with the ships Duke and Duchess. During this voyage Alexander Selkirk was rescued from the island of Juan Fernandez and this incident helped to formulate Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. The voyage was a success and one of the Manila treasure ships was captured containing merchandise to the value of £200,000. Unfortunately for Dampier his share of the prize money was not paid until 1719, 4 years after his death in 1715.
Widely regarded as the greatest English explorer and navigator before Cook, Dampier was also a popular and exciting writer and his books have remained in print in one form or another since the late-seventeenth century. Copies of the first editions of his voyages to New Holland and the Pacific are now very rare indeed.