Question:

What is the history of Early European Exploration?

Early European Exploration

Early European Exploration
Although Australia was not known to the Western world, it did exist in late medieval European logic and mythology: A great Southland, or Terra Australis, was thought necessary to balance the weight of the northern landmasses of Europe and Asia. Terra Australis often appeared on early European maps as a large, globe-shaped mass in about its correct location, although no actual discoveries were recorded by Europeans until much later. Indeed, the European exploration of Australia took more than three centuries to complete; thus, what is often considered the oldest continent, geologically, was the last to be discovered and colonized by Europeans.

Penal Settlements

Penal Settlements
Australia was portrayed as a remote and unattractive land for European settlement. However, it had some social and strategic value for a nation with rising crime rates and commercial interests in the Pacific and East Asia. Britain moved quickly after the American Revolution ended in 1783 to establish its first settlement in Australia, since it could no longer ship British convicts to America. Food shortages, harsh penal laws, and the general displacement of people during the early stages in the Industrial Revolution in Britain added to its criminal population. Leading social reformers of the day assumed that the best way to eliminate crime was to remove these criminals from society. In 1786 the British government announced its intention to establish a penal settlement at Botany Bay in Australia.

British Expeditions and Claims

British Expeditions and Claims
At first England's involvement in Australia appeared likely to go the way of the Spanish and Dutch, but in the late 17th century the English launched two expeditions. The first one, in 1687 to 1688, was led by a buccaneer, William Dampier, who landed in the northwest. When he returned to England, he urged further voyages in pursuit of the continent's supposed wealth. The second expedition—along the western coast in 1699—resulted in a rather dismal assessment of the land's potential. English interest in the continent declined accordingly.

Dutch Interest:Dirk Hartog

Dutch Interest
Portugal's involvement in India, and Spain's disenchantment, allowed the rising power of the Netherlands to establish a string of trading centers from the Cape of Good Hope in Africa to Indonesia during the 17th century. The Dutch, stationed chiefly in the Indonesian ports of Bantam and Batavia (Jakarta), quickly made the discovery of Australia a reality. Helped by better sailing ships and greater knowledge of global wind systems, they were able to overcome the challenges in the southern Pacific. In 1606 Willem Jansz sailed into Torres Strait, between the Australian mainland and New Guinea. (The strait was later named for a Spanish explorer, Luis Vaez de Torres, who sailed into the same area in the same year and determined that New Guinea was an island.) In 1616 Dutch sailor Dirk Hartog followed a new southern route across the Indian Ocean to Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia). Winds blew his ship, the Eendracht, too far to the east and Hartog landed on an offshore island of Western Australia, becoming the first known European to set foot on Australian soil. Before sailing north to Batavia, he left a pewter plate on the island inscribed with a record of his visit.

Portuguese and Spanish Sailings

Portuguese and Spanish Sailings
In the 15th century Portugal's systematic drive southward along the west coast of Africa, seeking trade with India, rekindled European interest in finding the as yet undiscovered Terra Australis. Portuguese mariners may have charted the east coast of the continent in as early as the 16th century, but they preferred to concentrate on India, East Africa, and Southeast Asia. Australia remained undiscovered by the West for other reasons as well. One was that the continent's location was off the Oceanic-island trading corridor of the Indian and South Pacific oceans. In addition, the winds in the Southern Hemisphere tend to veer northward in the direction of the equator west of Australia, whereas east of the continent the strong head winds discourage sailing into them.

In the 16th and early 17th centuries, Spain, having established its empire in South and Central America, began a series of expeditions from Peru into the South Pacific. Encouraged by the discovery of the Solomon Islands (northeast of Australia) by Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira in 1567, Spanish New World officials launched several expeditions in hopes of finding gold. After the failure of these voyages to find either precious minerals or significant new landmasses, Spain abandoned its interest in Terra Australis after 1605.

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