You are in site section: Collections




1415 Portuguese capture the Moorish town of Ceuta on the north coast of Africa and establish a base from which to venture down the west coast.

1419 Prince Henry the Navigator is made governor of Portugal's southernmost coasts and sends expeditions further south for the next 41 years, until his death in 1460.

1450 Prince Henry of Portugal establishes a naval observatory at Cape Sagres in Portugal to teach navigation, astronomy and cartography.

1452 Pope Nicholas V issues a papal bull allowing the enslavement of 'pagans and infidels'. Portugal's involvement in the slave trade increases.

1455 The papal bull Pontifex Romanus is issued, granting the Portuguese a monopoly of navigation and trade between Cape Bojador and the Indies, and decreeing that the church will regard those who die on the voyages as having died on a crusade.

1487–88 Portuguese under Bartolomeu Dias round the Cape of Good Hope.

1492 Spanish expedition under Christopher Columbus reaches the West Indies, which he believes to be the eastern coast of China and the islands of Japan.

1494 The Treaty of Tordesillas divides the globe into Portuguese and Spanish spheres of influence down a line through the Atlantic, west of the Cape Verde Islands off the west coast of Africa, where they may claim any land not already held by a Christian prince.

1498 Portuguese under Vasco da Gama reach India. They face resistance to their incursion from the Moorish traders.


1500 The Portuguese and Spanish establish offices for controlling trade and exploration: the Casa da India in Lisbon and the Casa de Contratación in Seville.

1501–02 Italian Amerigo Vespucci, in his third voyage to South America for the Spanish, arrives in what he describes as the 'antipodes'.

1511–12 Voyage of Portuguese explorer Francisco Rodrigues, who arrives in Banda, East Indies.

1519 Portuguese sailor Fernão de Magalhães (also known as Magellan), sailing from Seville in search of a western route to the Indies, discovers the strait between the tip of South America and Tierra del Fuego and continues westward across the Pacific, reaching the Philippines in 1521.

1522 In September 1522 the last surviving vessel of the five that had set out with Magellan returns to Seville, having completed the first recorded circumnavigation of the globe.

1526 New Guinea is discovered by Portuguese Jorge de Ménesès.

1529–30 Voyage of Frenchman Jean Parmentier to Sumatra inspires the legend of a southern continent called Java le Grande, depicted on French maps until 1566.

1567–69 First expedition of Spanish navigator Alvaro de Mendaña de Neyra who, searching for the legendary islands west of South America, discovers the Solomon Islands.

1577–80 Englishman Sir Francis Drake circumnavigates the world and reveals that there is no southern continent lying below South America.

1595–97 Second Mendaña expedition in search of Terra Australis discovers the Marquesas Islands.


1605–06 Willem Janszoon's expedition to New Guinea in the Duyfken for the Dutch East India Company results in the first recorded European landing in Australia.

1605–07 Spanish voyagers Pedro Fernández de Quirós and Luis Váez de Torres discover Vanuatu, which they believe is part of Terra Australis.

1606 Torres, separated from de Quirós, sails for the Philippines through the Strait that bears his name and is able to see parts of the Australian mainland.

1615–17 Dutch navigators Jacob Le Maire and Willem Schouten, in search of Terra Australis, discover the islands of Futuna and Tonga.

1616 Dutch sea captain Dirk Hartog, in the Eendracht, reaches the west coast of Australia during October at Shark Bay and sails north along the coast to North West Cape.

1618 Dutch sailor Haevick Claeszoon, in the Zeewolf, sights the west coast of Australia on 11 May but, unable to land, sails on to Java.

1618 Dutch sailors Lenaert Jacobszoon and Willem Janszoon in the Mauritius land on an island on the western Australian coast on 31 July.

1619 Dutch sailor Frederick de Houtman in the Dordrecht and Amsterdam sights Rottnest Island on the west coast of the Australian continent in July but does not land. He also sights and charts the Abrolhos Islands, named for the Dutch phrase 'Abri voll olos' — 'Keep your eyes open'.

1622 The Dutch ship Leeuwin charts the area around Cape Leeuwin (the name of the ship's commander is not known) and the information is recorded on Hessel Gerritsz's 1627 map of New Holland.

1622 The Wapen van Hoorn, a Dutch East India Company ship, runs aground at Shark Bay, near the westernmost point of the Australian continent, in June, but escapes the reef undamaged.

1622 The Trial, under Captain John Brooke, is shipwrecked on Point Cloates on the Montebello Islands off the north-western coast of Australia, and the survivors sail to Batavia. This is the first English sighting of the western Australian coast.

1623 The Pera and Arnhem, under Dutch sailor Jan Carstenszoon, reach Cape York and the Gulf of Carpentaria, and attempt to explore the interior.

1623 The commander of the Arnhem, Dutch sailor Willem van Coolsteerdt deserts Carstenszoon in the Pera, sights what becomes Arnhem Land and charts Cape Arnhem in Australia's north.

1623 Dutch sailor Klaas Hermanszoon in the Leiden lands south of Shark Bay, on the western coast of Australia. The child born on board at that time is believed the first child of European extraction to be born in Australia.

1624 The Dutch ship Tortelduyff sights Turtledove Shoal south of Houtman Abrolhos, islands off the western coast of Australia.

1626 Dutch sailor Daniel Janssen Cock in the Leiden follows the west coast from the Zuytdorp Cliffs to Dirk Hartog Island.

1627 Dutch sailors Pieter Nuyts and Francois Thijssen in the Gulden Zeepaard (Zeepaert) coast along the Great Australian Bight, charting St Peter and St Francis islands of the Nuyts Archipelago and sighting the adjacent continent.

1627 Dutch sailors under the command of David Pieterszoon de Vries in the Wapen van Hoorn touch at Shark Bay en route to Batavia.

1627 The Galias, Utrecht and Texel, carrying Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies Jan Coen to Batavia, is damaged in a storm off western Australia, prompting a call for more accurate charting of the west coast to help preserve Dutch East India Company ships.

1628 Dutch sailor Gerrit Frederikszoon de Witt, en route to Holland from Batavia in the Vianen, is nearly wrecked at 21°S (Pilbara coast/North West Cape of western Australia). This area of the coast is subsequently known as GF de Witts Landt.

1629 Dutch sailors Adriaen Jacobszoon and Francois Pelsaert in command of the Batavia are wrecked at Houtman Abrolhos on the western coast of Australia. Pelsaert heads for Batavia in the ship's boat and returns in the Sardem to discover many of the survivors have been murdered by their shipmates.

1635 Dutch sailor Wijbrandt Geleynnszoon de Jongh in the Amsterdam sights the coast of western Australia near Shark Bay, but does not land.

1636 Dutch sailor Pieter Pieterszoon takes command of the Klein Amsterdam and the Wessel after Commander Gerrit Thomas Pool is killed in New Guinea. Pieterszoon explores the northern Australian coast near Melville Island and the Gulf of Carpentaria.

1636 Dutch sailor Antonie Caen in the Banda makes what is believed to be the first sighting of black swans on the south-west coast of Australia near Bernier Island.

1642 Dutch sailor Abel Janszoon Tasman in the Heemskerck and Zeehaen names and charts Maatsuyker, Maria, Schouten and a number of other islands near Tasmania, which he names Van Diemen's Landt, and claims for the Dutch East India Company at Frederick Hendricx Bay (now North Bay).

1644 Second Tasman voyage, conducted in the Limmen, Zeemeeuw and Bracq, explores the northern coast of Australia and the Gulf of Carpentaria.

1648 Dutch sailor Jan Janszoon Zeeuw is sent in the Leeuwerik to sail northwards towards Batavia along the west coast of Australia between 25°S and 26°S.


1656 The Dutch ship Vergulde Draeck is wrecked near Cape Leschenault on the western coast of Australia on 28 April and seven survivors sail the ship's boat north to Batavia. The remaining 68 survivors, including Commander Pieter Albertszoon are left ashore, but never seen again.

1656 The Governor of Batavia sends the Dutch ships Witte Valk and Goede Hoop to search for the Vergulde Draeck's survivors.

1657 The Dutch ships De Vinq and Veenenburgh are diverted from the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa to Batavia to look for survivors from the Vergulde Draeck, although storms prevent their landing, and they sail away after four days.

1658 The Dutch ships Waeckende Boey and Emerloort, under Samuel Volckerts and Aucke Pieterszoon Jonck are sent in search of the survivors of the Vergulde Draeck. The wreckage is found, but no survivors. Men from the Waeckende Boey explore Rottnest Island and make the first coastal views of the west coast.

1658 Dutch sailor Jacob Pieterszoon Pereboom in the Elburg, diverted from the route between the Cape of Good Hope and Batavia to search for survivors of the Vergulde Draeck, sails from Cape Leschenault to Geographe Bay on the western coast of Australia.

1678 Dutch sailor Jan van der Wall in the Vliegende Zwaan charts the west coast from North West Cape to Roebuck Bay.

1681 John Daniel of the London makes the first English charts and descriptions of the region around Houtman Abrolhos on the western coast of Australia. These are published a century later by Alexander Dalrymple, the first hydrographer of the British navy.

1687 Captain Abraham Duquesne-Guitton, while carrying French Ambassador, Claude Ceberet, to the Kingdom of Siam in the ship L'Oiseau, notes that he was in sight of Eendracht Land on the west coast of Australia.

1687 An unknown French ship visits Swan River on the west coast of Australia. A report by Nicolas Gedeon de Voutron urges the minister for the navy to establish a settlement at the mouth of the river.

1688 English sailor William Dampier, sailing in the Cygnet under Captain Read, arrives on the north-west shores of Australia. Their ship is careened at King Sound where they meet with a party of 40 Aboriginal people.

1696–97 The Dutch ships Geelvink, Nijptangh and Weseltje under Willem de Vlamingh, sent in search of the missing ship Ridderschap van Holland, land at Cottesloe Beach, north of the Swan River mouth, and explore the inland and Rottnest Island. The ships then chart the coast northwards to Shark Bay.

1699 English sailor William Dampier in HMS Roebuck sails along the west coast from the region of Houtman Abrolhos to Broome and Dampier Archipelago, names Shark Bay and collects the first Australian plants to be scientifically documented.


1705 Dutch sailor Maarten van Delft in the Vossenbosch, Waaier and Nova Hollandia voyages to north-eastern Arnhem Land.

1717 Joan Pieter Purry, a citizen of Batavia, proposes a Dutch settlement at Nuyts Landt, in south-western Australia.

1720 France establishes a hydrographic office to produce charts for the navy and merchant seamen.

1756 Final Dutch voyage to Australia, by Gonzal and van Aaschens, explores eastern Arnhem Land and the Gulf of Carpentaria.

1763 The Treaty of Paris is signed, ending the Seven Years War, and Britain takes advantage of the weakened state of France and Spain to explore the Pacific in search of new trading opportunities and territories.

1768 HMB Endeavour sails from England under Captain James Cook to observe the transit of Venus at Tahiti (April 1769).

1768 French navigator Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, sailing La Boudeuse and Etoile west across the Pacific from the New Hebrides towards Australia's east coast, encounters the outliers of the Great Barrier Reef and turns north.

1770 The Endeavour sails along the east coast of Australia from Point Hicks to Cape York, stopping to investigate the country and its peoples, collect plant and animal specimens, and repair the ship after it strikes a reef at Endeavour River in the north. Cook charts the coastline and claims the eastern portion of the continent for the British Crown.

1772 French sailor Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne touches at Tasmania in Le Mascarin and establishes contact with the Aboriginal people (one of whom is killed) and charts a section of the east coast, including Maria Island.

1772 French navigator Louis Francois de St Allouarn in the Gros Ventre claims the west coast of Australia for the French King at Dirk Hartog Island, Shark Bay.

1773 English sailor Tobias Furneaux, in the Adventure, becomes separated from Cook in the Resolution and anchors at Adventure Bay, Bruny Island, Tasmania, then charts the east coast and the Furneaux Island Group.

1777 Captain James Cook in the Resolution anchors at Adventure Bay, Bruny Island, Tasmania, and meets a group of the local people.

1788 Arthur Phillip and the ships of the First Fleet arrive at Botany Bay to establish a British penal settlement. Due to a lack of water and sandy soil they soon transfer to Sydney Cove at Port Jackson.

1788 French sailor Jean-Francois de Galaup Compte de La Pérouse in L'Astrolabe and Bussole arrives in Botany Bay shortly after the British. The French stay six weeks before sailing into the Pacific where they are wrecked at the New Hebrides. The collections and charts already made during La Pérouse's voyage are entrusted to Phillip and sent back to France.

1788–89 British sailor William Bligh in HMS Bounty touches at Tasmania en route to Tahiti to collect breadfruit plants for Joseph Banks. After a mutiny, he sails the Bounty's boat west across the Pacific, passing through the Great Barrier Reef and up the east coast. He enters Torres Strait by a new passage north of Thursday Island and reaches Timor.

1789 John Henry Cox in the Mercury (also known as the Gustaf III) lands at and charts a small part of southern Tasmania and Maria Island as part of a nominally Swedish expedition to exploit the north-west coast of America.

1791 Edward Edwards in HMS Pandora, returning to Britain with a number of the Bounty mutineers, charts a northerly stretch of the Barrier Reef, east of Torres Strait and is wrecked. The survivors sail the Pandora's boat to Timor.

1791 George Vancouver in HMS Discovery and HMS Chatham visits King George Sound, claiming the south coast of western Australia for Britain.

1792–93 French sailor Antoine Raymond Joseph de Bruni d'Entrecasteaux, in the Recherche and the Espérance, heads an expedition in search of La Pérouse, sailing from Cape Leeuwin to the head of the bight and Tasmania, naming Recherche Archipelago and Esperance Bay, and planting a garden at Recherche Bay in Tasmania, where he meets and describes the local people.

1792 English sailor William Bligh, in HMS Providence and Assistant, calls at Tasmania en route to Tahiti to collect breadfruit trees, returning to Britain via Torres Strait.

1795 The British Admiralty's Hydrographic Office is established to conduct surveys of seas and coasts and publish nautical charts.

1795–96 English navigators George Bass and Matthew Flinders make two voyages in small boats, both called Tom Thumb, south from Sydney to the Illawarra Coast.

1797 The English merchant ship Sydney Cove is wrecked on Preservation Island in Bass Strait, becoming a major impetus for charting Bass Strait.

1797–98 Travelling in a whale boat, English surgeon and sailor George Bass charts parts of Bass Strait and discovers Western Port.

1798–99 English sailors Matthew Flinders and George Bass in the Norfolk circumnavigate Tasmania. After this voyage, Flinders and Bungaree, an Aboriginal man from the Broken Bay area of New South Wales, survey the southern Queensland coast in the Norfolk.


1800–01 The Lady Nelson under James Grant is the first ship to pass through Bass Strait from west to east, and Mount Schanck, Mount Gambier and Cape Otway are sighted and named during the voyage.

1801 English sailor Peter Heywood, midshipman on Bligh's Bounty, visits the Kimberley coast of western Australia from Amboina in HM Bomb Vessel Vulcan.

1801–03 Nicolas Baudin commands a French expedition to map and explore the south, south-west, north-west and northern coasts of Australia in the Géographe and Naturaliste.

1801–03 Matthew Flinders in the Investigator conducts the most extensive and detailed survey of the Australia coastline, sailing the coasts of New South Wales, Queensland, the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Great Australian Bight, the South Australian gulfs and Bass Strait.