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Early European Exploration and Settlement of Australia

Thevenot's 1663 map of Terra Australis IncognitaEuropean explorers and cartographers had long referred to a great land mass in the Southern Ocean as 'Terra Australis Incognita' (the unknown southern land). It was thought that to balance the large continental mass in the Northern Hemisphere a land mass must exist in the south.

Many explorers, spured on by trade and constant reports by the Chinese and Malays who were frequent visitors to the area, sailed to the Southern Ocean, braving the vagaries of the weather and the unchartered seas to discover the Great Southern Land.

In 1606 William Jansz gave European navigators the first certain knowledge that Terra Australis existed. In the 17th century the western section was called New Holland, and in 18th century the British established the penal colony of New South Wales on the east coast. It was not until the early 19th century, when it was established that their two sectors were part of the same land mass, that the navigator Matthew Flinders suggested the Great South Land be called Australia.

Throughout exploration, the Australian coastline claimed more than 500 ships. The earliest known is the English ship 'The Trial', which wrecked off the Western Australian coast in 1662 with bullion estimated to be worth $10 million in todays terms. Famous Explorers Include:

George Bass (1763-1808)

A ship's surgeon; together with Matthew Flinders he circumnavigated Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) in 1798, proving that it was an island.

Gregory Blaxland (1778-1853)
William charles Wentworth (1793-1872)
William Lawson (1774-1850)

These three men were inland explorers. In 1813 they crossed the Blue Mountains west of Sydney and so opened up the fertile western plains to the colony.

Robert O'Hara Burke (1821-61)
William wills (1834-61)

Burke, a policeman, and Wills, a surveyor, were the first Europeans to cross the continent from south to north. In 1860 they trecked from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria. On their return journey, because of exhaustion and lack of food, they slowly starved to death at Coopers Creek.

James Cook (1728-79)

Cook landed in Botany Bay in 1770. At Possession Island, Torres Straight, he claimed the eastern coast of Australia in the name of king George III of Great britain, and named it New South Wales.

William Dampier (1652-1715)

A British privateer who visited the western coast of Australia in 1688 and again in 1699.

Edward John Eyre (1815-1901)

An inland explorer, he crossed the continent from Streaky Bay, South Australia, to Albany, Western Australia, in 1839-41, a trek of almost 1600 kilometres.

Mathew Flinders ((1774-1814)

A British naval officer, he circumnavigated Australia in 1801-3, thus allowing the coastal mapping of Australia to be completed.

Dirk Hartog b. c.1570

A Dutch navigator who landed on an island off western Australia in 1616, which was later named after him.

Hamilton Hume (1797-1873)

He forged a route across the Great Dividing Range at Razorback (New South Wales) in 1814. Then in 1824, he and William Hovell conducted an expedition from Gunning (New South Wales) to Corio Bay (victoria).

William Jansz b. c.1550

A Dutch sea captain, he gave European navagators the first certain knowledge that australia existed. In 1606 he landed on the west coast of Cape York Peninsular.

Ludwig Leichhardt (1813-48)

He explored inland from Brisbane to Port Essington, Northern Territory in 1844, a 3200 kilometre trek. In 1848 he and an entire expedition disappeared without trace while trying to cross Australia from east to west.

Sir Douglas Mawson (1882-1958)

Atlantic explorer and geologist who made many expeditions to the cold continent between 1907 and 1924. He was largely responsible for Australia gaining sovereignty over Antartica between the 45° and 160° eastern meridians.

John McDouall Stuart (1815-66)

He finally crossed the continent from south to north in 1862, after three attempted journeys into the interior.

Charles sturt (1795-1869)

An inland explorer who charted and named the Murray River in 1829.

Abel Tasman (1602-59)

A Dutch navigator, he discovered Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania) and Statenland (New Zealand) in 1642.

Sir George Hubert Wilkins (1888-1958)

Travelled beneath the artic ice cap in 1931 in US submarine 'Nautilus' to within 1000 kilometres of the North Pole.

Timeline of Early European Discovery and Settlement

1642 Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania) discovered
1770 Botany Bay discovered
1774 Norfolk Island discovered
1788 Port Jackson (Sydney) settled; Lord Howe Island discovered
1797 Estuary of Hunter River discovered
1802 Spencer Gulf and St Vincent Gulf discovered
1802 Port Phillip discovered
1804 Newcastle and Hobart settled
1818 Port Macquarie settled
1819 Port Essington discovered
1824 Brisbane settled
1828 Fremantle discovered
1829 Swan River Colony (Perth) settled
1835 Melbourne settled
1836 Adelaide settled
1839 Port darwin discovered
1869 Darwin becomes a perminant settlement