William Dampier

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William Dampier

The English privateer and author William Dampier (1652-1715) explored the Western Australian coastline and stimulated interest in the Pacific through popular travel books.

William Dampier was born the son of a Somerset farmer in June 1652. He sailed to Newfoundland and the East Indies while still a boy and took part in the Third Dutch War (1672-1674). After a brief sojourn in Jamaica as undermanager of a plantation, he joined the buccaneers of the Caribbean in Capt. Morgan's heyday. In 1686 Capt. Swan of the Cygnet, in which Dampier was sailing, decided to seek prizes in the Pacific before returning to England. After spending 6 months in the Philippines, Swan's crew seized the ship and cruised in Far Eastern waters between China and Australia. Dampier accordingly spent the summer of 1688 at King Sound in Western Australia. After being marooned on one of the Nicobar Islands, he traveled by native canoe to Sumatra and served as a gunner at Bencoelen before returning to England.

Dampier recorded details of his amazing adventures along with navigational data in a diary on which he based A New Voyage round the World (1967) and Voyages and Descriptions (1699). Impressed with his work, the English Admiralty commissioned him with the rank of captain to command an expedition to explore the Australian coastline. He reached Shark Bay, Western Australia, in August 1699, and using Tasman's charts, he sailed up the coast for a month seeking an estuary. After revictualing at Timor, he proceeded along the north coast of New Guinea and discovered New Britain but abandoned plans to explore the east coast of Australia because his ship, the H. M. S. Roebuck, was in poor condition. On the way home, the Roebuck was lost off Ascension Island, and the crew were rescued by returning East India men.

A court-martial in 1702 found Dampier unfit to command a naval vessel. During the next 4 years he led an unsuccessful privateering expedition in the South Seas. Between 1708 and 1711 he again sailed around the world as pilot for Capt. Woodes Rogers, a privateer sponsored by Bristol merchants. It was on this voyage that Alexander Selkirk, who had previously been marooned by the crew of a ship under Dampier's command, was picked up at one of the Juan Fernández Islands in the South Pacific. Dampier died in London in March 1715 before receiving his share of the expedition's spoils.

Further Reading

An account of Dampier which notes both his achievements and defects is Christopher Lloyd, William Dampier (1966). See also Clennell Wilkinson, Dampier: Explorer and Buccaneer (1929). There is an exciting account of buccaneers in the Caribbean and Pacific in P. K. Kemp and Christopher Lloyd, The Brethren of the Coast (1960). □

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William Dampier (dăm´pēr), 1651–1715, English explorer, buccaneer, hydrographer, and naturalist. He fought (1673) in the Dutch War, managed a plantation in Jamaica (1674), and then worked with logwood cutters in Honduras (1675–78). After taking part in a buccaneering expedition against Spanish America (1679–81), he sailed from Virginia in 1683 on a piratical voyage along the coast of Africa, across the Atlantic, and around Cape Horn to prey on Spanish cities on the west coast of South America. The party split up, and Dampier joined a group that crossed to the Philippines. Dampier was marooned (probably voluntarily) in the Nicobar Islands. After many hardships, he returned to England in 1691. He published a widely read account of his experiences in A New Voyage round the World (1697), supplemented by Voyages and Descriptions (1699), which included Discourse of Trade-Winds, a masterly treatise on hydrography.

Dampier was made a naval officer and commanded an expedition (1699–1701) to Australia, New Guinea, and New Britain (which he discovered to be an island and named). Other discoveries included Dampier Archipelago and Dampier Strait. His vessel, the Roebuck, finally foundered off Ascension island. Dampier subsequently commanded an unsuccessful privateering expedition (1703–7) in the course of which Alexander Selkirk was voluntarily marooned. Dampier's account was published in his Voyage to New Holland (Part I, 1703; Part II, 1709). Though an excellent hydrographer and navigator, he proved an incompetent commander, guilty of drunkenness and overbearing conduct. He was also pilot to Woodes Rogers on a voyage around the world (1708–11). Dampier had a wide-ranging impact on future generations: his navigational methods influenced both Captain James Cook and Admiral Horatio Nelson, while his scientific observations effected the theories of both Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin.

See editions of Dampier's writings by J. Masefield (1906) and Sir Albert Gray (1927, repr. 1968); biographies by J. Shipman (1962), C. Lloyd (1966), and D. and M. Preston (2004).

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Dampier, William (1652–1715). Dampier was a seaman whose experiences in the Anglo-Dutch War of 1674 set him off on his career as a pirate in the West Indies. In 1679 he crossed the Isthmus of Darien to plunder Spain's South American possessions. He returned in 1683 via Cape Horn and then sailed on across the Pacific eventually reaching Australia before returning to Britain. He now showed talent as a writer whose New Voyage round the World of 1697 rekindled British interest in the Pacific. The Admiralty hired him to return in a half-rotten ship. He reached the west coast of Australia and in 1700 discovered the islands of New Ireland and New Britain. He was half-way home when the ship finally foundered. Dampier returned to a buccaneering life, including marooning and later rescuing Alexander Selkirk (‘Robinson Crusoe’) on Juan Fernández and another circumnavigation of the world. Despite further publications, Dampier died in poverty and bitterness before the large sums of prize money due to him had been paid.

Roy C. Bridges