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William Dampier in New Holland: Australia's first natural historian.

Alex S. George, William Dampier in New Holland: Australia's first natural historian, Melbourne, Blooming Books, 1999, ISBN 1 876473 12 6, xx + 171 pp, hardback, RRP $39.95.

The maritime history of Western Australia, in which William Dampier is such a significant figure, tends to loom less large in the consciousness of those of us living on t'otherside. The recent presence in Sydney of the magnificent Batavia replica has reminded us of the Dutch East India Company's early seventeenth century visits to the West, and this new publication shifts the focus to the Englishman who set foot on the shores of New Holland one hundred years before the arrival of the First Fleet.

The author concedes that his subject was a pirate, as well as an explorer, adventurer, travel writer and hydrographer. These roles are enough to give Dampier a `boy's own' image and his accounts of his circumnavigations are regularly reprinted, most recently in 1998. The present study concentrates less on the swashbuckler and more on Dampier' s activities as botanist and natural historian.

Alex George was a botanist at the Western Australian Herbarium in Perth for twenty-one years, and spent a year as Australian Botanical Liaison Officer at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. He is therefore well qualified to present an assessment of Dampier' s superb collections of specimens, drawings and journal accounts of plants, marine and land animals, shells and insects which are as significant now as they were three hundred years ago.

The book is handsomely illustrated with over one hundred colour photographs, many of them allowing comparison between Dampier's drawings and the living subjects. There is a listing of memorials to Dampier, including the names of places and of living things, an historiographical appendix, bibliography and index.
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Publication:Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society
Date:Dec 1, 2000
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