A modern map of West Australia will show the West Kimberley goldfield. To the west of the field is the district of West Kimberley, and upon the coast-line is the Buccaneer Archipelago. The bay in which Dampier anchored is still called Cygnet Bay, and it is situated in the north-west corner of King’s Sound, of which “that point” to which “we went a league to the eastward” is named Swan Point, while a rock called Dampier’s Monument more particularly commemorates the buccaneer’s visit.
The ship remained in Cygnet Bay until March 12th, and during that time the vessel was hove down and repaired. Dampier’s observations on the aboriginal inhabitants during his stay is summed up in his description of the natives whom he saw, and who were, he says, “the most miserable people in the world. The Hodmadods” (Hottentots) “of Monomatapa, though a nasty people, yet for wealth are gentlemen to these.” He gives an accurate description of the country so far as he saw it, and asserts that “New Holland is a very large tract of land. It is not yet determined whether it is an island or a main continent; but I am certain that it joins neither Asia, Africa, nor America.”
While the ship was being overhauled under the sweltering rays of a tropical sun, the men lived on shore in a tent, and Dampier, who was tired of the voyage, probably because there were no Spaniards to fight and no prizes to be made, endeavoured to persuade his companions to shape their next course for some port where was an English factory; but they would not listen to him, and for his pains he was threatened that when the ship was ready for sea he should be landed and left behind.
Evelyn tells us that in 1698 Dampier was going abroad again by the King’s commission, and this second voyage of the ex-buccaneer to the South Seas, although of small importance to geographers, is noteworthy, inasmuch as Dampier’s was the first visit of a ship of the English royal navy to Australian seas.
To understand what sort of an expedition was this of two hundred years ago, how Dampier was equipped and what manner of ship and company he commanded, it will not be out of place to give some account of the navy at that time. When James II. abdicated in 1688, according to Pepys, the royal navy was made up of 173 ships of 101,892 tons, an armament of 6930 guns, and 42,003 men. William died in 1702, and the number of ships had then increased to 272, and the tonnage to 159,020 tons.
The permanent navy, begun by Henry VIII. and given its first system of regular warfare by the Duke of York in 1665, had become well established, and trading vessels had ceased to form a part of the regular establishment. King William III., although not so good a friend to the service as his predecessor, and anything but a sailor, like the fourth William, did not altogether neglect it. In the Introduction to James’ Naval History we are told that between the years 1689 and 1697 the navy lost by capture alone 50 vessels, and it is probable that an equal number fell by the perils of the sea. King William meantime added 30 ships, and half that number were captured from the French, while several 20 and 30-gun ships were besides taken from the enemy.