CHAPTER II. THE DUTCH AND NEW HOLLAND
Spain and the Netherlands - Cornelius Houtman's voyage to the East Indies - The Dutch settled at Java - The DUYFKEN in the Gulf of Carpentaria - Brouwer's new route to the Indies - Dirk Hartog in Shark's Bay - Discovery of Nuytsland - Leeuwin's Land discovered - Wreck of the English ship TRIAL - Tasman's voyages - New Holland.
The entrance of the Dutch into the East as explorers, colonists, and merchants was connected with European events of very great importance. The Reformation was principally an affair of churches and forms of religious belief, but it also had far-reaching consequences touching politics, commerce, and all the manifold interests of mankind. Its influence extended throughout the known world, and led to the discovery of regions hitherto unknown.
During the third quarter of the sixteenth century Philip II of Spain was engaged in a bitter, bloody struggle with his subjects in the Netherlands. Thousands of them broke away from the ancient Church of which he was a devoted champion. Philip, loathing heresy, set himself to 'exterminate the root and ground of this pest,' and his ruthless Spanish soldiery carried out their master's injunctions with such pitiless ferocity that their effort to crush the revolt stands as one of the most awful phases of modern history. For over thirty years the Spanish sword was wet with the blood of the people of the Netherlands. In the southern provinces, Brabant and Flanders, Protestantism was suppressed; but the north, Holland and Zealand successfully defied the gloomy, conscientious fanatic who issued his edicts of persecution from Madrid.
The Dutch people at the time of the revolt did the largest sea-carrying trade in Europe. Their mercantile marine was numerous, and was manned by bold and skilful sailors. A very considerable part of their commerce consisted in fetching from Lisbon goods brought by the Portuguese from the East, and distributing them throughout the continent. It was a very profitable business, and it quite suited the Dutch that the Portuguese should enjoy a monopoly in oriental trade as long as they themselves kept the major part of the European carrying trade. They grew rich and increased their shipping, and the growth of their wealth and sea-power enabled them the better to defy Philip II.
Failing, therefore, to subjugate the Dutch by sword and cannon, Philip resolved to humble them by stifling their trade. In 1580 the throne of Portugal had fallen vacant, and a Spanish army which crossed the frontier had forced the Portuguese to accept Philip as king. For sixty years to come - until the Portuguese regained their independence in 1640 - the gallant little country which had achieved such glorious pre-eminence in commerce and discovery remained in 'captivity' to Spain. The control thus secured by Philip over the colonies and the shipping of Portugal enabled him to strike the desired blow at the Dutch. In 1584 he commanded that Lisbon should be closed to their ships. Barring against the heretic rebels the port whither came the goods from which they had derived such abundant gains, he thought he could chastise them for their disobedience by the ruin of their commerce.
But Philip wholly underestimated the spirit and enterprise of the Dutch people. They had baffled the best of his generals, beaten the choicest of his troops, and captured his ships upon the sea. They were now prepared to scorn his new menace by fetching direct the commodities which they had hitherto obtained from Lisbon. First they tried to find a new route to the East by a passage north of Europe, but were blocked by the ice of the Arctic Sea. If they were to succeed they must force their way into the trade by the Portuguese route in the teeth of Spanish opposition.
Many Dutch sailors had served on Portuguese vessels. Though the Portuguese tried to keep their sailing routes secret, and had never published maps, they had often had to avail themselves of the services of Dutch mariners; and these men knew the way. One of them, Cornelius Houtman, had actually been a pilot in the oriental trade. Another Dutchman, John Linschoten, had lived for fourteen years in the East Indies, and upon his return published at Amsterdam (1595) a remarkable book called ITINERARIO, wherein he told all he knew. Several Englishmen had also wandered about the seas and lands of Asia, often having painful experiences, and their adventures had been described in Richard Hakluyt's PRINCIPAL NAVIGATIONS, VOYAGES, AND DISCOVERIES, published in 1589. So that in various ways the Dutch already knew more about the Indies than King Philip supposed, and they were ready to act boldly in putting their knowledge to practical uses.
A company of Amsterdam merchants fitted out a fleet of four ships, placed them under Cornelius Houtman's direction, and sent them on a voyage to the spice islands. They were over two years away, from April 1595 to July 1597, but they did great things for Holland. They were the first Dutch ships to round the Cape of Good Hope and to visit Madagascar, Goa, Java, and the Moluccas. Cornelius Houtman and his brother Frederick were important pioneers of Dutch energy in the East. We have the name of the latter on the map of Australia at Houtman's Abrolhos, the long shoal off the west coast of the continent. Abrolhos, in Portuguese, means literally 'open eyes,' and was given because this was part of a coast where it was needful to keep a sharp look-out. The use of the word by Dutchmen is in itself interesting, as indicating that, in consequence of the service in which they acquired their experience, the employment of a Portuguese sea-term seemed most convenient to them.
Here, then, was another step on the way to the discovery of Australia - the forcing of an entry into the eastern trade by the Dutch.