The Dutch in the Spice Islands—Lemaire and Schouten—Tasman—Mendana—Queiros and Torrès—Pyrard de Laval—Pietro della Valle—Tavernier—Thévenot—Bernier—Robert Knox—Chardin—De Bruyn—Kæmpfer.

The Dutch were not slow in perceiving the weakness and decadence of the Portuguese power in Asia. They felt with how much ease a clever and prudent nation might in a short time become possessed of the whole commerce of the extreme East. After a considerable number of private expeditions and voyages of reconnaissance they had founded in 1602 that celebrated Company of the Indies which was destined to raise to so high a pitch the wealth and prosperity of the metropolis. Equally in its strife with the Portuguese as in its dealing with the natives, the Company pursued a very skilful policy of moderation. Far from founding colonies, or repairing and occupying the fortresses which they took from the Portuguese, the Dutch bore themselves as simple traders, exclusively occupied with their commerce. They avoided building any fortified factory, except at the intersection of the great commercial roads. Thus they were able in a short time to seize all the carrying trade between India, China, Japan, and Oceania. The one fault committed by the all-powerful Company was the concentrating in its own hands a monopoly of the trade in spices. It drove away the foreigners who had settled in the Moluccas or in the Islands of Sunda, or who came thither to obtain a cargo of spices; it even went the length, in order to raise the price of this valuable commodity, of proscribing the cultivation of certain species in a large number of islands, and of forbidding, under pain of death, the exportation and sale of seeds and cuttings of the spice-producing trees. In a few years the Dutch were established in Java, Sumatra, Borneo, the Moluccas, and at the Cape of Good Hope, harbours the best placed for ships returning to Europe.

It was at this time that a rich merchant of Amsterdam, Jacob Lemaire, in concert with a skilful mariner, named Wilhem Cornelis Schouten, conceived a project for reaching the Indies by a new route. The Dutch States-General had in fact forbidden any subject of the United Provinces, not in the pay of the Company of the Indies, from going to the Spice Islands by way of the Cape of Good Hope or of the Strait of Magellan. Schouten, according to some, Lemaire, according to others, had formed the idea of eluding this interdict by seeking a passage to the south of Magellan's Strait. This much is certain, that Lemaire bore one half of the expense of the expedition, while Schouten, by the aid of several merchants whose names have been handed down to us, and who filled the chief offices in the town of Hoorn, provided the other half. They fitted out the Concorde, a vessel of 360 tons, and a yacht, carrying together a crew of sixty-five men, and twenty-nine cannon. This was certainly an equipment but little in accordance with the magnitude of the enterprise. But Schouten was a skilful mariner, the crew had been carefully chosen, and the vessels were abundantly furnished with provisions and spare rigging. Lemaire was commissioner, and Schouten the captain of the ship. The destination was kept secret, and officers and crew entered into an unlimited engagement to go wherever they might be led. On the 25th June, 1615, eleven days after quitting the Texel, and when there was no longer anything to be feared from indiscretion, the crews were assembled to listen to the reading of an order which ran as follows: "The two vessels would seek another passage than that of Magellan, by which to enter the South Sea, and to discover there certain southern countries, in the hope of obtaining enormous profits from them, and if heaven should not favour this design, they would repair by means of the same sea to the East Indies." This declaration was received with enthusiasm by the whole crew, who were animated, like all Dutchmen of that period, with a love for great discoveries.

The route then usually pursued for reaching South America—as may perhaps have been already observed—followed the African coasts as far as below the equator. The Concorde did not try to deviate from it; she reached the shores of Brazil, Patagonia, and Port Desire, at 300 miles to the north of the Strait of Magellan, but was for several days hindered by storms from entering the harbour. The yacht even remained for the space of one whole tide, aground and lying on her side, but high water set her afloat again; only for a short time however, for whilst some repairs were being done to her keel, her rigging took fire, and she was consumed in spite of the energetic efforts of the two crews. On the 13th January, 1616, Lemaire and Schouten arrived at the Sebaldine Islands, discovered by Sebald de Weerdt, and followed the coast of Tierra del Fuego at a short distance from land. The coast ran east-quarter-south-east, and was skirted by high mountains covered with snow. On the 24th of January at mid-day, they sighted its extreme point, but eastward stretched some more land, which also appeared to be of great elevation. The distance between these two islands, according to the general opinion, appeared to be about twenty-four miles, and Schouten entered the strait which divided them. It was so encumbered with whales that the ship was obliged to tack more than once to avoid them. The island to the east received the name of Staten Island, and that to the west the name of Maurice of Nassau.