William Dampier was born in 1612 at East Coker, and by the death of his parents was from his childhood left to his own control. Not possessing any great taste for study, he preferred running wild in the woods, and fighting with his companions, to remaining in his place on the school benches. While still young he was sent to sea as cabin-boy on board merchant ships. After a voyage to Newfoundland and a campaign in the East Indies, he took service in the Naval Marine, and being wounded in a battle, returned to Greenwich to be nursed. Free from any prejudices, Dampier forgot his engagement when he left the Military Hospital, and started for Jamaica in the position of manager of a plantation. It did not require a long trial to discover that this occupation was not to his taste. So he abandoned his negroes at the end of six months, and went on board a ship bound for the Bay of Campeachy, where he worked for three years at gathering in woods for dyeing.

At the end of that period he is again found in London, but the laws and the officers charged with compelling their observance are too strict for his comfort. He goes back to Jamaica, where he speedily puts himself into communication with those famous buccaneers and corsairs, who at that time did so much harm to the Spaniards.

These English or French adventurers, established in the Island of Tortuga, off the coast of San Domingo, had sworn implacable hatred to Spain. Their ravages were not confined to the Gulf of Mexico: they crossed the Isthmus of Panama and devastated the coast of the Pacific Ocean from the Strait of Magellan to California. Terror exaggerated the exploits of these pirates, which however presented something of the marvellous.

It was amongst these adventurers, then commanded by Harris, Sawkins, and Shays, that Dampier enrolled himself. In 1680 we find him in Darien, where he pillages Santa Maria, endeavours in vain to surprise Panama, and with his companions, on board of some wretched canoes stolen from the Indians, captures eight vessels well armed, which were at anchor not far from the town. In this affair the losses of the corsairs are so great in the fight, and the spoil is so poor, that they separate from each other. Some go back to the Gulf of Mexico, while others establish themselves upon the island of Juan Fernandez, whence shortly after they attack Arica. But here again they were so roughly handled that a new secession takes place, and Dampier is sent to Virginia, where his captain hoped to make some recruits. There Captain Cook was fitting out a vessel, with the intention of reaching the Pacific by the Strait of Magellan, and Dampier joins the expedition. It begins by privateering upon the African coast, in the Cape de Verd Islands, at Sierra Leone, and in the River Scherborough, for this is the route habitually taken by the ships going to South America. In 36° south latitude, Dampier, who notes in his journal every interesting fact, remarks that the sea is become white or rather pale, but of this he cannot explain the reason, which he might easily have done had he made use of the microscope. The Sebaldine Islands are passed without incident, the Strait of Le Maire is traversed, Cape Horn is doubled on the 6th February, 1684, and as soon as he can escape from the storms which usually assail ships entering the Pacific, Captain Cook arrives at the island of Juan Fernandez, where he hopes to revictual. Dampier wondered if he would find a Nicaraguan Indian there, who had been left behind in 1680 by Captain Sharp. "This Indian had remained alone upon the island for more than three years. He had been in the woods hunting goats when the English captain had ordered his men to re-embark, and they had set sail without perceiving his absence. He had only his gun and his knife, with a small horn of powder and a little lead; when his powder and lead were exhausted he had contrived to saw the barrel of his gun into small pieces with his knife, and out of them to make harpoons, spears, fish hooks and a long knife. With these instruments he obtained all the supplies which the island afforded: goats and fish. At the distance of half a mile from the sea, he had a small hut covered with goat skins. He had no clothes left, but an animal's skin covered his loins." We have dwelt at some length upon this involuntary hermit because he served Daniel de Foe as the original of his "Robinson Crusoe," a romance which has formed the delight of every child.

We shall not relate minutely all the expeditions in which Dampier participated. Suffice it to mention that in this campaign he visited the Gallapagos Islands. In 1686, Dampier was serving on board of Captain Swan's ship, who, seeing that the greater part of his enterprises failed, went to the East Indies, where the Spaniards were less upon their guard, and where the corsairs reckoned upon seizing the Manilla galleon. But when our adventurers arrived at Guaham, they had only three days' provisions, and the sailors had plotted if the voyage should be prolonged, to eat in turn all those who had declared themselves in favour of the voyage, and to begin with the captain who had proposed it. Dampier's turn would have come next. "Thus it came to pass," says he very humourously, "that after having cast anchor at Guaham, Swan embraced him and said: 'Ah Dampier, you would have made them but a sorry meal.' He was right," he adds, "for I was as thin and lean, as he was fat and plump." Mindanao, Manilla, certain parts of the Chinese coasts, the Moluccas, New Holland, and the Nicobar Islands, were the places visited and plundered by Dampier in this campaign. In the last-named archipelago he became separated from his companions, and was discovered half dead upon the coast of Sumatra.

'Ah! Dampier, you would have afforded them but a sorry meal.'
"Ah! Dampier, you would have afforded them but a sorry meal."

During this voyage, Dampier had discovered several hitherto unknown islands, and especially the Baschi group. Like the thorough adventurer he was, immediately he recovered his health he travelled over the south of Asia, Malacca, Tonkin, Madras, and Bencoolen, where he enrolled himself as an artilleryman in the English service. Five months afterwards he deserted and returned to London. The narrative of his adventures and his privateering obtained for him a certain amount of sympathy amongst the higher classes, and he was presented to the Earl of Oxford, Lord High Admiral. He speedily received the command of the ship Roebuck to attempt a voyage of discovery in the seas which he had already explored. He left England on the 14th January, 1699, with the intention of passing through the Strait of Magellan, or of making the tour of Tierra del Fuego, so as to commence his discoveries on the coasts of the Pacific, which had hitherto received the visits of a comparatively small number of travellers. After crossing the line on the 10th March, he sailed for Brazil, where the ship was revictualled. Far from being able again to descend the coast of Patagonia, he beheld himself driven by the wind to forty-eight miles south of the Cape of Good Hope, whence he steered east-south-east towards New Holland, a long passage which was not signalized by any adventure. On the 1st August, Dampier saw land, and at once sought for a harbour in which to land. Five days later he entered the Bay of Sea-Dogs upon the western coast of Australia; but he only found there a sterile soil, and met with neither water nor vegetation. Until the 31st August, he sailed along this coast without discovering what he sought. Once when he landed, he had a slight skirmish with some of the inhabitants, who seemed to be very thinly scattered over the country. Their chief was a young man of middle height, but quick and vigilant; his eyes were surrounded by a single ring of white paint, while a stripe of the same colour descended from the top of his forehead to the end of his nose; his chest and arms were likewise striped with white. His companions were black, fierce in aspect, their hair woolly, and in shape they were tall and slender.

For five weeks Dampier hovered near land, and found neither water nor provisions; however, he would not give in, and intended to continue to ascend the coast northwards, but the shallows which he incessantly encountered, and the monsoon from the north-west which was soon due, obliged him to give up the enterprise, after having discovered more than 900 miles of the Australian continent. He afterwards steered towards Timor, where he intended to repose and recruit his crew, exhausted by the long voyage. But he knew little of these parts, and his charts were quite insufficient. He was therefore obliged to make a reconnaissance of it, as if the Dutch had not already been long settled there. Thus he discovered a passage between Timor and Anamabao, in a locality in which his map only indicated a bay. The arrival of Dampier in a port known only to themselves, astonished and greatly displeased the Dutch. They imagined that the English could only have reached it by means of charts taken on board a ship of their own. However, in the end they recovered from their fright and received the strangers with kindness.

Although the precursors of the monsoon were making themselves felt, Dampier again put to sea, and steered towards the western coast of New Guinea, where he arrived on the 4th February, 1700, near to Cape Maho of the Dutch. Amongst the things which struck him, Dampier notices the prodigious quantities of a species of pigeon, bats of extraordinary size, and scallops, a kind of shell fish, of which the empty shell weighed as much as 258 lbs. On the 7th of February he approaches King William's Island and runs to the east, where he soon sights the Cape of Good Hope of Schouten, and the island named after that navigator. On the 24th the crew witnessed a curious spectacle: "Two fish, which had accompanied the vessel for five or six days, perceived a great sea serpent, and began to pursue it. They were about the shape and size of mackerel, but yellow and green in colour. The serpent, who fled from them with great swiftness, carried his head out of the water, and one of them attempted to seize his tail. As soon as he turned round, the first fish remained in the rear, and the other took his place. They retained their wind for a long time, always heedful to defend themselves by flight, until they were lost to view."

On the 25th, Dampier gave the name of Saint Matthias to a mountainous island, thirty miles long, situated above and to the east of the Admiralty Islands. Further on at the distance of twenty-one or twenty-four miles, he discovered another island, which received the name of Squally Island, on account of violent whirlwinds which prevented him from landing upon it. Dampier believed himself to be on the coast of New Guinea, while he was in reality sailing along that of New Ireland. He endeavoured to land there, but he was surrounded by canoes carrying more than 200 natives, and the shore was covered by a large crowd. Seeing that it would be imprudent to send a boat on shore, Dampier ordered the ship to be put about. Scarcely was the order given, when the ship was assailed by showers of stones, which the natives hurled from a machine of which Dampier could not discover the shape, but which caused the name of Slingers' Bay to be given to this locality. A single discharge of cannon stupefied the natives, and put an end to hostilities. A little further on, at some distance from the coast of New Ireland, the English discover the Islands of Denis and St. John. Dampier is the first to pass through the strait which separates New Ireland from New Britain, and discovers Vulcan, Crown, G. Rook, Long Reach and Burning Islands.

Battle in Slingers' Bay
Battle in Slingers' Bay.

After this long cruise, distinguished by important discoveries, Dampier again steered towards the west, reached Missory Island, and at length arrived at the Island of Ceram, one of the Moluccas, where he made a somewhat long stay. He went afterwards to Borneo, passed through the Strait of Macassar, and on the 23rd of June anchored at Batavia, in the Island of Java. He remained there until the 17th of October, when he set out for Europe. On arriving at the Island of Ascension on the 23rd of February, 1701, his vessel had so considerable a leak that it was impossible to stop it. It was necessary to run the ship aground and to put the crew and cargo on shore. Happily there was no want of water, turtles, goats, and land-crabs, which prevented any fear of dying of hunger before some ship should call at the island, and transport the shipwrecked sailors to their country. For this they had not long to wait, for on the 2nd of April an English vessel took them on board and carried them to England. We shall have occasion again to speak of Dampier with relation to the voyages of Wood Rodgers.