Cape Inscription is the site of the earliest known landings of Europeans on the western coast of the Australian continent. Notable explorers landed there over a 250-year period and conducted surveys and work that added to increasing knowledge about the southern continent.
At the northernmost end of the Cape visitors can see the site where the navigators, starting with Dirk Hartog in 1616, hammered posts with their memorials attached into a crack in the rock. The inscribed pewter plate left by Hartog is preserved in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Other surviving memorials are also in the WA Maritime Museum in Fremantle and locally at Carnarvon.
In 1991 Dirk Hartog Island was included in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area.
The Dirk Hartog Landing Site 1616 - Cape Inscription Area was included in the National Heritage List on 6 April 2006.
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Cape Inscription lies at the north-western tip of Western Australia's largest isle, Dirk Hartog Island. It is surrounded by steep limestone cliffs, white sandy beaches and the magnificent Indian Ocean, and forms the western edge of Shark Bay. It was here in October 1616 that Dirk Hartog and his crew became the first Europeans to land on the west coast of Australia.
Captain Dirk Hartog of the Dutch East India Company's ship, Eendracht, had been following the faster southern route to the port of Batavia in the East Indies (Indonesia). Sailing too far east, on 25 October 1616 Hartog landed at what is now known as Cape Inscription.
Leaving a record of his landing
Hartog left a pewter plate inscribed with a record of his visit nailed to a post in a rock cleft. Now preserved in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the plate is the oldest physical record of a European landing in Australia.
Hartog sailed north to chart part of the Western Australia coastline. As a result, this part of the coastline appeared on world maps for the first time, replacing the mythical southern continent of Terra Australis Incognita.
Charting the west coast
Hartog's 1616 expedition was the first of many that charted the west coast of the continent over a period of 250 years:
- 1697 Willem de Vlamingh landed at Dirk Hartog Island on 4 February 1697 and discovered Hartog's plate. Also with the Dutch East India Company, Vlamingh's mission was to chart the south-west coast of New Holland to aid navigation on the route to the East Indies. Vlamingh replaced Hartog's pewter plate with another one inscribed with a record of his own visit.
- 1801 Baron Emanuel Hamelin, a member of Nicholas Baudin's French expedition, found Vlamingh's plate and added his own inscription on a piece of lead sheet nailed to the post.
- 1818 Louis de Freycinet, one of Hamelin's junior officers, who returned to Cape Inscription in his own ship, removed Vlamingh's plate. The plate was subsequently returned to Australia by the French Government in 1947.
- 1822 British navigator and son of a former Governor of New South Wales, Philip Parker King, also left a record of his visit to Cape Inscription. King was attempting to complete the charting of the Australian coastline commenced by Matthew Flinders on his 1801 voyage in HMS Investigator.
- 1858 Captain Henry Mangles Denham, an experienced Naval hydrographic survey officer, visited Cape Inscription and Shark Bay in HMS Herald to complete the first naval hydrographic charts of the Western Australian coastline.
The charting of the Australian coastline by these navigators had a profound effect on cartography and added to the growing pool of knowledge about the great southern continent.
Dampier Landing and Turtle Bay
In addition to Cape Inscription, two sites on Dirk Hartog Island - Dampier Landing and Turtle Bay - are among the most important historical locations in Australia.
In 1699 British navigator and naturalist, William Dampier, landed on the north-western side of the island at the place now known as Dampier Landing. Dampier named Shark Bay, and made the first scientific collection of Australian plants, marking the beginnings of scientific interest in Australian botany.
In 1772 French navigator, Francois de Saint-Allouarn, landed at Turtle Bay. He buried two bottles, one containing a parchment claiming the west coast of New Holland for France. Each bottle was sealed with a silver French coin under a lead cap. In 1998 one of the bottles together with its coin and lead cap was recovered, but contained no parchment.
In 1991, Dirk Hartog Island was included in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area in recognition of its outstanding natural universal values.