1902 Encyclopedia > William Dampier

William Dampier
English navigator
(c. 1652 - c. 1712)

WILLIAM DAMPIER (c. 1652-c. 1712), an English navigator, was born at East Coker, Somersetshire, about 1652. Having early become an orphan, he was removed from the Latin school, and placed with the master of a ship at Weymouth, in which he made a voyage to Newfoundland. On his return he engaged himself as a common sailor in a voyage to the East Indies. He served in 1673 in the Dutch war under Sir Edward Sprague, and was present at two engagements ; but the declining state of his health induced him to come on shore, and remove to the country, where he remained some time. In the year following he became an under-manager of a Jamaica estate, but continued only a short time in this situation. He afterwards engaged in the coasting trade, and thus acquired an accurate knowledge of all the ports and bays of the island. He made two voyages to the Bay of Campeachy, and remained for some time with the logwood-cutters, as a common workman. Of this residence he published an interesting account in the work noted below.

Satisfied with the knowledge which he had obtained of the nature of the trade and country, he returned to Jamaica, and thence proceeded to England, where he arrived in 1678. About the beginning of the year following he went out to Jamaica as a passenger, with the intention of revisiting the Bay of Campeachy ; but he was persuaded to join a party of buccaneers, with whom he crossed the Isthmus of Darien, pent the year 1680 on the Peruvian coast, and was occasionally successful in plundering the towns. After serving with another privateering expedition in the Spanish Main, he engaged with a captain named Cook for a privateering voyage against the Spaniards in the South Seas. They sailed in the month of August 1683, touched at the coast of Guinea, and then proceeded round Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean. Having fallen in with a ship from London, which had sailed on a similar expedition, they joined company ; and, touching at the island of Juan Fernandez, they made the coast of South America, cruising along Chili and Peru. They took some prizes ; and with these they proceeded to the Mexican coast, which they fell in with near Cape Blanco. While they lay here Captain Cook died, and the command devolved on Captain Davis. Having separated from the London ship, they were joined by another commanded by Captain Swan. An attempt,to plunder the town of Guayaquil was unsuccessful, but at the mouth of the river they took some vessels which had about 1000 slaves on board. They next attacked a Spanish fleet which was laden with the treasure of the Peruvian mines, but were unsuccesful, being ill supported by some French ships which had joined them.

The English ships, afterwards cruising along the coast of Mexico, landed, took the town of Puebla Nova, and burnt two others. Dampier, leaving Davis, went on board Swan's ship, and proceeded with him along the northern parts of Mexico, as far as the southern part of California. During this expedition they frequently landed for the purpose of plunder ; but the loss of fifty of the party during one of these incursions so discouraged them that they relinquished all further attempts on these coasts. Swan then proposed to ran across the Pacific Ocean, and return by the East Indies ; and, in hopes of a successful cruise off the Manillas, the crew were persuaded, with a very slender stock of provisions, to risk this long passage. They started on the 31st March 1686. On reaching Mindanao the majority mutinied, and Dampier, joining them, sailed with the ship, leaving Swan and some others on the island. After cruising some time off Manilla, and having careened their vessel at Pulo Condore, in 1687, they were driven to the Chinese coast, made the circuit of Luzon and Mindanao, passed through the group of Spice Islands, and reached the coast of Australia in the beginning of 1688. In March they cruised along the west coast of Sumatra, and touched at the Nicobar Islands, where Dampier, at his own request, and two other Englishmen, a Portuguese, and some Malays, were set on shore. Dampier's object was to establish a trade in ambergris. He and his companions contrived to navigate a canoe from Achin to Sumatra; but the fatigues and distress of the voyage proved fatal to several of them, who were carried off by fever, while Dampier himself had scarcely recovered at the end of a twelvemonth. After making several voyages to different places of the East Indies, he acted for some time as gunner to the English fort of Bencoolen. In 1691, wishing to revisit his native country, he embarked on board a ship bound for England, where he arrived in September.

It appears that afterwards Dampier was engaged in the king's service. He had the command of the " Roebuck," a sloop of 12 guns and 50 men. This vessel was believed to have been fitted out for some voyage of discovery, for she had twenty months' provisions on board. He sailed from Britain in 1699, touched at the coast of Brazil, and then ran across to the coast of Australia, arriving there on 1st August, somewhere about 26° lat. Proceeding northwards along the coast, he explored the country in different places where he landed. To procure provisions he found it necessary to direct his course towards Timor ; and thence he sailed to the coast of New Guinea, where he arrived December 3. By sailing along to its easternmost extremity he discovered that it was terminated by an island, which he circumnavigated, and named New Britain.

Here it would appear from his own journal that he was prevented from prosecuting his discoveries by the small number of his men, and their eager desire to return home. In May he was again at Timor, and thence he proceeded homeward by Batavia and the Cape of Good Hope. In February 1701 he arrived off the island of Ascension, when the vessel sprung a leak and foundered; and it was with much difficulty that the crew reached the island. They remained at Ascension till they were taken away by an East Indiaman, and conveyed to England. This closes the account of Dampier's life and adventures as it is detailed by himself. It appears, however, from the preface to the third volume, that he was preparing in 1703 for another voyage. It is mentioned also in Woodes Rogers's Voyage Round the World, that Dampier had the command of a ship in the South Seas about the year 1705, along with Captain Stradling, whose vessel foundered at sea. Bampier accompanied Woodes Ptogers in his voyage round the world in the years 1708-11 in the capacity of pilot. During this expedition Guayaquil was taken, and Dampier had the command of the artillery. The place and time of his death are unknown.

The works of Dampier are well known, and have been often reprinted. They consist of—A Voyage round the World, 3 vols. 8vo (1847); A Stqrplement to it, describing the countries of Tonquin, Malacca, &c. ; Two Voyages to Campeachy ; A Discourse of Trade-winds, Seasons, Tides, &c, in the Torrid Zone (1707); and a Voyage to New Holland (1709). His observations are curious and important, and are conveyed in a plain manly style. His nautical remarks show a great deal of professional knowledge. His knowledge of natural histoiy, though not scientific, appears to be accurate and worthy of trust as a record of facts.

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