Theory of Portuguese discovery of Australia

Theory of Portuguese discovery of Australia

Although most historians hold that the European discovery of Australia began in 1606 with the voyage of the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon on board the "Duyfken", a number of alternative theories have been put forward. Precedence of discovery has been claimed for China,cite book | author = Menzies, Gavin | year = 2002 | title = 1421: The year China discovered the world | publisher = Bantam Press | location = London] Portugal, France,Credit for the discovery of Australia was given to Frenchman Binot Paulmier de Gonneville (1504) in cite book | author = Brosses, Charles de | title = Histoire des navigations aux Terres Australe | location = Paris | year = 1756] SpainIn the early 20th century, Lawrence Hargraves argued from archaeological evidence that Spain had established a colony in Botany Bay in the 16th century.] and even Phoenicia.cite book | author = Robinson, Allan | year = 1980 | title = In Australia, treasure is not for the finder | publisher = A. Robinson | location = Greenwood] One of the better supported of these theories is the theory of Portuguese discovery of Australia.

The theory

The theory of Portuguese discovery of Australia between 1521 and 1524 is regarded by some writers as resting on several tenets. [ Tweeddale, A. "More on Maps" in "The Skeptic", Vol 20, No. 3 2000 1 p. 58-62 ] [ Richardson, W.A.R. "The Portuguese Discovery of Australia, Fact or Fiction?" A lecture delivered at the National Library of Australia, "Occasional Lecture Series" Number 3, National Library of Australia, 1989, ISBN 0 642 10481 6. p.6 ] These are:
*The existence of a large landmass called Jave La Grande, shown between Indonesia and Antarctica on a group of French world maps, the Dieppe maps, which carry French, Portuguese, and Gallicized Portuguese placenames and which by various means can be interpreted to look similar to Australia's northwestern and eastern coasts.
* The presence of the Portuguese in the Southeast Asia region from the early 16th century, especially their exploration and later colonization of Timor - less than 500 kilometres from the Australian coast - circa 1513-1516. [ Gunn, G. (1999) "History of Timor. Timor Loro Sae: 500 Years", Macau, Livros do Oriente. p.13-21. ISBN 9 72941869 1 [] Gunn provides a valuable explanation of C16th Portuguese enterprise and expansion in the Moluccas, Flores, Solor and Timor ] [ McIntyre, K.G. (1977) "The Secret Discovery of Australia, Portuguese ventures 200 years before Cook", p. 52+, Souvenir Press, Menindie ISBN 028562303 6 ]
* Various antiquities and unsolved mysteries found on Australian and New Zealand's coastlines, that may relate to early European voyages to Australia.

Development of the theory in the 19th Century

Although Alexander Dalrymple wrote on this topic in 1786, [Alexander Dalrymple in 1786, in "Memoir Concerning the Chagos and Adjacent Islands," cited in McIntyre (1977), P.327+] it was R. H. Major, Keeper of Maps at the British Museum who first made significant efforts to prove the Portuguese discovered Australia before the Dutch, in 1859. [Major, R.H.(1859) ""] A group of mid sixteenth century French maps, the Dieppe maps, formed his main evidence. Today there is widespread agreement that his approach to historical research was flawed and his claims often exaggerated. [McIntyre, K. G. (1977) "p." 358 ] [Richardson, W.A.R (2006) "Was Australia Charted before 1606? The Jave La Grande Inscriptions" National Library of Australia. "p."42-43. ISBN 0 64227642 0] Writing in an academic journal in 1861, Major announced the discovery of a map by Manuel Godinho de Eredia, [See a copy at] claiming it proved a Portuguese discovery of North Western Australia, possibly dated to 1601. [Major, R.H. (1861) writing in Archaeologica Vol xxxviii, "p." 459, cited in McIntyre, K. (1977) "p." 362. Note also the map’s claim: "Nuca/Antara discovered in 1601 by Manuel Godinho de Erédia." However, the map also clearly identifies the land discovered and named by the Dutch - "Endracht ou Cocordia", named after Dirk Hartog's ship Eendracht of 1616.] In fact, as W.A.R. Richardson points out, this map's origins are from 1630. [Richardson, W.A.R (2006) "p." 42.] On finally locating and examining Erédia’s writings, Major realised the planned voyage to lands south of Sumba had never taken place. Major published a retraction in 1873, but his reputation was destroyed. [McIntyre, K. G. (1977) "p." 367-8.]

In 1895, George Collingridge produced his "The Discovery of Australia", an attempt to trace all European efforts to find the Great Southern Land to the time of Cook, and also introducing his interpretation of the theory of Portuguese discovery of Australia, using the Dieppe maps. [Collingridge, G. (1895). "The Discovery of Australia" reprinted fascimile edition (1983) Golden Press, NSW. ISBN 0 85558956 [] ] Fluent in Portuguese and Spanish, Collingridge was inspired by the publicity surrounding the arrival in Australia of copies of several Dieppe maps, which had been purchased by libraries in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney. [see] Despite a number of errors regarding placenames, [Richardson, W.A.R (2006) "p." 43] and “untenable” theories to explain misplacement on the Dieppe maps, [McIntyre, K.G. (1977) "p." 375] his book was a remarkable effort considering it was written at a time when many maps and documents were inaccessible and document photography was still in its infancy. Collingridge's theory did not find public approval however and Professors G. Arnold Wood and Ernest Scott publicly criticised much of what he had written. Collingridge produced a shorter version of this book for use in New South Wales schools;" The First Discovery of Australia and New Guinea". [] It was not used.

Kenneth McIntyre and development of the theory in the 20th Century

The development of the theory of Portuguese discovery of Australia owes much to Melbourne lawyer Kenneth McIntyre's 1977 book, "The Secret Discovery of Australia; Portuguese ventures 200 years before Cook". Although there have been previous writers on this topic, it was McIntyre’s book that developed the theory more or less to the point it is popularly understood in Australia today. McIntyre's book was reprinted in an abridged paperback edition in 1982 and again in 1987 [ McIntyre, K.G. "The Secret Discovery of Australia; Portuguese Ventures 250 years before Captain Cook." Revised and Abridged Edition, 1982, reprinted 1984. Pan Books (Australia) ISBN 0330270338. Note the slight change in the book's title.] and it was found on school history reading lists by the mid 1980s. [ Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Board. Australian History Course Design 1983-1987 citation incomplete ] According to Dr. Tony Disney, McIntyre's theory influenced a generation of History teachers in Australian schools. [ Disney,T. '"One Coin does not a rewrite make" "The Herald Sun", January 3, 1997. Disney is Senior Lecturer in History, La Trobe University.] A TV documentary was made of the book in the 1980s [ Murray, S(1994). "Australian Cinema." p. 333. Allen & Unwin/AFC. St.Leonards, NSW. ISBN 1 86373 3116 ] and McIntyre and the theory featured in many positive newspaper reviews and articles over the next twenty years. [ See for example anon., "Expert maps course of the Portuguese". "The Age" January 6, 1976 and Baskett, S. "Old Coin set to remake history" "The Herald Sun", January 3,1997 ] Australian History school textbooks also reflect the evolution of acceptance of his theories. [ See for example one of the earliest; Stewart, D. "Investigating Australian History." Heinemann Educational Australia. 1985, ISBN 0858593653 p.30-38.] The support of Dr. Helen Wallis, Curator of Maps at the British Library during her visits to Australia in the 1980s seemed to add academic weight to McIntyre's theory. [ Sullivan, J. "New clues put old discovery on the map". The Age. 12/5/1981. The article summarises Wallis’s public lecture at the University of Melbourne in May 1981. ] In 1987, the respected Australian Minister for Science, Barry Jones, launching the Second Mahogany Ship Symposium in Warrnambool, said "I read Kenneth McIntyre's important book… as soon as it appeared in 1977. I found its central argument… persuasive, if not conclusive" [ Jones, B, "Early European Exploration of Australia" in "The Mahogany ship. Relic or Legend? Proceedings of the Second Australian Symposium on the Mahogany Ship" (Ed. Potter, B).p.3 Warrnambool Institute Press, 1992, ISBN 0 949759090 ] . The appearance of variant but essentially supporting theories in the late 1970s and early 1980s by other writers, including Ian McKiggan McKiggan, I. "The Portuguese expedition to Bass Strait in A.D. 1522" in "Journal of Australia Studies", Vol. 1, 1977 p.2-22. ] and Lawrence Fitzgerald [Fitzgerald, L (1984). "Java La Grande" p. 69+. The Publishers, Hobart ISBN 0 94932500 7] also added credence to the theory of Portuguese discovery of Australia.

In 1994, McIntyre expressed pleasure that his theory was gaining acceptance in Australia. “It is gradually seeping through. The important thing is that… it has been on the school syllabus, and therefore students have… read about it. They in due course become teachers and… they will then tell their students and so on.” [ McIntyre, K.G. (1994) Quoted by Peter Schumpeter "Great Questions of Our Time Series; Who Discovered Australia?" "The Age", 26 January 1994 ]

Interpretation of the Dieppe Maps

The central plank of the theory of Portuguese discovery of Australia suggests the continent called "Jave La Grande", that uniquely appears on a series of 16th century French world maps, the Dieppe school of maps, represents Australia. Speaking in 1982, Kenneth McIntyre described the Dieppe maps as "the only evidence of Portuguese discovery of Eastern Australia". He stressed this to point out "that the Mahogany Ship, and the Geelong Keys, and other things of that sort, are not part of the proof that the Portuguese discovered Australia. It is the other way around. The Dieppe maps prove (sic) that the Portuguese discovered Australia, and this throws a fierce bright light on our mysteries such as the Mahogany Ship" [ McIntyre, K (1982) "Early European Exploration of Australia" in "Proceedings of the First Australian Symposium on the Mahogany Ship." (Ed. Goodwin, R) p.11. Warrnambool Institute of Advanced Education ISBN 0 95991219 3 ] Later writers on the same topic take the same approach of concentrating primaily on "Jave La Grande" as it appears in the Dieppe maps, including Fitzgerald, McKiggan and most recently, Peter Trickett. [ Trickett, P.(2007)"Beyond Capricorn. How Portuguese adventurers discovered and mapped Australia and New Zealand 250 years before Captain Cook" East St. Publications. Adelaide. ISBN 9 78097511459 9 ] Critics of the theory of Portuguese Discovery of Australia, including A. Ariel, M. Pearson and W.A.R. Richardson, also concentrate on the "Jave la Grande" landmass of the Dieppe maps.

"Jave la Grande" as it appears on the Dieppe world maps is widely agreed to be at least partly based on Portuguese sources that no longer exist [ Richardson, W.A.R. (1989) p.5 ] . McIntyre attributed discrepancies between the "Jave la Grande" coastline and Australia's to the difficulties of accurately recording positions without a reliable method of determining longitude, and the techniques used to convert maps to different projections.In the late 1970s, mathematician Ian McKiggan developed his theory of exponential longitude error theory to explain discrepancies, although he modified this position after a public exchange of opinion with W.A.R. Richardson. [ See Richardson, W.A.R. "Jave La Grande: Latitude and Longitude Versus Toponomy" in "Journal of Australia Studies", Vol. 18, 1986. p.74-91 and McKiggan, I., "Jave La Grande, An Apologia" in "Journal of Australia Studies", Vol. 19, 1986 p.96-101] McIntyre's own theory about distortion of the maps and the calculations used to correct the maps has also been challenged. [cite journal|last=Ariel|first=A|year=1984|title=Navigating with Kenneth McIntyre: a professional critique|journal=The Great Circle|volume=6|issue=2|pages=135–139] [Pearson, M. "Great Southern Land; The Maritime Exploration of Terra Australis" Australian Government Department of Environment and Heritage, 2005. ISBN 0642551855 ] Both Lawrence Fitzgerald and Peter Trickett argue the Dieppe maps "Jave la Grande" is based on Portuguese sea charts, now lost, which the mapmakers of Dieppe misaligned. Both these writers try to compare the coastal features of "Jave La Grande" with modern Australia's, by realigning them.

In 1994, McIntyre suggested that the writings of Pedro Nunes supported his interpretation of the distortion that occurred on the Dieppe Maps. [ McIntyre, K.G. (1994) “Great Questions of Our Time Series; Who Discovered Australia ? – The Portuguese Definitely” "The Age", 26 January 1994 ]

Cristóvão de Mendonça's role

Cristóvão de Mendonça is known from a small number of Portuguese sources, noteably the famous Portuguese historian João de Barros in "Décadas da Ásia" (Decades of Asia), a history of the growth of the Portuguese Empire in India and Asia, published between 1552-1615. Mendonça appears in Barros' account with instructions to search for Magellan, and later Marco Polo's legendary Isles of Gold. However Mendonça and other Portuguese sailors are then described as assisting with the construction of a fort at Pedir (Sumatra) and Barros does not mention the expedition again. [ João de Barros quoted in McIntyre, K. (1977)p.241-243] [ João de Barros quoted in Trickett, P.(2007) p.79 ]

McIntyre nominated Cristóvão de Mendonça as the commander of a voyage to Australia c.1521-1524, one he argued had to be kept secret because of the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, which divided the undiscovered world into two halves for Portugal and Spain. Barros and other Portuguese sources do not mention a discovery of land that could be Australia, but McIntyre conjectured this was because original documents were lost in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, [ However, a significant library of Portuguese discovery maps and documents still exists in Goa. See ] or the official policy of silence.

Most proponents of the theory of Portuguese discovery of Australia have supported McIntyre's hypothesis that it was Mendonça who sailed down the eastern Australian coast and provided charts which found their way onto the Dieppe maps, to be included as "Jave la Grande" in the 1540, 1550s and 1560s. McIntyre claimed the maps indicated Mendonça went as far south as Port Fairy, Victoria; [ McIntyre, K. (1977)p.249 and(1982)p.10-14, ] Fitzgerald claims they show he went as far as Tasmania; [ Fitzgerald, L. (1984) p.108-110 ] Trickett states as far as Spencer Gulf in South Australia [ Trickett, P. (2007) p 187-9 ] , and New Zealand's North Island. [ Trickett, P. (2007) p.225-230 ]

Alternative views

Possibly because of the degree of conjecture involved in the theory of Portuguese discovery of Australia, there have been a number of critics. By far the most prolific writer on this theory, and also its most consistent critic, has been Flinders University Associate Professor W.A.R (Bill) Richardson, who has written 20 articles relating to the topic since 1983. [ See a review of Richardson's 2006 book at ] As Richardson, an academic fluent in Portuguese and Spanish, first approached the Dieppe maps in an effort to prove they did relate to Portuguese discovery of Australia, his criticisms are all the more interesting. He suggests he quickly realised there was no connection between the Dieppe maps and modern Australia's coastline.He dismisses the claim that Cristóvão de Mendonça sailed down the east coast of Australia as sheer speculation, based on voyages about which no details have survived. [ Richardson, W.A.R (2006). "Was Australia Charted before 1606? The Jave La Grande Inscriptions." National Library fo Australia.p.39 ISBN 0 64227642 0 ] In the same way, the re-assembling of sections of the "Jave La Grande" coastline so that it fits the straightjacket of the real outline of Australia relies upon a second set of assumptions. He argues taking that approach, "Jave La Grande" could be re-assembled to look like anything. [ Richardson, W.A.R. (2006) p.47 ]

Another dimension of the argument Richardson advances against the theory relates to methodology. Richardson argues McIntyre's practice of re-drawing sections of maps in his book was misleading because in an effort to clarify he actually omitted crucial features and names that did not support the Portuguese discovery theory. [Richardson, W.A.R. (2006) p. 48-51 ]

Richardson's own view is that a study of placenames (toponymy) on "Jave La Grande" identifies it as unmistakably connected to the coasts of southern Java and Indochina.

The most damning criticism of McIntyre's theory has come from Captain A. Ariel's short article, which demonstrates serious errors by McIntyre in his understanding of measuring "erration" in longitude. Ariel concludes that "The Secret Discovery of Australia" is a " monumental piece of misinterpretation." [Ariel, A (1984) p.139]

In 2005, Historian Michael Pearson made the following comment on the Dieppe maps as evidence of a Portuguese discovery of Australia;

econdary evidence in support of the theory

Mahogany Ship

According to McIntyre, the remains of one of Cristóvão de Mendonça's caravels was discovered in 1836 by a group of shipwrecked whalers while walking along the sand dunes to the nearest settlement, Port Fairy [ McIntyre, K. (1977) p263-278 ] . The men came across the wreck of a ship made of wood that appeared to be mahogany. Between 1836 and 1880, 40 [ McKiggan, I. "Creation of a Legend" in "The Mahogany ship. Relic or Legend? Proceedings of the Second Australian Symposium on the Mahogany Ship" (Ed. Potter, B).p.61 Warrnambool Institute Press, 1992, ISBN 0 949759090 ] different people recorded that they had seen an "ancient" or "Spanish" wreck. Whatever it was, the wreck has not been seen since 1880 despite extensive searches in recent times. McIntyre's accuracy in transcribing original documents to support his argument has been criticized by some recent writers. [ Nixon, Bob. "A Fresh Perspective on the Mahogany Ship" in "The Skeptic", Vol 21, No. 1 2001 p. 31-36 ]

Other textual and cartographic evidence

Other texts originating from the same era represent a land to the south of New Guinea with a variety of flora and fauna. Part of one of Cornelis De Jode's 1593 maps depicts New Guinea with a hypothetical land to the south inhabited by dragons. [ enlargement of Atlas page from National Library of Australia] [ De Jode's 1593 map at the DeGolyer Library ] . Kenneth McIntyre suggested that although Cornelis de Jode was Dutch the title page of his "Speculum Orbis Terrae" 1593 atlas may provide evidence of early Portuguese knowledge of Australia. [McIntyre, K.(1977) p.232] The page depicts four animals. There is a horse to represent Europe, a camel to represent Asia, a lion for Africa, and another animal that resembles a kangaroo to represent another continent. This creature features a marsupial pouch containing two offspring and the characteristically bent hind legs of a kangaroo or one of the family of macropods. However as members of the Macropod family are found in New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago (including the Dusky Pademelon, Agile Wallaby and Black Dorcopsis Wallaby) this may have no relevance to a possible Portuguese discovery of Australia. [ See ] . Another explanation is that the animal may be based on a North American Opossum. [ Richardson, W.A.R (2006). p.48 ]

The Geelong Keys

In 1847, at Limeburners' Point near Geelong, Victoria, Charles La Trobe, a keen amateur geologist, was examining the shells from a lime kiln when a worker showed him a set of five keys he claimed to have found. La Trobe concluded that the keys were dropped onto the beach around 100-150 years before. Kenneth McIntyre hypothesized they were dropped in 1522 by Mendonça or one of his sailors. Since the keys have been lost, however, their origin cannot be verified.

Another more likely theory is that the keys were dropped by one of the diggers shortly before being found, as the layer of dirt/shells etc. they were found below was dated as around 2300-2800 years old, making La Trobe's dating implausable. The error by La Trobe is quite understandable according to Geologists Edmund Gill and P.F.B. Alsop, given that in 1847 most people thought the world was only 6000 years old. [Gill, E (1987). "On the McKiggan Theory of the Geelong Keys" in "The Mahogany Ship, Relic or Legend, Proceedings of the Second Australian Symposium on the Mahogany Ship", Potter, E. (Ed). Warrnambool Institute Press p.83-86 Warrnambool, Victoria. ISBN 094975909 0]

The Carronade Island Cannons

Two bronze cannons were found on a small island in Napier Broome Bay, on the coast of Western Australia in 1916. Since these guns were erroneously thought to be carronades, the small island was named "Carronade Island".Maritime Archaeology Department of the Western Australian Maritime Museum [ "An investigation of one of the two bronze guns from Carronade Island, Western Australia"] ] Green, Jeremy N. "The Carronade Island guns and Australia's early visitors." "The Great Circle", Vol.4, no.1 (1982), p.73-83.]

Kenneth McIntyre believed these cannons gave weight to the theory of Portuguese discovery of Australia. [ McIntyre, K (1977) p. 81-83 ] However, scientists at the Western Australian Museum in Fremantle have recently made a detailed analysis and have determined that these weapons are almost certainly of late 18th century Makassan, rather than European, origin.

Bittangabee Bay

Kenneth McIntyre first suggested the stone ruins at Bittangabee Bay were of Portuguese origin in 1977 [ McIntyre, K.(1977) p.292-294 ] . Bittangabee Bay is located in Ben Boyd National Park near Eden on the south coast of New South Wales.

The ruins are the foundations of a building, surrounded by stone rubble that McIntyre argued may have once formed a defensive wall. McIntyre also identified the date 15?4 carved into a stone. [ McIntyre, K.(1977) p.294 ] McIntyre hypothesized the crew of a Portuguese caravel may have built a stone blockhouse and defensive wall while wintering on a voyage of discovery down Australia's east coast.

Since McIntyre advanced his theory in 1977, significant research on the site has been conducted by Michael Pearson, former Historian for the NSW Parks and Wildlife Service. [cite book|last=Pearson|first=Michael|year=1987|chapter=Bittangabee ruins - Ben Boyd National Park|editor=Birmingham, J and Bairstow, D|title=Papers in Australian Historical Archaeology|publisher=Australian Society for Historical Archaeology|location=Sydney|pages=86-90] Pearson identified the Bittangabee Bay ruins as having been built as a store house by the Imlay brothers, early European inhabitants, who had whaling and pastoral interests in the Eden area. The local Protector of Aborigines, George Augustus Robinson, wrote about the commencement of the building in July 1844. The building was left unfinished at the time of the death of two of the three brothers in 1846 and 1847.

Other visitors and writers including Lawrence Fitzgerald [ Fitzgerald, L.(1984) p. 122.] have been unable to find the 15?4 date. Writing in "Beyond Capricorn" in 2007, Peter Trickett suggests the date McIntyre saw may be random pick marks in the stonework. [ Trickett, P.(2007) p.214 ]

Trickett accepts Pearson’s work, but hypothesizes the Imlays may have started their building on top of a ruined Portuguese structure, thus explaining the surrounding rocks and partly dressed stones. Trickett also suggests the original Indigenous Australian name for the area may have Portuguese origins. [ Trickett, P.(2007) p.209-213]

ee also

*Dieppe maps
*Evolution of the Portuguese Empire
*History of Australia
*Portuguese Empire


External links

* [ Pearson, M. "Great Southern Land; The Maritime Exploration of Terra Australis" Australian Government Department of Environment and Heritage, 2005. ISBN 0642551855 at ]
* [ The National Library of Australia's Gateway site on exploration of Australia]
* [ Images of the Vallard atlas (1547) at the Huntington Library]
* [ Desceliers map (1550) at the British Library]
* [ Desliens map (1566) reproduction at the National Library of Australia]
* [ "Asia in the Eyes of Europe", by Donald F.Lach. University of Chicago Library, 1991]
*cite web | title = Richard Osburne and the 'Mahogany Ship' | url = | author = Joan Fawcett

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