Duyfken (Little dove)

by John Ellis

Indonesian spices have been important ingredients in Middle Eastern food and drink for over 3000 years. They were imported to the Persian Empire from as early as 1000 BC and Rome imported Moluccan spices 2000 years ago via the Silk Route that terminated in Constantinople. By the Middle Ages, when many spices were also used in medicines, Venice had evolved as the distribution centre for Europe.

Duyfken races seawards with a bone in her teeth.

The safe carriage of spices through Central Asia deteriorated with the rise of Islam from the 8th century, the annoyances arising from the Crusades and the fall of Constantinople in 1453. By then, the Portuguese were leading the European development of skills in navigation and seamanship. The dwindling of the supply of spices led the Portuguese to seek access to the spice trade by sea, thereby avoiding the difficulties of trading through Muslim-controlled lands. Bartholomeu Diaz rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 and within 11 years Vasco da Gama returned from India with a cargo of spices. The Portuguese kept their charts and skills to themselves while they could and monopolised the spice trade for the next century, establishing trade with Ceylon, the Moluccas and Borneo.

English and Dutch

The English and Dutch took a dim view of this and looked at ways of accessing the spice trade themselves. The English established the East India Company in 1599. The Dutch, by now the major shipping nation of Europe, sent a fleet to the Moluccas in 1601 and established the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC, Dutch East India Company) two years later. The VOC had almost instant success in trading and also in displacing the Portuguese everywhere except Goa, Macau and East Timor. The VOC lasted for 200 years, becoming the largest corporation in the world, dominating European trade with Asia. The reasons for the Dutch success included ownership of shipping by merchants and cooperatives rather than the aristocracy, the quality of their ships and the development of modern systems of credit, insurance and trade.

They also made life difficult for the English, and the East India Company took 20-30 years to establish their trade with the Orient. Even then, the Dutch maintained hostilities with the English for much of the 17th century but one truce led to the exchange of two islands. The Dutch held Manhattan and Ternate but surrendered Manhattan on the condition the English stopped blockading Ternate. The Dutch trading fleets were led by a jacht, a small, sturdy vessel charged with developing a safe sea route for the fleet. One such jacht was the Duyfken, built in Amsterdam in 1595.

Duyfken, all canvas set, on a beam reach in a light wind.

The VOC established their headquarters in Jacatra (now Jakarta) in Java, renaming it Batavia in 1619. In 1605, J.W. Verschoor, Director of the Jacatra factory, commissioned Willem Jansz to search for likely trading ports along the coast of New Guinea, “and to discover the great land of Nova Guinea and other unknown east and south lands”.

Jansz sails 1605

Jansz (aka Janszoon) sailed from Jacatra in the jacht Duyfken, for the Moluccas fleet, in November 1605. He had a crew of 20 men, some of whom were indigenous to the East Indies. Duyfken was armed with six falconets that fired a ball of about 1½ kg. Bags carrying a handful of gravel were invariably sufficient to gain the respect of the locals. The basis of daily meals was salt beef and pork and a ship’s biscuit of flour and water baked hard. In addition there was oatmeal, dried fish and dried fruit. When practicable, they carried fresh meat and vegetables and caught fresh fish.

They carried water in casks but it had a short life before turning putrid. The men depended upon beer that was really preserved water rather than an alcoholic drink. Wine and spirits were also carried. Navigators of the early 17th century used the magnetic compass for direction, the backstaff for distance north or south of the equator, the log line for ship’s speed, the lead line for sounding the depth of water and the Mark I eyeball.

Ship captains of the period depended upon many natural phenomena — clouds forming could indicate the presence of land, the colour of sea water and presence of seaweed could indicate reduced depth of water, observations of sea birds and presence of land birds, the smell of activities ashore and a knowledge of prevailing winds all added to the experience of those seamen.

Jansz made his way east via Banda and the Kei Islands to the south coast of New Guinea. From False Cape, he headed south-east and raised land at the Pennefather River on the west coast of Cape York, about 50 km north of Weipa, then followed the coast to the south. He left for Jacatra at Cape Keer-Weer (Turnagain), believing he had sailed along the continuous coast of New Guinea.

At one point Jansz landed a party to investigate trading potential. A clash ensued and men on both sides were killed, including nine of Jansz’s men. Some references suggest that it is unclear if this encounter was in New Guinea or Australia. Other authorities tell of such an encounter handed down in the oral history of the Aborigines of Cape York.

350 km charted, March 1606

Jansz recorded some 350 km of the coasts of southern New Guinea and western Cape York. Jansz’s chart of this voyage has come down to us and was on display in the Mitchell Library during the first quarter of 2006 together with Hartog’s pewter plate and other Dutch charts and journals from the 17th century. Jansz’s journal has not survived although there are contemporary comments in other diaries and references that give us a broad description of Duyfken‘s voyage.

The time of his coasting down Cape York is thought to be in March 1606. About six months later in 1606, Luis Vaez de Torres, a Portuguese navigator employed by Spain, sailed through the straits that now bear his name. He was en route from Vanuatu to Manila. The nature of Torres’ voyage was suspected by his contemporaries in England and the Netherlands but was not verified until 1790 when his papers were found in Manila.

There has been speculation that Portuguese ships coasted the Australian continent in the 16th century. Such accounts cannot be verified because the Portuguese kept their achievements secret. By sailing in eastern Australian waters they were breaching treaties with Spain drawn up by the Pope and in 1745 an earthquake in Lisbon destroyed their archives. It is now accepted that Jansz was the first authenticated European to land on Australian shores.

Build replica

In the mid 1990s a group decided to build a replica of Duyfken in Fremantle. Sixteenth century shipwrights built ships by eye and rule of thumb rather than referring to drawings. The replica was developed from three sketches of jachts, several scenes of jachts by Dutch masters, a knowledge of 16th century shipbuilding techniques, a wreck discovered while reclaiming land in the Netherlands and an analysis of sailing capabilities.

All went into a computer program to produce drawings for 20th century shipwrights. Duyfken was laid down in 1997 and took three years to build. The timbers used are similar to those used in the original. The hull is of oak imported from Latvia and the decks, masts and spars are of Scandinavian pine. Planks were bent over fires to achieve the desired curves and frames and knees were taken from sections of trees where the grain followed the desired lines.

duyfken construction
A Duyfken construction sketch.
Her rigging is of hempen rope and her canvas is of flax, stitched in 17th century techniques. Duyfken is 24 metres long, draws 2.8 metres and displaces 150 tonnes fully laden. She carries a square sail under the bowsprit, two square sails on the fore and main mast and a triangular lateen sail on the mizzen. (She also has two 150 hp engines and modern nautical navigation equipment.)

Living conditions are basic: two litres of water every other day to wash what you choose. Rudder movement is controlled by a whipstaff, a vertical pole used to lever the forward end of the tiller. This arrangement allows about 5 degrees of rudder either side of amidships. (Wheels to control rudder movement were introduced until about 1703.)

Topweight was reduced by keeping deckhead heights low, requiring the men to stoop when below the upper deck. Hammocks were introduced into some European ships soon after Columbus had seen natives of the Caribbean sleeping in them. In Duyfken, however, the men slept on the upper deck as the space below was reserved for stores, food and any spices they might acquire. In those days 20 kg of nutmeg would buy a house in Amsterdam and pay for servants for a year. The modern crew does sling hammocks because they aren’t carrying spices. The skipper has a small cabin in the poop that he shares with the engineer.

The replica’s first voyage was to Java, Banda, Carpentaria and Port Moresby and she sailed for the Netherlands in 2001 where there was tremendous interest with events commemorating the 400th anniversary of the formation of the VOC. Unable to raise the funds for the return voyage, Duyfken was returned as deck cargo, then spent over three years laid up except for an occasional limited sailing program.

Commemorates the discovery of Australia

Duyfken sails with a permanent crew of six and a voyage crew of ten. Her long 2006 voyage commemorated the 400th anniversary of the 1606 Carpentaria explorations. Sponsorship, in the ratio of 2:1:1, came from the Australian Government, the Duyfken 1606 Replica Foundation and a group called Australia on the Map 1606-2006.

Duyfken under sail in Sydney Harbour.
The voyage started in Fremantle on 6 April, farewelled by the Prime Ministers of Australia and the Netherlands. She called at Bunbury, Albany and Esperance in Western Australia and Port Lincoln, Adelaide and Victor Harbour in South Australia. Maintaining this kind of routine for ports of call, she sailed around the Australian coast to visit Redcliffe, Brisbane, Gladstone, Mackay and Cairns in Queensland.

Duyfken then turned south and called in to Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Newcastle, Wollongong and Sydney on her way to join the February 2007 Hobart Wooden Boat Show.

Duyfken is presently berthed in Cairns. She has sailed 8,683 miles in a total of 98 days under way, averaging 3.7 knots, better than Abel Tasman. She has welcomed 87,000 visitors.