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Athena Review  Vol.1, no.2

The New World Voyages of William Dampier

William Dampier (1652-1715), British explorer and sea captain, is one of the most highly regarded map-makers and navigators of all time. Dampier was born in Somersetshire, England and went to sea by age 16. Between 1675 and 1678 he became involved with buccaneers along the Spanish Main in Central America. These adventures, told in his own books, are corroborated in the writings of two of Dampier's shipmates, Basil Ringrose (whose journal was included in Esquemeling's Buccaneers of America, printed in 1685); and the surgeon Lionel Wafer, whose own account was published in 1699. Dampier's most unusual associate, however, was probably Alexander Selkirk, a member of the crew of the 1703 voyage who was marooned by his own wish on Juan Fernandez Island. Selkirk, whose story was retold by Daniel Defoe in Robinson Crusoe (1719), was eventually rescued by Dampier on his last voyage.

[Fig.1: Portrait of William Dampier by Thomas Murray (Masefield, 1906).]

Dampier led several voyages of mapping and exploration around the world. Findings from the first expedition, published in 1697 as A New Voyage Round the World, produced a commision from the English Admiralty in 1699 to explore the South Seas. The results included many new charts of coastlines and currents around Australia and New Guinea. Dampier discovered and named New Britain, and also discovered the Archipelago in Northwest Australia now named for him.

In his New World voyages, Dampier provides some of the earliest descriptions of native cultures as well as coastlines, rivers, and villages. One of his accounts concerns the Miskito Indians, a group of tribes living along the Caribbean coast of Honduras and Nicaragua who associated with both traders and pirates.

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