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Updated on July 9, 2011


William Dampier was born in East Coker, Somersetshire, England in the year 1652 and was the second son of a farmer. Though he had some basic education he was so enamored by the sea that he left home by the time he was 16.


By 1670 he was sailing the high seas in such far flung places like Java, Philippines and the Moluccas (Spice Islands). However a major part of his voyages were in the Caribbean islands were in the company of some buccaneers they raided Spanish ships .His association with buccaneers lasted from 1675 to 1678 after which he crossed the Pacific. During this period he explored the North West coast of Australia then called New Holland and in this sojourn got marooned in the Bay of Bengal. By the time he completed his first circumnavigation he had enough material for a book, but not a penny in his pocket.

The outcome was his book ‘A New Voyage Round the World’ which was published in 1697. This book became a best seller and Dampier was probably the first travel writer who made it big. The book influenced and inspired many, and the British Admiralty recognizing its importance commissioned him to explore the South Seas. He was given charge of an old warship called ROEBUCK which was not seaworthy along with fifty sailors. During this voyage he discovered New Britain (which was named by him) and some archipelagos in northwest Australia which was name after him. Being a meticulous man he made new charts of the coastline of Australia and New Guinea and sea currents in these places. He returned to England via Batavia (Java) but very soon landed in trouble. The ship had to be abandoned at Ascension Island and whatever crew remained was rescued by the Royal Navy. Though many things were lost his journals and collection of specimens were intact. Back in England his reputation in the British Admiralty took a beating due to his mistreatment of an officer. He was not only fined but declared unfit to command a ship.


His standing in the scientific community on the other hand skyrocketed. His sample specimens which he gave to the Royal Society was found to invaluable and on the basis of his observation and jottings he brought out his second book A Voyage to New Holland (1703) which contained detailed maps and illustrations of plants, fishes and birds. Dampier circumnavigated the globe two more times of which his second was more successful. But his reputation rests not just on these nautical achievements

More than a sailor he was a naturalist and a keen observer. He made meticulous notes of nautical measurements and geographic features. Wherever he went he took care to collect specimens of plants and sketch the different kinds of birds he saw. In his writings we find description of Miskito Indians and their culture who lived around the coast of Honduras and Nicaragua. His maps were very original, because they contained detailed charts of trade winds across the oceans on the basis of his personal observations. One of his books contains a chapter entitled “A Discourse of Trade-Winds, Breezes, Storms, Tides, and Currents.”

His other books were:

· Voyages and Descriptions, (1699)

· A Supplement of the Voyage Round the World

· The Campeachy Voyages

· A Discourse of Winds

He also made rich contributions to English language by introducing words such as avocado, barbecue, breadfruit, cashew, catamaran, chopsticks etc. Unfortunately such a brilliant man simply faded away in life and from public memory. No one knows either when he died or were his buried.


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  • ram_m profile image

    ram_m 6 years ago from India

    certainly Dampier's contributions are great, but some how he has been overshadowed by other explorers like Cook.Another important aspect of Dampier's life which i somehow missed was that Alexander Selkirk whose adventures inspired Defoe was in the ship Roebuck

  • CASE1WORKER profile image

    CASE1WORKER 6 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

    Without the intrepedness of men like Dampier life would have taken many more years to evolve.

  • ram_m profile image

    ram_m 6 years ago from India

    Im glad you liked the hub and thank you for your nice comments

  • mactavers profile image

    mactavers 6 years ago

    Thanks for writing this little history gem. Your hub is well written and offers some great illustrations.