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Pirate William Dampier

Updated on December 19, 2017

Learn more about William Dampier - Pirate Extraordinaire

When we think of pirates, we often think of dirty, unsavory fellows with no allegiance to anyone but their crew. However, during much of 1600s and 1700s, there were also state sanctioned pirates. Backed by a country to sack the ships of an enemy country. William Dampier is one of the most celebrated of the English pirates. He was also an Explorer, Scientist, Artist and Author.

William Dampier was the first sailing captain to ever sail around the world three times. He drew maps and made scientific observations that were noted by both Charles Darwin and Captain James Cook. Dampier was also an accomplished author and wrote several books about his voyages and some of these books are still in print today.

I hope you enjoy this historical lens about William Dampier and his many accomplishments

Picture Source - Wikipedia commons

The Matthew - Cabots ship out of Bristol, UK - Replica
The Matthew - Cabots ship out of Bristol, UK - Replica

William Dampier Biography

William Dampier was born in Somerset County in 1651. He started sailing early - probably due to the influence of Bristol being not far away - and made his first sailing trip to Newfoundland as a teenager. His second voyage took him to Java (in what is now Indonesia) and in 1673 (aged 22) he joined the Royal Navy.

Unfortunately his service in the Royal Navy was cut short by a serious bout of illness and he was forced to return home to recuperate. Dampier then tried his hand at a number of different careers, including being a plantation manager in Jamaica and logging in Mexico before he eventually returned to the sea.

In 1679 Dampier joined the crew of the Pirate Captain, Bartholomew Sharp. The crew went on a raid across the Isthmus of Darien (Where the Panama Canal is now located) where they raided a number of Spanish settlements in Peru before returning to the Caribbean.

By 1683 Dampier had moved north to Virginia in the new world and was hired by the privateer John Cooke. This crew sailed south around Cape Horn and into the Pacific where they too raided Spanish settlements in Peru, Mexico and the Galapagos Islands, In 1686 Dampier moved to another pirate ship captained by Charles Swan and this ship crossed the Pacific Ocean heading for the East Indies. On the way they raided Guam, Mindanao, Manila, China, the Spice Islands and the previously unknown continent of New Holland.

In 1688 the ship was beached at King Bay (NW Australia near the town of Derby) being careened (having all the barnacles scrapped off the hull). Dampier was making observations of the flora and fauna,and possibly mapping the coast as well. Later that year Dampier agreed to be deliberately marooned on the Nicobar islands (in the Indian Ocean) with some other crew members. They either made or obtained a canoe and sailed to Sumatra in Indonesia.

Eventually Dampier ended up back in England in 1691 with nothing but his journals in which he had written many obervations and drawn a few maps. Returning to England by way of the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) meant that he was the first person to ever circumnavigate the world. There do not appear to be any further details of this event.

Dampier was encourage to write a book and in 1697 his first book - New Voyage Round the World - was published and it instantly became a bestseller.

A replica of the tudor ship - MATTHEW - the ship Cabot sailed on out of Bristol to find the New World.

William Dampier Map of 1699 Voyage

William Dampier Voyage to Australia 1699 CE
William Dampier Voyage to Australia 1699 CE
HMS Roebuck
HMS Roebuck

The Roebuck Expedition

After his first book was published, Dampier was officially given a ship called the Roebuck and sent on a scientific expedition by the Admiralty. The expedition's mission was explore and map the coast of New Holland (now Australia). Dampier gathered a crew together and they set sail in the middle of winter (January 1699). Since winter was a bad time to go around the Cape Horn, the expedition was forced to sail around the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) and make the long voyage across the Indian.Ocean.

In July 1699 the expedition landed in (what is now) Shark Bay in Western Australia. The crew followed the coast north exploring and mapping the coastline and making notes of the flora and fauna along the way. When the Roebuck reached the islands now called Dampier Archipelago, Dampier left the Australian coast and headed north to the Spice islands. After mapping the island of Timor, the Roebuck headed east, past the southern coasts of New Guinea, as well the southern coasts of New Hanover, New Ireland and New Britain.

The ship itself was in bad condition (with rotten timbers) and due to a very inept carpenter, the Roebuck foundered and sank at Ascension Island in February 1701. The crew were stranded there for several weeks, being rescued by another ship in April and returned back to England in August 1701.

On the voyage out to New Holland, Dampier had left a crewman in Brazil, and when this crewman had returned to England, he had laid a complaint of cruelty against Dampier. Despite Dampiers' charts and notes of all that he had discovered (which were rescued when the Roebuck sank) Dampier was founded guilty, docked his pay from the voyage and dismissed from the Royal Navy.

Dampier wrote a book about the Roebuck Expedition. It was called A Voyage to New Holland.

Image Source - Wikimedia

Australian Explorers on Stamps

Australian stamps - Dampier and Tasman - 1985
Australian stamps - Dampier and Tasman - 1985

Source - Stamps Boards

Please scroll down to this date at top right of each post - Sun Jan 18, 2009

These stamps were all issued on April 10th, 1985 in Australia

There are 3 x 33 cent stamps and 1 x 90 cent stamp.

These stamps were celebrating the Bicentenary of Australian Settlement

Top Left - Abel Tasman.(33 cents)

Bottom left - William Dampier (detail, T. Murray).(33 cents)

Top Right - Dick Hartog's Eendracht (detail, Aerl Anthonisz). (33 cents)

Bottom Right - Globe and hand with extract from Dampier's Journal. (90 cents)

Dampier's circumnavigations

After being fired from the Royal Navy, Dampier went back to being a pirate. He made 2 circumnavigations of the planet in the next 10 years but there are not many details.

The first one was during the Spanish war of Succession which began in 1701. Dampier was made Captain of a gunship called the St George. It had 26 guns and a crew of 120. It was joined by another ship called the Cinque Ports.

These two ships attacked both French and Spanish shipping and eventually ended up in the Pacific. Somehow the ships became separated. in 1705, the Cinque Ports put a crewman named Alexander Selkirk off on an island in the Pacific and later sank. The St George eventually arrived safely back in England, having circum-navigated the globe.

in 1708 Dampier was hired as the Sailing Master on the Duke - a privateer ship owned by a wealthy privateer (pirate) named Woodes Rogers. The Duke went out privateering and rescued Alexander Selkirk from his island in 1709. This expedition apparently circum-navigated the globe and made a profit of over 200,000 pounds. However Dampier died in 1715 before he could receive his share.

Alexander Selkirk was the inspiration for that well known castaway story written by Daniel Defoe in 1719. The book was called Robinson Crusoe.

Please scroll down to this date at top right of each post - Sun Jan 18, 2009

A New Voyage around the World - Book Review

Written by William Dampier and published in 1697, there is now a modern edition available.

Your turn to add some thoughts, What do you think of Dampier - Had you heard about William Dampier, the English Pirate?

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    • profile image

      Lee Cloak 

      5 years ago

      Great article, fantastic to learn about a lesser known pirate, very interesting, thanks!

    • dwnovacek profile image


      8 years ago

      *High Five* to you on this lens. I'd never heard of William Dampier, so I really learned a lot!

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 

      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I've always thought that his portrait makes him look like a mean, sarcastic fellow. He could pass for a modern politician quite easily.


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