William Dampier (1652–1715) was an English buccaneer, navigator and hydrographer, was born at East Coker, Somersetshire, in 1652 (baptized 8th of June). Having early become an orphan, he was placed with the master of a ship at Weymouth, in which he made a voyage to Newfoundland. On his return he sailed to Bantam in the East Indies. He served in 1673 in the Dutch War under Sir Edward Sprague, and was present at two engagements (28th of May; 4th of June); but then fell sick and was put ashore. In 1674 he became an under-manager of a Jamaica estate, but continued only a short time in this situation.
He afterwards engaged in the coasting trade, and thus acquired an accurate knowledge of all the ports and bays of the island. He made two voyages to the Bay of Campeachy (1675–1676), and remained for some time with the logwood-cutters, varying this occupation with buccaneering. In 1678 he returned to England, again visiting Jamaica in 1679 and joining a party of buccaneers, with whom he crossed the Isthmus of Darien, spent the year 1680 on the Peruvian coast, and sacking, plundering and burning, made his way down to Juan Fernandez Island.
After serving with another privateering expedition in the Spanish Main, he went to Virginia and engaged with a captain named Cook for a privateering voyage against the Spaniards in the South Seas. They sailed in August 1683, touched at the Guinea coast, and then proceeded round Cape Horn into the Pacific. Having touched at Juan Fernandez, they made the coast of South America, cruising along Chile and Peru. They took some prizes, and with these they proceeded to the Galapagos Islands and to Mexico, which last they fell in with near Cape Blanco.
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While they lay here Captain Cook died, and the command devolved on Captain Davis, who, with several other pirate vessels, English and French, raided the west American shores for the next year, attacking Guayaquil, Puebla Nova, &c. At last Dampier, leaving Davis, went on board Swan's ship, and proceeded with him along the northern parts of Mexico as far as southern California. Swan then proposed, as the expedition met with "bad success" on the Mexican coast, to run across the Pacific and return by the East Indies. They started from Cape Corrientes on the 31st of March 1686, and reached Guam in the Ladrones on the 20th of May; the men, having almost come to an end of their rations, had decided to kill and eat their leaders next, beginning with the "lusty and fleshy" Swan.
After six months' drunkenness and debauchery in the Philippines, the majority of the crew, including Dampier, left Swan and thirty-six others behind in Mindanao, cruised (1687–1688) from Manila to Pulo Condore, from the latter to China, and from China to the Spice Islands and New Holland (the Australian mainland). In March 1688 they were off Sumatra, and in May off the Nicobars, where Dampier was marooned (at his own request, as he declares, for the purpose of establishing a trade in ambergris) with two other Englishmen, a Portuguese and some Malays.
He and his companions contrived to navigate a canoe to Achin in Sumatra; but the fatigues and distress of the voyage proved fatal to several and nearly carried off Dampier himself. After making several voyages to different places of the East Indies (Tongking, Madras, &c.), he acted for some time, and apparently somewhat unwillingly, as gunner to the English fort of Benkulen. Thence he ultimately contrived to return to England in 1691.
In 1699 he was sent out by the English admiralty in command of the "Roebuck," especially designed for discovery in and around Australia. He sailed from the Downs, the 14th of January, with twenty months' provisions, touched at the Canaries, Cape Verdes and Bahia, and ran from Brazil round the Cape of Good Hope direct to Australia, whose west coast he reached on the 26th of July, in about 26° S. lat. Anchoring in Shark's Bay, he began a careful exploration of the neighboring shore-lands, but found no good harbour or estuary, no fresh water or provisions. In September, accordingly, he left Australia, recruited and refitted at Timor, and thence made for New Guinea, where he arrived on the 3rd of December.
By sailing along to its easternmost extremity, he discovered that it was terminated by an island, which he named New Britain (now Neu Pommern), whose north, south and east coasts he surveyed. That St George's Bay was really St George's Channel, dividing the island into two, was not perceived by Dampier; it was the discovery of his successor, Philip Carteret. Nor did Dampier visit the west coast of New Britain or realize its small extent on that side.
He was prevented from prosecuting his discoveries by the discontent of his men and the state of his ship. In May 1700 he was again at Timor, and thence he proceeded homeward by Batavia (4th July–17th October) and the Cape of Good Hope. In February 1701 he arrived off Ascension Island, when the vessel foundered (21st–24th February), the crew reaching land and staying in the island till the 3rd of April, when they were conveyed to England by some East Indiamen and warships bound for home.
In 1703–1707 Dampier commanded two government privateers on an expedition to the South Seas with grievous unsuccess; better fortune attended him on his last voyage, as pilot to Woodes Rogers in the circumnavigation of 1708–1711. On the former venture Alexander Selkirk, the master of one of the vessels, was marooned at Juan Fernandez; on the latter Selkirk was rescued and a profit of nearly £200,000 was made. But four years before the prize-money was paid Dampier died (March 1715) in St Stephen's parish, Coleman Street, London. Dampier's accounts of his voyages are famous. He had a genius for observation, especially of the scientific phenomena affecting a seaman's life; his style is usually admirable—easy, clear and manly. His knowledge of natural history, though not scientific, appears surprisingly accurate and trustworthy.
See Dampier's New Voyage Round the World (1697); his Voyages and Descriptions (1699), a work supplementary to the New Voyage; his Voyage to New Holland in ... 1699 (1703, 1709); also Funnell's Narrative of the Voyage of 1703–1707; Dampier's Vindication of his Voyage (1707); Welbe's Answer to Captain Dampier's Vindication; Woodes Rogers, Cruising Voyage Round the World (1712).
1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume 7. pg 790-791
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