Australia’s Cat Invasion

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2,000 cats wanted in Australia. I looked at the above article from 1857 in horror and wondered about its authenticity. Surely not. My attention caught and completely distracted from my family history research, I began to search for more information. What I discovered was a story completely unknown to me; a story which has turned all that I’d known (and assumed) about feral cats completely on its head.

While I have yet to confirm whether the above article is real it was subsequent research which led me to discover more information about the story of cats in Australia. Before discussing cats however, it’s important to provide some background, namely, the history of the rabbit in Australia.

Domesticated rabbits were first introduced in Australia by the First Fleet in 1788. Most likely used as a source of food, they remained largely out of the early newspaper articles. They were eventually brought over to Tasmania and by 1827 it was noted that the wild rabbit population had exploded. While there was a rabbit population on the mainland, these seem to have been mainly kept in captivity. It wasn’t until the late 1850s that rabbits were released in several areas in the hope of establishing a population specifically for hunting. In 1859, 24 rabbits were released by Thomas Austin on his property in Victoria and it is said that the current infestation stems from this group.

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Trove Tuesday – Dirk Hartog

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In 1616, Dirk Hartog, in command of the Dutch ship ‘Eendracht’ left Holland bound for Batavia (today’s Jakarta). He was employed by the Dutch East India Company and was accompanied by several other ships when they became caught in a storm and were separated. Hartog and the crew of the ‘Eendracht’ arrived at the Cape of Good Hope without the other ships and upon leaving the Cape, proceeded to sail across the Indian Ocean; taking advantage of the roaring forties (strong westerly winds).

On 25 October 1616, Hartog and his crew accidentally discovered several islands off the northern coast of Western Australia. They investigated and sailed into Shark Bay and landed on what is now known as Dirk Hartog Island. He decided to name the island “Dor Eylandt” (Barren Island) and before leaving, nailed a tin plate (above) to a post erected on the island. The plate bears an inscription which recorded his discovery. Translated from Dutch it read:

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Today marks the 400th anniversary of Dirk Hartog’s discovery of the coast of Western Australia and, seeing as though it also happened to coincide with Trove Tuesday, I thought I’d delve into the historical newspapers on Trove to see how Dirk Hartog and the Island were featured over the years.

A letter by T.J.M. dated February 1827 and printed in The Australian provides us with the earliest mention of ‘Dirk Hartog’ in the papers. The writer, in discussing how to help Australia grow, stated that no more convicts should be sent to Sydney or Hobart. It was instead suggested a penal settlement be established in the areas of Shark Bay and Dirk Hartog Island but there was some concern when considering who had claimed the land.

But here a new question presents itself; that part of New Holland being claimed by the Dutch, it would be necessary to obtain it from them, either by purchase or exchange.

In 1864 it was reported in The Inquirer and Commercial News that a Mr Turnbull from Victoria had made an application to the Western Australian Government to lease Dirk Hartog Island.

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It would appear that Mr Turnbull’s application was unsuccessful or he decided not to go ahead with it because by 1867, Francis Louis Von Bibra had applied for and, in 1869, was granted a pastoral lease over the Island. Incidentally, I have a family connection to Francis Louis Von Bibra. On 26 October 1869 he married Mercy Everett (nee Crampton), my 2nd Great Grandfather’s sister.

It was Von Bibra’s son, Leopold, who (with an exploring party) in 1874 discovered human remains buried on the Island. Thought to have been a ‘malay’ the skull was sent to Perth and likely deposited in the Museum.

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In 1879 Western Australia celebrated 50 years of European Settlement and The Inquirer and Commercial News provided a very brief (rumoured) history of Dirk Hartog stating that “…there is an old tradition in Holland that the famous Dutch pirate Dirk Hartog buried enormous treasures at some locality along its shores, perhaps on the island which still bears his name.

Most articles throughout this time period continued in much the same way. While it appears this was the first instance in which Hartog’s name was printed in association with buried treasure, other attempts at describing the history of the Dutch in Western Australia were often vague and generally constrained to a sentence or two. While it’s possible they didn’t have a lot to tell, it’s also likely that the English preferred to tell their own stories when it came to the history of Australia.

The first pictorial image relating to Dirk Hartog Island was printed in the South Australian newspaper, The Pictorial Australian, in 1891 and was sent in by Mr E. E. Nesbit of Perth. Drawn from a photo taken by Mr Berringer of Shark Bay, it featured the post which Dirk Hartog used to affix the tin plate. It was said Mr Berringer carried his camera 30 miles on horseback in order to take the photo.

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post-information

Other pictorials showing Dirk Hartog Island were printed in the Australian Town and Country Journal and are well worth a look on Trove. You can view the images here: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page5243655

1916 marked 300 years since Dirk Hartog’s arrival in Shark Bay. Unlike today where celebrations have taken place over several days, the occasion was marked by a special meeting of the Royal Historical Society of Western Australia and a lecture given by Mr Siebenhaar held at the Museum. Relics connected to the discovery and settlement of parts of Western Australia (post Dirk Hartog) were put on display and kept on display for the public to view.

In 2016, the 1616 Dirk Hartog Festival celebrating the 400th anniversary has been in full swing since the 21 October with the last day being today. For more information about the festival, please visit the website: http://www.sharkbay1616.com.au/. Otherwise you may like to watch the video below for a snapshot of all the events so far.

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