Cape Inscription - Culture and History

It was the Dutch sailor Henderik Brouwer who, in 1610, discovered that the best route from the Cape of Good Hope to Batavia was via the Roaring Forties. The idea was head east for a few thousand kilometres then turn left. Brouwer achieved the crossing of the Indian Ocean and turned left before reaching Western Australia. Six years later Dirk Hartog sailed too far and landed at Cape Inscription on 26 October 1616. It was here that Hartog left his famous pewter plate inscribed (in Dutch, this is obviously a translation): '1616. On 25th October there arrived here the ship Eendraght of Amsterdam. Supercargo Gilles Miebais of Liege; skipper Dirck Hatichs of Amsterdam. On 27th do. she set sail again for Bantam. Subcargo Jan Stins; upper steersman Pieter Doores of Bil. In the year 1616.' It hardly makes gripping reading but it is firm evidence of the first Europeans landing on mainland Australia.

In 1697 the Dutch sailor Willem de Vlamingh reached the island and, finding Hartog's pewter plate still in its original position (although somewhat the worse for weathering) he removed it and replaced it with another plate. The original was returned to Holland where it still is kept in the Rijksmuseum.

De Vlamingh's replacement plate had an even less interesting inscription on it. After getting the date wrong he listed all the important sailors on the voyage and concluded with 'Our fleet set sail from here to continue exploring the Southern Land, on the way to Batavia.'

In 1818 the French explorer Louis de Freycinet, while exploring the coast, came across de Vlamingh's plate and removed it to France. The plate was eventually returned to Australia in 1947 and is currently housed in the Maritime Museum in Fremantle.

Around this time Phillip Parker King circumnavigated the island on his historic survey of the Australian coastline. Both King and John Septimus Roe left their marks on the island. King spelt out his name in nails on a post and Roe carved his name in the timber.

The island has for a long time been privately owned by Sir Thomas Wardle, an ex-Lord Mayor and one-time grocery millionaire from Perth, but in 1989 the West Australian government decided to make all of the island (except for 100 acres) part of the hugely expanded Shark Bay National Park which includes all the important sites in Shark Bay.