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William Dampier, c.1780

an unknown artist after Thomas Murray

copper-line engraving (sheet: 18.5 cm x 12.0 cm, image: 12.2 cm x 8.8 cm)

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William Dampier (1651-1715), seafarer and writer, had spent a good deal of time at sea as a buccaneer and merchant sailor before he spent three months in 1688 around King Sound (northern Western Australia) on the Cygnet. After further trading voyages in southeast Asia he returned to England, where he wrote accounts of his travels that became very popular. Regarding him as an authority on the region, the Admiralty made him captain of the Roebuck, dispatched to explore the South Seas in January 1699. In August, he reached the coast of what is now Western Australia and named Shark Bay, but he could not find fresh water and after four weeks he departed for Timor. His impression of the west coast landscape was unfavourable and he described the Indigenous inhabitants as ‘the miserablest People in the World’. Although he named New Britain (separated from the island of New Guinea by the Dampier Strait) in the early months of 1700, his ship was not fit for much further exploration and he returned to England, where in 1702 he was declared unfit to lead any more expeditions on behalf of the king. Nonetheless, he led a farcical privateering expedition south in 1703 and was a pilot on a worldwide voyage between 1708 and 1711. Dampier was of greater historical importance as an author than an explorer; his influential New Voyage Round the World, published in 1697, ran to many editions, and several further successful volumes followed. His works remain of interest to historians, navigators and meteorologists, as well as students of the literature of Swift and Defoe. Diana and Michael Preston’s biography A Pirate of Exquisite Mind was published in 2005; the authors point out that through his writings, Dampier introduced many words including ‘chopsticks’ and ‘barbecue’ into English. In 2015 the Western Australian Museum held a series of events to commemorate the tricentennial of Dampier’s visit to the west coast.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2016

Accession number: 2016.74

Currently on display: Gallery Three (Robert Oatley Gallery)

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Artist and subject

Thomas Murray

William Dampier

Subject professions

Exploration and settlement


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