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OUT OF THE
Romance in History
, . By CL.
i - i ISTORY. especially that of
(3=^f* one's own country, is afas I 0"T"TI dratting subject of study if
(fe**!/ attacked in the right way.
kl. B ll Why it does not find more fe&fft popular favor may be due qr2& to several, or one of 2*n3 several, reasons. History,
' as the dictionary declares,
is "a narration of facts." Now, there ls a quaint old saying that "facts are stubborn things," and as far as most historians are concerned, that seems to be a splendid excuse for they almost all use it-to make facts things as dry as dust And lt is my opinion that to this dusty dry-! ness that surrounds most history1 books they mainly owe their unpopu- larity.
That inimitable jester Sir W. S. Gil- bert voiced a sentiment with which very few will ever disagree, when he declared that he "never would be missed,
. . the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this, and every
country but his own."
Strange as it may seem, there are persons like that. That there are is probably due to a failure to delve into the history of ' their own country; or taking too literally-the no doubt well meant, yet rather vague, statement that "what does he of England know, who only England -knows?" lr .-. -.*
A careful, yet hot rtoo meticulous; study of the history of a country shows it to be full of romance, lt is the attention to this romance that gives history Its fascination. In Aus- tralian history there is no better known figure-and perhaps rightly so-than Captain Cook. In Western Australian history, hone more promi- nent than Captain Stirling. But although each of these is surrounded by a fair amount of. romance, neither equals, in this respect, adventurer William Dampier.
Buccaneering, whether fact or fiction, seems to suggest the acme of romance. Its only rival perhaps, is pirating. Both names, that of bucca- neer and pirate, can be applied to William Dampier! As far as the stories and biographies about bim are concerned they create an air of ad- venture and mystery right from his very birth. For instance even the his- torians don't seem to be able to fix his nativity. Some aver he first saw light of day on June 8. 1652, others and they seem to have the strongest ground beneath them-that he was bom on September 5, 1651. Clennell Wilkinson is among the latter, and in his "William Dampier" he paints rather a picturesque picture.
In the parish register of East Coker (a little village in Somersetshire) he telle us there appears two entries of births: "September 5, 1651, William Dampier, son of George and Ann; June 8, 1652, William Dampier, son of William and Joan." Wilkinson favors George and Ann as the pirate's parents, as the Immortal William in his writings frequently referred to his "brother George." He pointe out, too, that William, son of William and Joan, had no brother.
It seems rather a distinction for the William Dampier to whom Australians are so indebted, that his mother was his father's wife! Read this footnote
so early in Wilkinson's book as to be on page 13: "As to her being his wife there is happily, no doubt 'Prom his wife,' Bays the register proudly. Alas, that it should be thought a matter for boasting!-but the most casual glance at this villiage record shows the reason why."
Let us now turn to Dr. Battye's "History of Western Australia" for a brief look at William Dampier. 'Con- cerning a visit to the Philippine Is- lands by the Cygnet under the com- mand of a Captain Swan, he writes: "In the end Captain Teat, the chief mate with a number of the crew, amongst whom were the surgeon and Dampier, sailed away -with the ship, leaving Swan and about thirty-sec men stranded on Mindanao. After a course of piracy in the China Seas and the East Indian Archipelago, they de- cided to turn to the south ..."
Even in his becoming a buccaneer and pirate there is a remarkable de- gree of romance surrounding William Dampier. His first essay of "down to the sea in ships" was in the nature of perfectly legitimate trading and he even "served his King." He took up buccaneering as a hobby! Doubts? Read this from Wilkinson: "He ship- ped with one Captain Hudsel (or Hud swell), who was bound from Port Roy- al to the Bay of Campeachy, to load logwood there.
"Now the logwood-cutters of Cam peachy Bay had long been a thorn in the side of Spain. Most of them, in their spare time, were buccaneers, preying upon Spanish trade . - .To join the logwood-cutters of this date was to enter a profession of doubtful legality, ... but our young adven- turer was not to be deterred by
William Dampier, as a young man, seems to have belonged to that class so aptly described by the term, "who will try anything once". But he can- not be labelled as "a Jack of all trades and master of none." For he was a capable seaman, successful and daring pirate, an observant explorer and, most important of all, a splendid writer and narrator.
Dampier's "New Voyage Round the World" contains a wealth of interest- ing reading and no one has yet given a better description of the Australian aboriginal than he. "The inhabitants of this country are the miserablest people of the world" he writes "... setting aside their human shape, they differ little from brutes. They are tall, straight-bodied, and thin, with small long limbs . . . They have no houses, but lie in the open air without
any covering, the earth being their bed and the heaven their canopy ... I did not perceive that they did wor- ship anything ... Some of them had wooden swords; others had a sort
of lance. The sword ls a piece of wood ' shaped somewhat like a cutlass. - The lance is a long straight pole, sharp at one end ..."
Dr. Battye tells us and, although he is amongst those who believe that William Dampier was the son of William and Joan, there is no reason to doubt bim. that "from *A New Voyage Round the World' the "Rnglish gained their first accurate knowledge of these new South Lands."
In 1699, William Dampier, in com- mand-of .the Boebuck,. .again visited Australia in the course of a voyage of exploration round the world. Before setting out he had certain plans, but he did not stick to them. As Dr. Battye has it, "it is interesting to note that if Dampier had adhered to his original intention it_ is_ more than I probable that he would have bad the credit-ef discovering the eastern coast Of Australia."
But there is a charm In hearing and telling about the romance surround- ing missed opportunities that is altogether different from that about grasped ones. The story of the cir- cumstances influencing Dampier's failure to proclaim Australia for Britain has a far different appeal to the story of Captain Cook's landing at Botany Bay. But both are striking examples of the romance in history.