Lawrence Hargrave’s Spanish Sydney – new paper

December 8, 2012

I’ve just had a new short paper published in the December 2012 issue of Placenames Australia, which is the excellent quarterly newsletter of the Australian National Placenames Survey [ANPS] .  This organisation is supported by the different state and Commonwealth place name gazettal boards, to capture the history and meaning of the different toponyms around Australia.  These provide a rich landscape archaeology of successive occupations from indigenous people to the present.

The paper is ‘Lawrence Hargrave’s Spanish Sydney’, and it is about his belief that Lope de Vega landed in Sydney in c.1595, in the ship Santa Isabel [or Ysabel], after separating from the rest of Mendana’s expedition to the Solomons Islands [Gojak 2012].  Hargrave believed that place names around Sydney and Torres Strait supported his case.  According to him the Spanish named various parts of Sydney Harbour and the surrounding coast they explored, and these names were adopted by the Aborigines.  Later, after the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, it was assumed that these were Aboriginal names.  Hargrave annotated about two dozen of these into his evolving text for his book on Lope de Vega, added them on maps and charts and in amongst his voluminous correspondence.  A further list of names was ready to hand, presumably ones for which he was still searching for an origin.

You’ll have to read the paper for the full list [download of all the ANPS Newsletters is free], but just one example shows Hargrave’s logic follow.

In 1900 heavy storm surges had eroded or stripped grassed dunes, leaving behind exposed dense beachside scatters of Aboriginal artefacts.  These were written up by Etheridge and Whitelegge [1907].  A few years, in 1914, later Australia was hosting the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and a variety of excursions were offered to the delegates.  One took in Kurnell, on Sydney’s southern outskirts, for a visit to Captain Cook’s landing place, and a side trip to Quibray Bay, on the Botany Bay side of the Kurnell Peninsula.  At Quibray Bay one of these desne artefact scatters had been exposed.  Hargrave’s copy of the conference handbook is annotated on the page describing the tour.  He notes ‘quibra’ is Spanish for ‘crack’, as in Quibray is ‘the flint cracking place’.  Seemingly unaware of the Etheridge and Whitelegge paper, he may have otherwise wqondered why this place was so named, when they record the same storms having exposed Aboriginal artefact scatters on many beaches all along the coastal area of Sydney, and Quibray was perhaps one of the more modest.  Quiebra acloser meaning is to break or fail, rather than crack.

Hargrave didn’t speak Spanish, but did get assistance from Captain Bertram Chambers of the Royal Australian Navy.  Its not clear how good Chambers’s Spanish was, but he seems to have been a speaker of the language rather than a writer or reader.

This was just another example of how Hargrave’s obsession with the inherent truth of his belief clouded his judgement, allowing him to selectively pick at different facts, and twist them until they matched his belief.


Etheridge, Robert and Thomas Whitelegge 1907
‘Aboriginal workshops on the coast of New South Wales, and their contents’, Records of the Australian Museum, vol. 6 [4], pp. 233-250.  Available here.

Gojak, Denis 2012
‘Lawrence Hargrave’s Spanish Sydney’, Placenames Australia: the newsletter of the Australian National Placenames Survey, December 2012, pp. 3, 6-8.  Available here.

The Ploughed Ground – 1

August 12, 2012

One of the earliest speculations about unrecorded voyages to Australia comes from the memoirs of Joseph Mason, a convict who served his sentence in NSW in the 1830s.  Mason’s handwritten memoirs remained almost unknown, but were finally edited and published in 1996 [Kent and Townsend 1996] and are an important source for Australian convict history as seen from the inside.

Mason was transported for participation in unrest arising from the social dislocations accompanying industrialisation in Britain.  Perhaps because of his status as a political prisoner he reveals himself to be a thoughtful chronicler whose memoirs are quite different from the normal convict fare.  He was assigned as a convict servant to Hannibal Macarthur at his Vineyard estate near Parramatta in 1831.  Macarthur also had another grazing estate called Arthursleigh on the banks of the Wollondilly, south of Sydney, which had been established before official settlement was permitted within this area [Fletcher 2002].

In a section of his memoirs where he speculates about previous history of Australia, and whether the Aboriginal people were its sole former occupants, Mason says:

There is two spots of ground one about 30 miles to the south of any residence and the other on the bank of the Hunters River which I was informed by creditable witnesses as well as having seen the same in a book bear marks as if it had once undergone the operation of ploughing. The first of these lies in the road leading to the south of the colony and is always called the ploughed grounds. The blacks have been asked if they know what occasioned these spots [of] land to Assume their present shape but their are quite ignorant as to the cause Had any of their ancestors been acquainted with husbandry there certainly would have been more extensive marks of it remaining than these two spots of ground nor is it likely that the present race or rather generation should have been so retrograded from the path of industry as to possess not a single grain of corn an agricultural impliment, or the slightest notion of cultivating land.  [Kent and Townsend 1996: pp. 121-2]

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Dalmatians in the South Pacific and Australia

June 8, 2011

If you think there are a lot of extreme claims made in support of pseudoarchaeology, just take the time to become familiar with speculative historical linguistics and put it into perspective.  As we will find in theories about the origins of Australian Aboriginal people there are many serious researchers who will take the presumed similarity of words in two languages and construct elaborate and fantastical scenarios about human migration.  Others provide a strong and sometimes creepy sub-text of contemporary nationalism and ethnocentricism to act as the motivator for finding some unlikely connections.

One that I think deserves some attention but which is only partly relevant to Australia is the case of Vice Bune, Dalmatian navigator.  Although he is historically known from several mentions in records as a ships’ captain and diplomat, a Croatian father-son linguistic team have created a body of speculative literature which claims that he was also active in Southeast Asia and the Pacific in the late 16th century and contributed Dalmatian place names and his own, ahem, genetic legacy to the Solomons population.

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