Carving Out a New History

by Rex Gilroy

Director, Museum of

Natural History, The Butterfly Farm

Wilberforce, NSW

Australasian Post, December 19, 1985

Carving out a New History

Ancient engravings found near Botany Bay suggest that Spanish explorers
reached the famous inlet two centuries before Capt. Cook.

On a windswept rock on the water's edge in Botany Bay, NSW, are ancient engravings that could alter the history of Australia. Lawrence Hargrave, Australia's 'father of aviation' and a historian of some repute, was exploring the foreshores of Botany Bay in 1912 when he discovered carvings that could help prove Captain James Cook was not the first mariner to enter the inlet. The carvings depict letterings and two outlines of a carrack, a vessel steered by a sweep, like an ancient Greek trireme.

It resembled the Santa Maria, in which Columbus sailed to America in 1492. The letterings in capitals beside the ship, were "BALN" in one line and beneath "ZAIH." The letter "W" was beside the symbol of a cross within an elongated circle, the symbol of intended conquest by Spain. It was emblazoned on the sails of the Spanish Armarda and the ships of the conquistadors on their voyages to the Americas.

Hargrave identified the letterings as ancient Spanish Latin "doodles" {a form of Latin shorthand used during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries}. He had them translated to read "We in the Santa Barbara and Santa Isabel conquered "W from point to point by the sign of the Cross." "AIH" could have been the rock signatures of witnesses to the declaration, he said. In the same area, Hargrave also examined two stout ring bolts leaded into solid rock near the water's edge, far enough apart to hold ropes attached to the mast of a small ship.

Nearby, was an ancient excavation that could have been a dam. This evidence was enough for him to suggest that long before Captain James Cook in the Endeavour in 1770, a Spanish expedition had sailed into Botany Bay, and possibly exploring what has become the Sydney area. Hargrave's finding caused a storm of controversy among university historians.

Historians speculate whether the names "Santa Barbara" and "Santa Isabel" were the same two ships of those names which were lost from Alvaro de Mendana's second Pacific expedition to establish a colony in Australia in 1595. The names were common in Spanish shipping. Belief in the existence of the "Great South Land" already was widespread in Spain and many expeditions were dispatched in the hope of claiming it before other nations.

In 1567, Mendana and his chief pilot, Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, sailed from Callao, Peru, to search for this land. He sailed too far north and discovered the Solomon Islands. On the second expedition, while passing through the Ellis Islands, the Santa Barbara and Santa Isabel were separated in bad weather from the rest of the fleet and were not seen again. After a fruitless search for the lost ships Mendana's expedition discovered Santa Cruz island where a short lived colony was established. When Mendana fell ill and died, the colonists abandoned the island and sailed for the Philippines.

The theory is that if the Santa Barbara and Santa Isabel were not sunk, they sailed 3000 km off course to find our east coast and enter Botany Bay 175 years ahead of James Cook and at least 10 years before the Dutch explorer, William Jansz, reached our shores in 1606. Around Botany Bay are intriguing Aboriginal rock carvings depicting human figures clad in garments similar to Spanish soldiers in breastplates and helmets.

Engravings also were found in the Gosford district, north of Sydney, where there are other examples of engraved Latin "doodlings".

In 1967 skindivers recovered a bronze cannonade from a reef off Cape York. On the barrel was engraved "Santa Barbara 1596." After the conquest of Peru, the Conquistadors joined the search after hearing tales from the Peruvians of a "great west land" rich in gold.

This "west land" could be the meaning of the letter "W" engraved next to other doodlings found by Hargrave. Mystery also surrounds relics found inland from Botany bay and up the Georges River. The relics suggest that an even larger Spanish expedition than that of the Santa Barbara and Santa Isabel landed in the are nine years later.

Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, navigator to Mendana on the 1567 expedition, made his own expedition in January 1605. He sailed from Lima, Peru, with two large ships loaded with soldiers, settlers and priests. De Quiro's ship was the Capitana, and a second, the Almiranta, was commanded by Luis vaez de Torres. A launch also accompanied the expedition. After a long voyage, de Quiros describes in his log that they found a coastline which they followed, passing many islands {the Great Barrier Reef?} before anchoring in a deep bay.

In this bay flowed a wide river and a range of mountains lay in the distance. De Quiros believed he had found his "Great South Land," though historians suggest that he landed in the Cook Islands. De Quiros named his new land Austrialia del Espiritu Santo-Austrialia of the Holy Spirit. To honour the King of Spain, Phillip 3, who was the Archduke of Austria, he inserted the extra "i." So the name "Australia" is of Spanish origin.

An official residence was built, yet, within 5 years, the colony disappeared and his requests for help on his return to Mexico was ignored. Could the bay in which de Quiros established his colony have been Botany Bay and the range the Blue Mountains? Last century, an avenue of ancient Large leaf Fig Trees {native only to southern Europe} was found at Mascot which could have lined a long vanished road leading to an official residence.

In the same area, near the old Sydney water supply, stands a cork tree {also native to southern Europe}. Like the fig trees, it pre-dates the arrival of Captain Cook.

Near the mouth of the Georges River at Botany Bay a rock bearing further latin "doodle" inscriptions was found. And about 1936, an old Spanish helmet was dug up near the river at East Hills. In 1968 workmen digging a deep trench for a pipeline at Macquarie Fields, south of Liverpool, unearthed at a depth of three meters, a dozen old Spanish doubloons of the Mendana-de Quiros period.

The inhabitants of Gladstone, on the central Queensland coast, are adamant that de Quiros discovered Australia. Before workmen excavated the rock to construct the harbour's breakwater early this century carved inscriptions existed on a cliff at Auckland Point. Local lore has it that the inscriptions were of Spanish names {including de Quiros} within a circle and, beneath, the date 1606. The inscriptions suggested that a ceremony was held atop Auckland Point by de Quiros in which he claimed this land for "Holy Spain."

In 1970 I discovered Latin-type 'doodlings' on a rock near Wollongong, south of Sydney. And at nearby Shell Harbour in 1953, a resident recovered a 16th century Spanish rapier with silver embossed hilt from an old Aboriginal shell midden. Further evidence of unrecorded Spanish contacts has been found off Gabo Island, Victoria, where a fisherman's net bought up a 16th century Spanish wine jar. Skindivers claim that a Spanish galleon lies nearby.

Further up the coast and south of Eden, NSW, sheltered amid dense scrub in a small inlet, are the remains of what appears to have been a stone fort. In 1974, I inspected the ruin. A badly weathered date "1524," is engraved into a stone forming part of the wall. The remains of an old Spanish breastplate are said to have been dug up nearby many years ago. Could this ruined fort have been built by another group of unknown Spanish colonists?

Near Brisbane waters, Gosford, on the NSW central coast are old Aboriginal rock engravings which depict, at one site, several human figures bearing outlines of boots, trousers with spiked knees, spiked elbows and barrel shaped chests carrying wallabies-apparently a hunting party. Could the spiked elbows and knees be armour joints and the barrel-like chests of the figures the outline of breastplates worn by Spanish soldiers? During a search of these sites near Gosford in 1971, I examined a set of apparent Latin "doodles" carved into a large boulder.

Thier translation appears to read;

"We in the Santa Barbara were here."

Aboriginal tales of apparent Spanish visitors still exists in the Grafton Clarence River {NSW} district. For generations, they have believed that a huge "canoe" with sails ventured up the river from the coast, bearing many white-skinned "culture-heroes" in "garments of stone" {armour?}.

During his voyage up the Great barrier reef in 1770 Captain Cook is said to have seen remains of a Spanish ship wrecked on Facing Island. But he soft-peddled the fact on his return to England as it indicated a pre-British expedition to Australia.

Certain islands in the Great Barrier Reef are believed to have been the secret hide-outs of Spanish pirates during the 17th centuries. Creedence was given these tales during the 1960's, when Aboriginal children on one of these islands unearthed Spanish gold coins.

In my museum are three cannon balls, believed to have come from the remains of a large wooden wreck buries in a reef off Proserpine, Queensland, where skin-divers have retrieved many Spanish relics.

And on Prince of Wales Island, close too Thursday Island, west of Cape York, a huge rusty sword of ancient Castilian design was found beside a crumbling human skeleton. Nearby was a valuable gold goblet. It is obvious from these and many other relics found along our coastlines-and ancient records in Spain-that the early Spanish mariners played a major role in the discovery of Australia 200 years before Cook's Arrival.