Not two plates, but three!

Hartog, Vlamingh & Hamelin plates

Hartog, Vlamingh & Hamelin plates

Back in the days when I was a student at Wyalkatchem Primary School not much Australian history was taught. We were told about Captain Cook of course, but my memory of the details still tend to be a bit hazy. The one thing I have always remembered from those early history lessons is that Dirck Hartog landed on Dirck Hartog Island, Shark Bay, in 1616. Perhaps it was the pleasing symmetry of the numbers. Or perhaps it was the notion of washing up after dinner, scratching your name and the date onto your pewter plate and nailing it to a post on the other side of the world that appealed to my ten-year-old imagination. Much later in my life, while searching out  and writing some of our fascinating West Australian stories, I discovered that in 1697 Wilhem de Vlamingh had actually found Dirck Hartog’s plate and replaced it with one of his own, copying the original inscription onto the top half and adding his own information below.

When I became engrossed in the story of Rose de Freycinet and discovered that her husband, Louis, had sent a party of his men to find and bring back the Vlamingh plate in 1818, my interest was sparked again. Louis took the plate with him back to France where it lay forgotten in the Musee National de la Marine for more than one hundred years, before finally being tracked down and returned to Western Australia where it is now on display in the Shipwreck Gallery. The plate had had so many adventures it was almost a story on its own. Certainly too big a story to do justice to within the pages of Wild Rose.

It was not until last week that I learned that there was actually a third plate! Louis de Freycinet was on board the Naturaliste when Captain Hamelin, who was in charge of the ship which was part of Baudin’s expedition, found Vlamingh’s plate in 1801. Louis was afraid the plate would be lost for ever if they didn’t take it back to France for safe-keeping. But Hamelin refused. He did, however, instruct his men to rescue it from the sand where it had fallen and re-attach it to its post. Then he added a plate of his own – on a separate post. Now there’s a story. Perhaps I will get to write it one day.

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