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Frederik de Houtman (1571–1627)

by J. Van Lohuizen

This article was published:

Frederik de Houtman (1571?-1627), senior officer of the Dutch East India Co., was born at Gouda, Holland, the son of Pieter Cornelisz, and his wife Agnes née Frederiksd. He took part in the first Dutch voyage to the East Indies which was led by his elder brother Cornelis and by Pieter Dircksz Keyser in 1595-97. In 1598 he sailed again for the east and was a prisoner of the king of Achin from 11 September 1599 to 25 August 1601, when the king set him free on receipt of a letter from Prince Maurits, the Dutch stadtholder. After his return to Holland, he published in 1603 a grammar and dictionary of Malay and Malagasy together with a treatise on the constellations of the southern hemisphere. He should, however, probably not be credited with the astronomical part of this book, for there seem to be strong reasons for assuming that he had used the observations made by Keyser who died in 1596. In 1603 de Houtman left for the East Indies again and was the first Dutch governor of Amboina, from 1605 to 1611. He returned to Holland in 1612 and lived at Alkmaar, where he was a member of the city council from 1614 to 1618.

In 1618 he sailed on his fourth voyage to the east, this time as a member of the Council of the Dutch East Indies. It was on this voyage in the Dordrecht that part of the west coast of Australia was accidentally discovered. In 1617 the Dutch authorities had issued instructions in which, in order to shorten the voyages, captains were encouraged to sail east from the Cape of Good Hope, so as to profit from the prevailing westerlies. A disadvantage of this route was that with the primitive instruments of those days it was very difficult to decide the right moment for turning northward to Java, and the result was that many ships reached Australia. On 19 July 1619 the Dordrecht and the Amsterdam sighted land in the latitude given as 32° 20' S. Heavy surf and wind prevented the crews from disembarking but the coast was followed northward until 28 July. The land round the Swan River was named Dedelsland after Jacob Dedel, councillor of the Dutch East Indies, who was in the Amsterdam. On 30 July they met banks at 28° 46' S. some forty-five miles (72 km) off the mainland, henceforth known as the Houtman Abrolhos (Portuguese for banks). On 2 August the ships again sighted the coast at 27° 40' S. and de Houtman identified the area as that previously discovered by Dirck Hartogsz.

After his arrival on Java on 3 September 1619 de Houtman was employed off Bantam and in the Spice Islands and later was governor of the Moluccas in 1621-23. In 1624 he returned to Holland and settled once more at Alkmaar, where in 1625-26 he was alderman. He died on 21 October 1627 and was buried in the Great Church. He was survived by his wife Vrouwtje Cornelisd, daughter of Cornelis Nanningsz and Guerte Sijgersd. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has a painting depicting a view of Amboina which contains a portrait of de Houtman.

Select Bibliography

  • J. E. Heeres, The Part Borne by the Dutch in the Discovery of Australia 1606-1765 (Lond, 1899)
  • W. S. Unger (ed), De Oudste Reizen van de Zeeuwen naar Oost-Indie 1598-1604 (The Hague, 1948)
  • A. Sharp, The Discovery of Australia (Oxford, 1963)
  • N. P. Visscher, ‘Eenige Bijzonsderheden Over Frederik Houtman’, Kronyk van het Historisch Genootschap, 2nd series, vol 8 (1852), 362-71
  • J. Belonje, ‘De Zeevaarder Frederik Houtman en Zijn Familie’, De Navorscher, vol 84 (1935), 223-5.

Citation details

J. Van Lohuizen, 'Houtman, Frederik de (1571–1627)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Gouda, South Holland, Netherlands


21 October, 1627 (aged ~ 56)
Alkmaar, North Holland, Netherlands

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