History is reluctant to give 17th century explorer William Dampier his just due.
Just because he hobnobbed with pirates, spent 13 years plundering ships in the West Indies, Central America, whatever ocean he was in, and doing a little arson on the side.
But then history has been known to make mistakes.
Dampier, you see, had a sensitive, more intellectual side.
While he never completely reformed (nobody’s perfect), the British government eventually commissioned him to take look at the world and report back for England.
That he did. And did. And did again.
While Magellan, Sir Francis Drake and Captain Cook went around the world once, he was the first man to sail around it three times.
He had immense curiosity; he provided some of the earliest descriptions of coastlines, rivers, villages and native cultures in his journals published in 1697.
Writing about the Moskito Indians that he encountered, between Cape Honduras and Nicaragua:
“They are very ingenious at throwing the lance, or any manner of dart, being bred to it from their Infancy; for the Children imitating their parents, never go abroad without a lance in their hands, which they throw at any object, till use hath made them masters of the Art.”
Dampier’s “New Voyage Round the World” became the first English travel book, which he knew enough to dedicate to the President of the Royal Society of London.
His 1699 excursion was a bit of a disaster, losing ships, alienating men, but he did take a mutinous ship to “New Holland,” which eventually became known as Australia.
He was, in fact, the first to chart the coastlines and currents around Australia and New Guinea, which he recorded in “A Voyage to New Holland.”
“New Holland is a very large tract of land. It is not yet determined whether it is an island or a main continent; but I am certain that it ‘joyns’ neither to Asia, Africa, nor America.”
He was right.
His observations and analysis of natural history helped Darwin and Alexander von Humboldt advance their theories.
Buccaneer turns scientific mind without completely losing his roots or his mind.
You have to admire a man like that.
Certainly a worthy member in our pantheon of those audacious explorers that managed, despite themselves, to shed some light on the world.