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Naming of Australia
Naming of Australia
Naming of Australia
Dutch map of southern lands from about 1690
The question "Who named Australia?" is not a simple one to
answer. Firstly there is the question of the origin of the name, its
variants and how and when it was made official. Secondly there is the
question of what the name is applying to. Is it a region? Is it a group
of islands? Is it the island continent itself? Below are a few important
dates and occurrences leading to the naming of Australia.
- Ancient times - Greeks use the word australis to
mean south or the southern part of the world.
- 800 to 1400 - geographers continue to use the word australis to refer to the region and in particular refer to
terra australis incognita (unknown or un-named southern land).
Did the Spanish
There are claims that the Spanish
were responsible for the naming of Australia. It is claimed
that in 1606 Pedro Fernandez de Quiros landed not on Vanuatu
but on the coast of Queensland. He then applied the name Austrialia de Espirito Sancto
not to the region but the great south land he believed he
had discovered. Back in Europe, usage quickly led to the
dropping of the first "i" (and hence the compliment to the
Hapsburgs) in Austrialia and the name Australia
If all the above were true, then we
could say with some certainty that the Spanish named
Australia. At White Hat we see little substantial evidence
to support such a theory. However new historical evidence is
unearthed from time to time and if new evidence regarding
the naming of Australia emerges we may then need to revise
If you are interested in the
theory, you can find more information at
- 1605-6 - The Spaniard Pedro Fernandez de Quiros sails from South
America in search of the great south land. Arriving at Vanuatu in
the New Hebrides declares "all this region of the south as
far as the Pole"
to be named Austrialia de Espirito Sancto.
The name means roughly "Austria of the south of the Holy
Spirit". The "de Espirito Sanctou" paid tribute to the Holy
Spirit for guiding and protecting the voyage while the "Austrialia"
was an invented hybrid word combining the names Austria and
australis.as a compliment to King Phillip III of
Spain who was a member of the House of Habsburg (Austria).
- 1642-3 - The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman makes a complete
circuit around Australia (for most of the time at a large distance)
thus helping define the outer limits of any possible great south
- 1638 - The Dutch publication Generale Beschrijvinge
van Indien describing Dutch voyages in the East Indies uses the
word Australische (the Dutch version of southern) throughout
the text to refer to regions south of the East Indies. However,
whoever was responsible for compiling the index uses the word Australia in the index rather
- 1756 - Charles de Brosses uses the word Australasia in
Histoire des Navigations aux Terres Australes to label the
still only partially-known area to the south of Asia. The name
Australasia is still used today to designate Australia
together with surrounding larger and smaller islands including New
Zealand and New Guinea.
- 1788 - On 26th January 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip
arrives with the First Fleet of mainly convicts from Britain and at
Sydney Cove declares the area then and declares New South Wales to
be a British colony. This date is now celebrated as 'Australia Day'
although strictly it should be called New South Wales Day as the
British were not to adopt that name until later and it was still not
known if New South Wales and New Holland formed part of the same
- 1802-3 Mathew Flinders
circumnavigates the large continental mass proving that the areas
known at that time as New Holland and New South Wales were part of
the same continent. On his map the name Australia is used for
the first time (to White Hat's knowledge) to specifically describe
the continent that now bears that name.
So who gave Australia its name? If you want a simple answer we would
have to say Matthew Flinders. He was the first to know for certain that
what he was dealing with was an island continent, referred to it as Australia and his naming recommendation was eventually accepted by
the British authorities. However if we found ourselves in a pub
surrounded by swarthy Spanish sailors we might become receptive to
European Voyages of Discovery
Footnote: The Australian anthropologist
Raymond Dart made one of the most
important discoveries of early man. Although discovered in southern
Africa, it may have been Dart's Australian heritage to name the
fossil Australopithecus africanus using austral in its original
meaning of 'south'. The combination of Greek and Latin however did not
sit well with some scientists.
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