Dampier, William

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Dampier, William

William Dampier (dăm´pēr), 1651–1715, English explorer, buccaneer, hydrographer, and naturalist. He fought (1673) in the Dutch War, managed a plantation in Jamaica (1674), and then worked with logwood cutters in Honduras (1675–78). After taking part in a buccaneering expedition against Spanish America (1679–81), he sailed from Virginia in 1683 on a piratical voyage along the coast of Africa, across the Atlantic, and around Cape Horn to prey on Spanish cities on the west coast of South America. The party split up, and Dampier joined a group that crossed to the Philippines. Dampier was marooned (probably voluntarily) in the Nicobar Islands. After many hardships, he returned to England in 1691. He published a widely read account of his experiences in A New Voyage round the World (1697), supplemented by Voyages and Descriptions (1699), which included Discourse of Trade-Winds, a masterly treatise on hydrography.

Dampier was made a naval officer and commanded an expedition (1699–1701) to Australia, New Guinea, and New Britain (which he discovered to be an island and named). Other discoveries included Dampier Archipelago and Dampier Strait. His vessel, the Roebuck, finally foundered off Ascension island. Dampier subsequently commanded an unsuccessful privateering expedition (1703–7) in the course of which Alexander Selkirk was voluntarily marooned. Dampier's account was published in his Voyage to New Holland (Part I, 1703; Part II, 1709). Though an excellent hydrographer and navigator, he proved an incompetent commander, guilty of drunkenness and overbearing conduct. He was also pilot to Woodes Rogers on a voyage around the world (1708–11). Dampier had a wide-ranging impact on future generations: his navigational methods influenced both Captain James Cook and Admiral Horatio Nelson, while his scientific observations effected the theories of both Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin.

See editions of Dampier's writings by J. Masefield (1906) and Sir Albert Gray (1927, repr. 1968); biographies by J. Shipman (1962), C. Lloyd (1966), and D. and M. Preston (2004).

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