The History of Australian Discovery and Colonisation By Samuel Bennett

The History of Australian Discovery and Colonisation

By Samuel Bennett

it is probable that accounts of the
existence of the great unknown country beyond them
reached the Western world, and were handed down from age
to age as part of the traditionary knowledge of mankind.
It is impossible to fix the date at which this knowledge
found its way to Europe ; but there are good reasons for
believing that the northern coasts of the continent of
Australia were not wholly unknown to Strabo and other
ancient geographers previous to the Christian era*
Strabo (R.C. 50,) mentions a great island which lay about
twenty days’ sail south-east from India, and which stretched
far towards the west. Pomponius Mela also mentions a
Great South Land, but is uncertain whether it is an island
or the beginning of another continent. Pliny (A.D. 77,)
refers to a great island to the south of the equator, the central
parts of which were said to be occupied by an inland sea.
Ptolemy, (A.D. 150,) after describing the Malay Peninsula
under the name of the Golden Chersonesus, states that
beyond it to the south-east lay a great bay. At the utmost
extremity of this bay, in latitude eight and a half degrees
south, he places Catigara, the most remote place to which the
navigators of his time had penetrated. From this bay he says
the land turned to the west, and stretched in that direction to
an unknown distance. The latitude given by Ptolemy
would indicate a position in the bay, or apparent bay, formed
by the south-western shores of New Guinea and the
northernmost parts of Australia. The narrow channel
dividing the two countries — discovered by Torres, a Spanish
navigator, so recently as the early part of the seventeenth
century — was of course unknown in the time of Ptolemy,
and consequently that portion of the Indian Ocean would
appear to the navigators of his age to be a very deep and
extensive bay. From this great bay Ptolemy states that the
coast stretched to the west until, as he believed, it reached
the eastern extremity of Africa.
This error did not originate with Ptolemy, although the almost
universal reception for many ages of his system of geography
greatly contributed to maintain and spread it. Hipparchus,
who may be considered as his teacher and guide, had taught
that the earth was not surrounded by the ocean, but that the
sea was separated by isthmuses, which divided it into several
large basins. Ptolemy, having adopted this opinion, was the
more readily led to the belief that the great unknown country




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