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The de Vlamingh Plate

WA Shipwrecks Museum - Joy of Museums - The de Vlamingh Plate

The de Vlamingh Plate is a flattened pewter dish inscribed with a record of the details of Willem de Vlamingh historic journey, that he left as a signpost of his visit and landing on the western Australian coast in 1697. The de Vlamingh Dish is preserved in an atmosphere of an inert gas, argon, to reduce corrosion.

The Dutch  tradition of signposting the Australian coast with a plate started in 1616, over 400 years ago, when Dirk Hartog became the first European to land on the western coast of Australia. Hartog left behind a flattened pewter dish inscribed with a record of the details of his historic journey. The Dutch established a long history of contact with Australia’s western coastline and in 1697, the Dusch captain Willem de Vlamingh discovered Hartog’s plate and replaced it with his own, The de Vlamingh Plate.

The Dirk Hartog’s Plate was signposted on Dirk Hartog Island and is the oldest-known artifact of European exploration in Australia still in existence. The original dish was returned to the Netherlands by Willem de Vlamingh where it is on display in the Rijksmuseum.

Vlamingh ships at the Swan River, Keulen 1796

Willem de Vlamingh’s ships, with black swans, at the entrance to the Swan River, Western Australia ( 1696 original). 

Stress from flattening process to produce plates from dinner bowls predisposed the plates to corrosion and cracking. Analysis of a tiny fragment of the plate strongly indicates an English origin of the tin and lead in the pewter alloy, probably Cornish tin and Derbyshire lead. The de Vlamingh plate was attached to a wooden post with rectangular iron-planking nails. As the iron corroded the run-off caused corrosion that formed the complex patina. It was recovered by a French explorer, Louis de Freycinet in 1818 and eventually taken to Paris where it remained until given by the French people to the Australian government after World War II.

The de Vlamingh Plate is one of Australia’s earliest ‘documents’, and a memorial of the early Dutch exploration of the Western Australian coast.

Essential Facts:

  • Title:                 The de Vlamingh Plate
  • Dates:               1697
  • Material:          Pewter dish
  • Museum:         WA Shipwrecks Museum

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“Art is like a shipwreck; it’s every man for himself.” Marcel Duchamp

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Photo Credit: By GordonMakryllos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Johannes van Keulen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons