The First Doctor in Australia
In 1619 Frederick de Houtman, Captain-General of the Dordrecht, sailed east across the Indian Ocean, almost to the west coast of Austrlalia. What he found was an extensive coral reef, which he immediately recognised as a major hazard for shipping. The location of the reef, later named Houtman Abrolhos, was clearly marked on the maps for future Dutch ships to avoid. The difficulty was that, although it was easy to determine latitude using a sextant, longitude was only determined by time since last port and the ship's speed. The ships were using the roaring forties to expedite their travels to Jakarta (then called Batavia) and the spice islands. This made estimation of their easterly progress very difficult.
The first overseas trained doctor to arrive on Australian shores was Frans Jansz who was the ship's surgeon on the Dutch ship Batavia. He came also with his assistant surgeon Aris Jansz. Their ship, the pride of the Dutch East India Company, was on its maiden voyage when it was shipwrecked on Houtman Abrolhos in 1629. Amongst the 220 survivors was another medical practitioner, Jeronimus Cornelisz, an apothecary. He took charge of the survivors whilst the commander, Francisco Pelsaert, sailed in a longboat to a previously unexplored (by Europeans) part of Australia looking for water (which he failed to find) and then north up the coastline and eventually to Jakarta, where he was supplied with a rescue ship. In the 15 weeks that Pelsaert was away, Cornelisz organised a band of mutineers who became responsible for the brutal murders of all but about 80 of the survivors, including most of the children and women. The executions and rapes make it possibly the worst page in Australian history.