Aboriginal Drawings Found 200 Years of Inscriptions

At the beginning of the 19th century, the crew of North American whaler ships wrote inscriptions on Aboriginal engravings.
Detail of the Connecticut Inscription with image enhancement. C: Center for Rock
The discovery provides the oldest evidence for the North American whale-hunters' moment of practice in Australia and contains important information for the maritime history.

At that time, the Dampier Archipelago (Murujuga) was hosting the people of Yaburara. The rock art across the archipelago is the evidence of 1,000-year-old connections with this region.

Were the whalers met with the people of Yaburara? Did they draw the Aboriginal drawings made before to show that they were the owners of this area? Or were they made for the purpose of celebration after going on the sea for months after their journey?
The answer to all these questions, we do not know.
An animation of an American whale ship in the 19th century. Dr. Kenneth McPherson, Indian Ocean Collection

These inscriptions, however, provide a rare insight into the lives of whalers and provide information about this oldest industry on the northwest coast.

Such historical inscriptions can be seen as graffiti. However, like other rock art, they tell important stories about our human history that cannot be collected from other sources.

Whaling in Australia

Ship-based whaling was a global phenomenon that lasted for centuries. At its peak in the mid-19th century, nearly 900 sailing ships were on the sea during multi-year cruises with crews of about 22,000 whalers.
In the Australian waters, most of the whaling was carried out by foreign ships, and in the 19th century, North American whalers dominated the world.

Whaling has led to the oldest contacts with a number of indigenous societies in America, Europe and Africa, Australia and the Pacific.
Connecticut inscription. C: Antiquity, Paterson et al 2019

However, foreign whalers' initial visits to the north-west of Australia were badly documented in the region, given the fact that there was no British colony-based existence until the 1860s.

The explorer, William Dampier, named the Dampier Archipelago and Rosemary Island in 1699. The English sea captain Phillip Parker King was the first person to document the encounters with the people of Yaburara in 1818. His visit to the archipelago during the rainy season (February) coincided with large groups of people who are currently using resources that are seasonally abundant.

The Swan River Colony (Perth) was founded in 1829, but the permanent European colonization in the northwest began only in the early 1860s with pastoralists and pearl collectors. This colonization for Yaburara was a disaster. The incidents resulted in the Flying Foam Massacre in 1868, when many people of Yaburara were killed.

The theme of early whaling

A few surviving ship registries recorded British and North American whalers in the Dampier Archipelago from 1801 onwards. However, the whale hunting near the arasında Rosemary Islands “lived between the 1840s and 1860s.


In the logbooks, the American whale ships are working together to hunt down humpback whale flocks migrating on the northwestern coastline of Australia during the winter months.
The largest of the Connecticut inscriptions is shown by the micro analysis of the inscription of the Aboriginal engravings. C: Antiquity, Paterson et al 2019

The crew of the ships landed for firewood, which helped to collect firewood, drinking water, and aiming the whales at the off-shore vehicles.

Research by archaeologists found evidence of landing in the inscriptions of two North American whaleship crew members, such as Connecticut and Delta.

The oldest of these inscriptions shows that Connecticut visited Rosemary Island on 18 August 1842. At least some of this inscription was made by Jacob Anderson, a 19-year-old African-American sailor from Connecticut's team list.

Research shows that the crew names of these ships have been overwritten by previous Aboriginal grid patterns.

The inscriptions and names found in the inscription were in parallel with the records of the harbor, which showed that Connecticut had left New London, Connecticut, in 1841. Captain Daniel Crocker and a team of 26 people.

On June 16, 1843, in Connecticut, Fremantle, New Zealand and Horn Cape, returned to New London with 1,800 barrels of oil.

Connecticut's journey log is missing, so without the inscriptions on the rocks, we knew nothing of the visit of this ship to the Dampier Archipelago.

On another island, another series of inscriptions recorded the visit to a similar point on July 12, 1849 by the Delta team.


Details of Delta inscriptions. C: Center for Rock Art Research

Delta, registered to Greenport in New York, traveled to 18 global whaling trips between 1832-1856. The registry confirmed the whales in the Dampier Archipelago from June 2 to September 8, 1849.

Ship records, kangaroos to hit and collect water is talking about the team coming ashore. However, there is no mention of writing or any contact with the people of Yaburara.

Given the dry season and the lack of permanent water on the islands, it was not surprising that this contact did not take place. However, these whalers have chosen to leave marks on the surfaces that have already been marked by the people of Yaburara. Whales who recorded their presence in these specific historical moments continued to work on the long-standing tradition of Yaburara, and to interact with and signify marine environments.

Protection of heritage

Between 1822 and 1963, whalers killed more than 26,000 whales (Eubalaena australis) and 40,000 humpback whales (Megaptera novaengliae) in Australia and New Zealand, making their populations disappear.

Commercial whaling in Australian waters ended 40 years ago on November 21, 1978, and the Cheynes Beach Whaling Station in Albany, Western Australia, was shut down.

Today, with the rise of whale populations, there are signs of renewal and the Aboriginal people are taking back the responsibility of the islands administration.

There is strong pressure on the Murujuga World Heritage List, which records thousands of years of human reactions for the sustainable use of this productive landscape.

These two whale-hunting articles provide the only known archaeological knowledge of the oldest global resource extraction in the northwest of Australia, a 200-year-old whale oil industry.

The inscriptions show once again the unique capacity of the Murujuga rock art to shed light on the previously unknown details of our common human history.
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