gen Leeuwin skipper. | The West Australian

A mystery that has long eluded historians has been solved by a WA academic.

Who was the skipper of the Dutch vessel Leeuwin that mapped some of the south-west corner of WA in the 17th century, lending its name to a myriad of features?

His name was Jan Fransz. An alternate spelling could be Fransen or Franssen.

The breakthrough has come from painstaking work by Nonja Peters, an adjunct associate professor with the John Curtin Institute of Public Policy.

Dr Peters scoured the Dutch archives to solve the mystery.

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The work became possible after documents that had languished for centuries came freshly to light via digitisation.

“Researching the Leeuwin narrative has been challenging,” Dr Peters said.

“None of the leading maritime scholars have identified the skipper on the ship’s 1621 outbound voyage from Amsterdam to Batavia.

“My research on the Leeuwin from 2012 provided no more information than the specialists had already uncovered. However, my interest was reignited in 2021 by recently digitised documents.

“These made my recent hunt far more absorbing.

“Dutch antiquarian and humanist Arnoldus Buchelius’ comment at the end of his March 8, 1621, diary entry took my breath away.

“He writes: ‘The Leeuwin, a ship of about 400 tons, is the only one being refitted here. It was built a few years ago and recently purchased by the Amsterdam Chamber. However, it was found to lack the structural integrity necessary to go a great distance. After many crucial adjustments, including enlarging and strengthening, it is now suitable for the lengthy voyage under skipper Jan Fransz from Hoorn’ (Hoorn being the city where he was born)‘.

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