William Dampier’s Firsts.

Luke Fater writes for Atlas Obscura about an unexpected lexical goldmine:

British-born William Dampier began a life of piracy in 1679 in Mexico’s Bay of Campeche. Orphaned in his late teens, Dampier set sail for the Caribbean and fell into a twentysomething job scramble. Seeing no future in logging or sugar plantations, he was sucked into the burgeoning realm of New World raiding, beginning what would be the first of his record-breaking three circumnavigations. A prolific diarist, Dampier kept a journal wrapped in a wax-sealed bamboo tube throughout his journeys. During a year-long prison sentence in Spain in 1694, Dampier would convert these notes into a novel that became a bestseller and seminal travelogue.

Parts of A New Voyage Around the World read like a 17th-century episode of No Reservations, with Dampier playing a high-stakes version of Anthony Bourdain. Aside from writing groundbreaking observations on previously un-researched subjects in meteorology, maritime navigation, and zoology, food was a constant throughout his work. […]

While you won’t find flamingos, penguins, or turtles on too many contemporary menus, several contributions from A New Voyage reshaped our modern English food vocabulary. In the Bay of Panama, Damier wrote of a fruit “as big as a large lemon … [with] skin [like] black bark, and pretty smooth.” Lacking distinct flavor, he wrote, the ripened fruit was “mixed with sugar and lime juice and beaten together [on] a plate.” This was likely the English language’s very first recipe for guacamole. Later, in the Philippines, Dampier noted of young mangoes that locals “cut them in two pieces and pickled them with salt and vinegar, in which they put some cloves of garlic.” This was the English language’s first recipe for mango chutney. His use of the terms “chopsticks,” “barbecue,” “cashew,” “kumquat,” “tortilla,” and “soy sauce” were also the first of their kind. […]

In the years following its publication, A New Voyage became an international bestseller, skyrocketing Dampier to wealth and fame. The first of its kind, the work generated a hunger among European audiences for travel writing, serving as an inspiration for Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Charles Darwin brought a copy of A New Voyage with him aboard the Beagle’s voyage to South America, having cited the book as a “mine of information.” Noting his keen eye for wind and current mapping, the British Royal Navy consulted him on best practices, later extending him captainship of the HMS Roebuck, on which he was commissioned for an in-depth exploration of South Africa, Australia, and Indonesia.

Alas, his name became mud (“For generations, Dampier was taught throughout much of the Commonwealth as, first and only, a piratical figure.[…] Disgraced and indebted by court fines, Dampier died penniless”), but he led an interesting life and provided us with some delicious words. Thanks, Trevor!


  1. John Emerson says

    As someone more interested in words than in reality, I could not concentrate on William Dampier but immediately jumped to William Cecil Dampier Dampier Wetham, and from there to the question: “Was there a William Dampiest, or is the Dampiest yet to come?”

  2. John Emerson says

    The Google has told me that “Dampiest “ is accepted by some but not all Scrabble dictionaries.

  3. He’s well known in Australia. I was surprised by the statement “his name became mud”. He’s well regarded here

  4. Agree with zyxt. My fieldwork site in Papua New Guinea was SSW of the Dampier Strait between New Britain and Umboi (formerly Rooke) Island off the Huon Peninsula of mainland New Guinea. I was on the south side of the Huon Gulf. Dampier himself charted the passage in 1700. The Vitiaz Strait (named for an Imperial Russian vessel in 1870) runs between Umboi and the mainland of NG. The currents can be treacherous and the direction changes each season. The Siassi people who live on the islands between the straits are the long-distance traders in the area.

  5. His book was a travelogue not a novel, and his influence such that Swift made him Lemuel Gulliver’s cousin. In the second volume of his history of the Pacific (`Buccaneers and Freebooters’) O.H.K. Spate describes him as “‘given to rambling’ in very mixed company, never seeking prominence, always rather detached: the sort of man who is called ‘the Prof'”. He describes Dampier’s voyages in detail, for the last one saying ‘As a sensible and resourceful subordinate, he was invaluable; as a commander, an almost pitiable failure’.

  6. I note that the Royal Navy court-martial found the famous pirate guilty of a heinous crime:

    “Hard and cruel usage of the lieutenant”.

  7. David Marjanović says

    Is that “abuse”, i.e. beating him up?

  8. PlasticPaddy says

    Trouble had surfaced even before they left at Deptford, however, centring on acrimony between Dampier and his first Lieutenant George Fisher RN. One of his biographers Clennell Wilkinson indicates that from the moment of departure they were apparently;

    ‘behaving equally as boors without a spark of dignity or self-respect… alternately drinking together, backbiting one another to their confidants, and breaking into personal abuse and even fisticuffs in presence of the crew’

    An inevitable state of indiscipline ensued, and en route Fisher was caned by Dampier, clapped in irons and confined to his quarters. The crew were divided on the matter and, concerned at the possibility of mutiny, Dampier had Fisher sent ashore and imprisoned at Bahia in Brazil.
    Source: http://museum.wa.gov.au/research/research-areas/maritime-archaeology/treasures-from-the-deep/dampier/roebuck

  9. Graham Asher says

    “British-born William Dampier” – William Dampier was English. ‘British’ as a nationality didn’t exist till 1707. And it’s curious how even now Scots are referred to, quite correctly, as Scots, but English people are referred to as British.

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