As I read more about the development of the amazing country that is Australia learning about some it’s key figures and their legacy in the names of cities and bays I wondered how the country itself got it’s name.
In an attempt to map our world, early geographers used the term ‘terra australis incognito’ in reference to an unnamed southern land which at that time they could only surmise existed.
In 1605 the Spaniard Pedro Fernandez de Quiros set sail from South America in search of these southern lands and landed at Vanuatu naming the surrounding islands and all lands south Australia de Esparto Sancto – Australia of the South of the Holy Spirit. ‘Australia’ was a clever combination of the Greek ‘Australis’ and Austria in tribute to the then King of Spain who was part of the Austrian Hapsburg dynasty.
In 1642 the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman circumnavigated, at some distance it appears, around this southern land and named it New Holland. When The First Fleet arrived at Botany Bay in 1788 it was not yet know known if this newly claimed land of New South Wales and Tasman’s New Holland were part of the same land mass. However, in 1802 Matthew Flinders, a distinguished British navigator and cartographer, successfully circumnavigated the continent proving they were one in the same and it was then marked as Australia on future maps. It was not until 1817 that the then Governor of New South Wales, Lachlan Acquire proposed that the name Australia to refer to the vast island be adopted.
So was it the Spanish or the British?