Wikipedia mentions early 17th century exploration of New Holland beginning in the first few years of the 1600s, but insofar as I can tell doesn't really go into what was carried on board those ships. I'm mostly interested in the first few expeditions, which makes this primarily about the 1606 expedition by Willem Janszoon (February/March 1606), and to a lesser extent those of Pedro Fernandes de Queirós (May 1606) and Luís Vaz de Torres (August 1606) because the latter two didn't land on the Australian mainland.

I want to know what types of weapons were carried. In case none were actually carried (I find that to be unlikely, but you never know), then what types of weapons were carried on otherwise similarly equipped journeys around the same time (as in, what would have been carried if they had carried weapons)?

I'm mainly interested in weapons that would be usable and ideally carried by individuals (such as knives/daggers, handguns or muskets). Details on weaponry available on the ship (such as cannons) might also be of interest, but isn't my primary focus with this question.

As indicated by the example of knives or daggers above, this question is not limited to firearms.

  • I hope that this is narrow enough to be on topic. If someone more familiar with the site knows of better tags, please feel free to retag!
    – user
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 19:11
  • Wouldn't it be better to list which expedition, at least? Probably easier to answer then.
    – J Asia
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 19:20
  • @JAsia I looked around the article you linked, as well as those linked from it, and narrowed this down to Janszoon's expedition in early 1606. I hope that's narrow enough to be answerable; if not, please let me know what else might help narrow it down further.
    – user
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 19:57
  • @JAsia I didn't mean to imply that you were asking purely for your own benefit, and I appreciate the feedback on how to narrow down the question. I can always ask additional questions later about other expeditions if needed, but an answer to the question as it stands now would provide me with a good starting point.
    – user
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 20:19
  • 1
    I've deleted my earlier comments (too messy). Have you seen this, The Part Borne by the Dutch in the Discovery of Australia 1606-1765. You are allowed to answer your own question (and welcome to ask for more info from others).
    – J Asia
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 20:35

2 Answers 2


The early 17th was a period of transition in warfare. (It was to a some degree initiated by Maurice of Orange.) Somewhat simplistically:

  • Before the 17th century, the infantry arm of choice pretty much was a long pointy stick of some kind or another. Think pike, halberd, etc. - long and pointy pole arms that required little training. There were some early firearms as well.
  • In the early 17th, matchlock muskets became common, and it was routine to see infantry units with both muskets and pole arms (to keep cavalry at bay). Bayonets were invented around then, too.
  • By the end of the 17th, flintlocks were replacing matchlocks, and military tactics were shifting towards musket-only units with bayonets.

As to sidearms, think clubs and axes rather than swords. Early metallurgy was unreliable enough that you wouldn't know if your sword could withstand getting smashed over and over as you parry until it's too late.


Denis' answer is helpful as an overview of European weaponry in the period, but a more complete answer would need to look more directly to historical records of the early Dutch expeditions to Australia. I'm not finding much but here are a few hints.

Quoting from a web page about Janszoon's voyage:

In 1603, Willem Janszoon was given command of his first ship, Duyfken. At 50 tons, it was small but solidly built, armed with 2 heavy canon, 3 smaller canons and various muskets and swords.

There is at least indirect evidence that Janszoon's men might have used muskets against the aboriginal population. In 1623, Carstensz noted that the natives of northern Cape York were particularly hostile and wrote in his diary that:

they are also acquainted with muskets, of which they would seem to have experienced the fatal effect when in 1606 the men of the Duyfken made a landing there.

This may have been speculation on Carstensz's part, but we know for certain that his own men carried muskets. This is discussed in "Aboriginal - Dutch Relations in North Queensland, 1606 -1756" by Loos and a couple of relevant chapters in the book Strangers on the shore: Early coastal contacts in Australia.

Beyond that I will defer to a thesis which says that, "the current knowledge about the quality, equipments and tactics of VOC infantry [...] does not warrant any comprehensive conclusions on the matter."

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