Tristan's modern history starts in 1790, when the first more or less permanent settlers (Patten c.s.) came ashore, and (apart from the evacuation in 1961) Tristan never was uninhabited again. Before that time, not many ships visited Tristan, and many of those who did, were Dutch.
We do not know how many Portuguese ships sighted or visited Tristan da Cunha in the 16th century, after its discovery in 1506 by admiral Tristão da Cunha. The discovery of Gough (formerly named Diego Alvarez) is not documented, but Nigel Wace, in his article The discovery, exploitation and settlement of the Tristan da Cunha Islands (Proc. Royal Geogr. Soc. of Australia, S. Austr. Branch, vol 70, 1969) argues that it may have been seen already in 1505 by the Portuguese Gonçalo Alvarez, and that the island in fact was named after him (the name Gonçalo Alvarez later being corrupted into Diego Alvarez). In Rozell C. Smith's The Ships of Tristan da Cunha, a listing 1506-1991 (Page, Dartford, 1991) a Portuguese fleet is mentioned, visiting Tristan in 1583.
The first non-Portuguese ship arrived at Tristan in 1601, and it was Dutch (Bruinvis, skipper Westzanen). We may well call the 17th century the 'Dutch Period' in Tristan history. I know of at least 18 Dutch ships around Tristan or Gough during that period, against only six others (5 British, 1 French). By contrast, in the 18th century there were no Dutch visits at all. Tristan visitors were British, French (there even was an Austrian), and American. Being Dutch myself, I have a special interest in the 'Dutch Period'.
With respect to the early Dutch visits, most Tristan books or ships' listings heavily rely on Jan Brander's book Tristan da Cunha, 1506-1901 (Allen & Unwin, London, 1940). Brander, a Dutch teacher in geography and history, did a lot of digging in the archives of the Dutch East India Company, and since most Tristan authors cannot read Dutch, nobody followed him there. I did. This was a rewarding excercise, because today these archives are much easier to access than in Brander's days. An important source for instance is Dutch Asiatic Shipping, by Bruijn et al. (Martinus Nijhoff, Den Haag, 1979), which sums op over 4700 outgoing voyages of the Dutch East India Company. It mentions the following 'unknown' visits to Tristan:
On April 6th, 1646, the Witte Olifant, Koning David and Witte Paard left Texel. On September 5th they are said to have arrived at Tristan. From archives kept in Batavia, it appears that the story is different. The three ships sailed in the company of two others, the Zeelandia and the Patria. On the 5th of September, 'about Tristan da Cunha', they had to split up, because the first three ships ran out of drinking water, and had to divert to the Cape of Good Hope. Zeelandia and Patria arrived in Batavia on November 12th, the three others in December. The captains got reprimanded, because they would have been on schedule, had they taken more water at the Cape Verde Islands. From this story I must conclude that none of these ships touched Tristan.
The Elburg was said to have been forced to spend four weeks at Tristan, because of ... calms. Who can believe that? The diary of Jan van Riebeeck, Governor of the Cape, says that the ship arrived at the Cape on 13 April 1658, that no place was visited on the way, and that the ship had been troubled by calms for four weeks, between Tristan da Cunha and the Cape. So this is another non-visitor.
Remains the Ternate, which very literally 'touched' Tristan: it nearly wrecked. The Ternate left Texel on 31 May 1681. In thick fog it scraped the rocks of Tristan, and sprang a small leak. Fortunately it could get away, and proceed to the Cape, where it arrived on 27 September. The Ternate continued its voyage to Batavia, but never sailed since.
I also checked some incomplete records of 'known' visitors, like Jacob Speckx in 1628, where Brander does not name a ship. Actually, Speckx visited Tristan in 1629, not 1628. He left Texel in December 1628, and arrived at Tristan on 7 June, 1629, with the ships Hollandia, Der Goes, Oostzaenen, and Westzaenen. An attempted landing failed. Admiral Speckx was appointed Governor General of the Dutch East Indies, after Jan Pietersz. Coen, the first Governor General, died.
I have no news to add to what is already known about the Bruinvis, Heemstede, 't Nachtglas, Graveland, Grundel, Geelvinck, Nijptangh, and Weseltje, but I read some of their reports, and give detailed accounts in my book (these ships can also be found in most existing books on Tristan).
When digging into Speckx, I found a 'true new' visitor: Artus Gijsels, who was sent as governor to Ambon, with the Deventer, Middelburg, and Hof van Holland. On 3 August 1930 he saw the islands of Tristan. Like Speckx the year before, he was impressed by their beauty and ruggedness, but he attempted no landing.
A 'new' visitor to Gough comes from the report of the Grundel. After visiting Tristan (1969) the Grundel searched for Diego Alvarez (the old name for Gough) in vain, at the 38th parallel. Therefore, the captain concluded that twelve years earlier Van Goens, who saw an island at 40 degrees, of which nobody believed that it could have been Diego Alvarez, must have seen that island after all! So I dug up Van Goens' report. With his ship Orangie he circled around the island in February 1657. Diego Alvarez was at that time believed to lie further north, so Van Goens did not know what he was seeing. Meanwhile, Gough has been moved to the right place on the map, and, judging from his descriptions, Van Goens cannot have seen anything else.
Wace mentions another Dutch visit which we do not often see in Tristan literature. In 1690 the French Huguenot François Leguat (after fleeing from France) sailed from Texel with the Hirondelle (in English sources named Swallow) to Rodriguez in the Indian Ocean. He saw Tristan, but a landing could not be made. Leguat became famous for his reports on now extinct birds on Rodriguez (e.g. the dodo-like solitaire).
There are few 17th Century non-Dutch visitors. There is one French visit (Vautour in 1676, mentioned by Headland), and three possible British visits: the Globe in 1610 (allegedly the first British sighting of Tristan), a 'maybe' landing on Gough by Antoine de la Roche in 1675 (mentioned by Wace, quoted from Wace by Headland), and the Welfare, Kent and Rainbow in 1685. Speaking of 'maybe' visits, I would like to cast some doubt on the visit of the Globe in 1610. The report only says that they must have been close to land: for wee saw dyvers foules that keepe aboute the Cape, etc. These followed us from the island of Tristan d'a Chuna to the Cape. It does not mention actual sighting of the island.
To conclude the 17th Century, I would like to mention two non-visitors. According to Brander, Willem IJsbrantsz. Bontekoe saw Tristan in 1618, but Bontekoe's report explicitly states that they must have passed close, but did not see the island. In Rozell C. Smith's The Ships of Tristan da Cunha, a listing 1506-1991 (Page,Dartford, 1991) there is mention of a Dutch fleet and an attempted landing in 1626. I found no trace of this visit in any other source, and since Smith does not give a source for this one (which he otherwise does), and the failed landing went exactly like Speckx's attempt, I conclude that this is a duplication, 1628 being misread or misprinted as 1626.
For the 18th Century, I only wish to treat a non-visitor, and three French ships new to Tristan literature. Margareth McKay, in her book The Angry Island (Barker, London, 1963), mentions a visit around 1775 of the French captain Daprès de Mannevilette, who was the only one ever reporting large numbers of sea turtles on Tristan beaches. Being a biologist, I know that this is impossible. Daprès de Mannevilette wrote a description of the sea route to the East (Le Neptune Oriental, 1769), based on various ships' journals. There is no indication that he visited Tristan himself, and apparently he mixed up reports from other islands. Part of his description is very much correct, however, and quoted from the journals of l'Adelaide, l'Eclatant, and le Fendant, who visited Tristan in 1711, and escaped notice of previous Tristan historians.
Below I give an update of the ships visiting Tristan or Gough before 1800 (? means visit uncertain. Po = Portugal, Nl = Netherlands, Br = Britain, Fr = France, Au = Austria, US = United States of America). Visitors to Tristan may also have visited Gough. Towards the end of the 19th Century, there also have been a great many unrecorded visits of whalers, often from the US.
Year ships and captains from to ________________________________________________________________ 1505 Gonçalo Alvarez Po Gough? 1506 Capitão Mor, Santiago, Tristão da Cunha Po Tristan 1583 fleet Po Tristan 1601 Bruinvis, Willem van Westzanen Nl Tristan 1610 Globe, Pieter Florisz., Anthony Hippon Br Tristan? 1629 Hollandia, Der Goes, Westzaenen, Oostzaenen, Jacob Speckx Nl Tristan 1630 Deventer, Middelburg, Hof van Holland, Artus Gijsels Nl Tristan 1643 Heemstede, Bierenbroodspot van Hoorn Nl Tristan 1656 't Nachtglas, Jan Jacobsz. Nl Tristan 1657 Orangie, Van Goens Nl Gough 1669 Grundel, Gerritz. Riddermuis Nl Tristan 1675 Antoine de la Roche Br Gough? 1676 Vautour Fr Tristan 1681 Ternate, Gerritz. Nl Tristan 1685 Welfare, Kent, Rainbow Br Tristan 1690 Hirondelle, Valleau, François Leguat Nl Tristan 1696 Geelvinck, Nijptang, Wezeltje, Willem de Vlaming Nl Tristan 1700 Paramore, Edmund Halley Br Tristan 1708 St. Louis Fr Tristan? 1711 l'Adelaide, l'Eclatant, le Fendant, Housfaije, le Chevalier Fr Tristan 1732 Richmond, Gough Br Gough 1758 Osterly, Vincent Br Gough 1760 Gamiel Nightingale Br Tristan 1767 Etoile du Matin, l'Heure du Berger, d'Etchevery, Sieur Donat Fr Tristan 1775 Joseph et Thérèse, Bolts Au Tristan 1777 Cormorant, Rippon, Vernon Br Tristan 1790 Betsy, Colquhoun US Tristan 1790 Industry, Patten US Tristan 1791 Philadelphia, Cahoone US Tristan 1791 Warren, Smith US Tristan 1792 Grand Turk, Hodges US Tristan 1792 Lion, Hindostan, Jackal, Gower Br Tristan 1792 General Elliott Br Tristan 1793 Le Courier, Le Gars Fr Tristan 1794 Essex Br Tristan 1799 Sally, Péron Fr Tristan