Amsterdam/St Paul
Discovery and Early History

Other Amsterdam/St Paul pages on this site


Early History

Recent History

Other Amsterdam/St Paul Sites

Edouard Fromentel's journey to Amsterdam

Jean-Yves Georges Site

Seabird Literature

Sea Floor Spreading nr Amsterdam

Albatros - Amsterdam Patrol Boat

Official TAAF Site

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The Islands

St Helena

Tristan da Cunha

Gough Island

Inaccessible Island


South Georgia

Marion Island

Crozet Islands


Amsterdam/St Paul

Heard Island

Amsterdam Island was discovered on March 18 1522 by Juan Sebastien De el Cano on board the Victoria. The log of Francisco Alvo,Victoria's navigator, when sailing from Timor to the Cape, states that when

passing 37° 35' south latitude, he found a high island approximately six miles around and appearing uninhabited, but upon which he could not land, in spite of several attempts

A century later, Harwick Claesz de Hillegom saw a second island, and estimated its latitude at 38°50' South. He gave it the name of its ship, Zeewolf: this island is today called Saint Paul.

In 1559, Evert Gysaerths marked on his chart at 38°S an island with the comment

T.Q. descrobio O nao S. Paulo

On June 17 1633, the Dutchman Van Diemen while sailing to Java, passed between Amsterdam & St Paul aboard his ship New Amsterdam, and gave this name to the northernmost of the two islands.

Coast of Amsterdam Island
The coast of Amsterdam Island

The first landing did not take place until 1696, and was made by by the Dutchman de Vlaming. de Vlaming described the two islands in his accounts. At this stage in the island's history, it was thickly forested.

But it was only on March 28, 1792 that Admiral d' Entrecasteauxand de Kermadec performed the first detailed surveys of the eastern coast of Amsterdam. During this visit, d'Entrecasteaux described the island as on fire, not knowing whether this fire was due to natural or human causes.

Sealers arrived on both Amsterdam & St Paul between 1791 and 1800, when the Nootka, Flora and Mary between them took almost 75,000 fur seals.

Sealers were still visiting Amsterdam in 1825, and caused a forest fire that lasted for several months, devastating the philica trees indigenous to the island.

A group of tradesman from Reunion, eager to establish a fishery on St Paul pressed the Governor to take possession of these two islands. This was done by a decree of June 8, 1843, with the tricolour hoisted there and the Captain Dupeyrat returning on board his boat, Olympe, after leaving a small detachment of sailors and some fishermen on St Paul.

Six months later, the captain charged to supply the small garrison on St Paul and fishermen established in the crater, returned and submitted a pessimistic report on the resources and living conditions on the island. The French governor then refused to ratify the recent act of possession, and ordered the garrison to be evacuated.

The second half of the 19th century was marked by several scientific visits. From November 19 to December 6, 1857, the Austrian frigate Novara disembarked a team which studied the flora, fauna, and geology of Saint Paul. From September 23, 1874 to 4 January 1875, a team of French astronomers observed the Transit of Venus on Saint Paul (along with observers on other islands such as Kerguelen)

Amsterdam, which until there had seen only some fishermen, sealers or shipwrecked mariners, was colonised in December 1870. An inhabitant of Reunion, Heurtin, with his family and some companions, landed from the Sarcelle on January 18, 1871, to try agriculture and cattle breeding. The results were poor and Heurtin and his party returned to Reunion on August 19, 1871.

Captain Coffin and crewmen from the Annie Battles were rescued from Amsterdam Island after mutineers stranded them there in 1874.

After the landing of Dupeyrat in 1843, the fishermen of Reunion continued to visit the two islands. Though they believed the islands to be French, they could not be certain until the sloop Bourdonnais once again raised the tricolour on the two islands in October 1892. Despite heavy seas, the ceremony took place on Amsterdam, but the same operation failed on St Paul.

In January 1893, when returning to Kerguelen, the Eure again took possession.