To generate some awareness of this connection, the BCMHA sponsored a prize in this year’s ASTROFEST photographic competition, for any photograph featuring the Southern Cross. The winner was Luke Bussellato whose photograph appears here.
Frederick de Houtman accompanied the first Dutch fleet to the East Indies as a volunteer, probably as another adventure with his older brother Cornelis was Commander of the Fleet. They had already been to Lisbon together to spy on the Portuguese to find out their spice-trading secrets.
Frederick, quite well educated at the Gouda Latin School, was taken on as an assistant to the fleet’s chief pilot, Pieter Keyser, with one of their tasks being to plot – for the first time – the position of the stars of the southern hemisphere. Keyser died during the voyage and Houtman took over his role in charting the skies. On a second voyage he continued his observations and recording – including during more than two years in prison in Aceh (that’s another story!). The result of all these observations was twelve new constellations and recognition of the star pattern called the Southern Cross as a constellation. The Cross had been known for a long time, but its stars had never previously been accurately plotted, so Houtman’s records put it in the right spot and the right size for the first time.
The Cross and the patterns around it darkness and light through the sweep of the Milky Way feature in many first Australian stories of the night sky too.
As the Italian explorer Andrea Corsali, who accompanied a Portuguese voyage into the Indian Ocean in 1515, described the star pattern in a letter sent back to Florence:
“This cross is so fair and beautiful, that no other heavenly sign may be compared to it”.