In August 1699, the English adventurer William Dampier and the crew of HMS Roebuck, a twenty-six-gun warship, sailed into an uncharted bay on the far side of the world. It was Dampier’s second visit to this land, which he knew loosely as New Holland. Determined to document some of the flora, he spent about a week in the bay. His party caught turtles, rays and sharks, one of which, Dampier noted, was ‘11-foot long’. Cutting open the shark’s throat, Dampier was startled to find inside it ‘the head and bones of a hippopotamus; the hairy lips of which were still sound’.
Dampier included this vivid account in his book A Voyage to New Holland. The story of the hippopotamus-eating shark was precisely the sort of delicious detail to appeal to a readership with a taste for tales about this unusual land that we now call Australia. For centuries, the notion of