Origin and History of the Name – Australia

Getting Down Under Australia

The name Australia is derived from the Latin australis, meaning southern.

Legends of an “unknown southern land” (terra australis incognita) date back to the Roman times and were commonplace in medival geography, but they were not based on any actual knowledge of the continent.

The Dutch adjectival form Australische (“Australian,” in the sense of “southern”) was used by Dutch officials in Batavia to refer to the newly discovered land to the south as early as 1638. The first English language writer to use the word “Australia” was Alexander Dalrymple in An Historical Collection of Voyages and Discoveries in the South Pacific Ocean, published in 1771.

He used the term to refer to the entire South Pacific region, not specifically to the Australian continent. In 1793, George Shaw and Sir James Smith published Zoology and Botany of New Holland, in which they wrote of “the vast island, or rather continent, of Australia, Australasia or New Holland.”

The name “Australia” was popularised by the 1814 work A Voyage to Terra Australis by the navigator Matthew Flinders.

Despite its title, which reflected the view of the Admiralty, Flinders used the word “Australia” in the book, which was widely read and gave the term general currency. Governor Lachlan Macquarie of New South Wales subsequently used the word in his dispatches to England. In 1817 he recommended that it be officially adopted. In 1824, the British Admiralty agreed that the continent should be known officially as Australia.

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John Aikman
2 years ago

I’ve also long searched for and been unable to find out the date in 1824. But it was on the December 12, 1817 when Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales recommended to the Colonial Office that the name Australia be officially adopted. And on November 14, 1804 when Matthew Flinders sealed the completed chart of his circumnavigation of the continent which he labelled Australia. This being the first time a map of the continent had borne that name. His reasoning being that as the landmass known as New Holland was not divided in two as many had previously believed.… Read more »

Ray Peck
2 years ago

The answer to the question above is particularly timely given the current Australia Day debate

2 years ago

^^ I’d like to know this too. Surely it’s a date of significance that should be known!

Darebin Reconciliation Group
3 years ago

What Day & Month in 1824 was the name Australia officially approved by, British Admiralty, British Parliament & King George iv

Peter Morgan
2 years ago

I have read countless times that ‘Australia’ officially became Australia In 1824 ….. but I can’t find a reliable or credible document giving further particulars of this claim.

Further, if Terra Australis in Latin means Land South then how do you say in Latin ‘Southland’? Would that be Australia?

Hope someone out there can assist????

Peter Morgan
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Morgan

LOL, I just found this with a Google search:

“Even as late as 1837, in official correspondence between the British government in London and New South Wales, the term “New Holland” was still being used to refer to the continent as a whole.”

Which kinda puts doubt on the 1824 claim????

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
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