Sandhurst

Emmanuel Rodrigo Hurst-Vargas was a navigator in the service of ‘the Catholic Monarchs’, Isabella I and Ferdinand II of Castille and Aragon. A contemporary of Columbus, he dreamed of great voyages of exploration, but his half-English parentage (based on some highly successful diplomacy of a personal nature between the representatives of the British and Spanish crowns in Queen Elizabeth’s day almost a century earlier) held him back. But he would not let a little thing like discrimination hold him back.

In 1501, after Columbus’ third voyage had been completed, and the European settlement of the Americas was beginning in earnest, Hurst-Vargas and some of his men conspired to steal a ship, and fled down the West African coast as fast as the winds would carry them. Reaching Cape Agulhas a few weeks later, Hurst-Vargas laid in as large a store of supplies as he dared, and sailed east. He became one of the first Europeans to discover the Roaring Forties winds of the southern Indian Ocean, and made excellent time towards Australia. His first sighting of the southern continent was the cliffs of the Great Australian Bight – with little option, Hurst-Vargas continued to sail east, hoping for a beach at which he could land.

He eventually made landfall not far north of modern Whyalla, and continued along the coastline from there, looking for more hospitable territory. His ship passed through the heads of Port Phillip Bay on Christmas Eve, 1501, and made landfall near Seaford the following day. By this time, Hurst-Vargas’ men were restless. They had followed their leader this far, and although he had kept his promises to find a new and uncharted land, the smarter ones among them were considering the implications of an uncharted land.

They were greatly surprised to find other white settlers living there, but the vikings of Bangholme were not inclined to share, and after a surprise attack killed their leader, the men buried him in sandy soil east of Bangholme, and fled back to their ship. Unfortunately, without Hurst-Vargas to steer the vessel, it came to grief on the rocks of Point Nepean, and sank with all hands. Only the grave of Hurst-Vargas, in the sands near modern Skye, remained, giving a partial name to the area that endures to this day.

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