The English navigator Matthew Flinders named Cape Leeuwin after the first known ship to have visited the area, the Leeuwin (“Lioness”), a Dutch vessel that charted some of the nearby coastline in 1622. The log of the Leeuwin has been lost, so very little is known of the voyage. However, the land discovered by the Leeuwin was recorded on a 1627 map by Hessel Gerritsz: Caert van’t Landt van d’Eendracht (“Chart of the Land of Eendracht”), which appears to show the coast between present-day Hamelin Bay and Point D’Entrecasteaux. Cape Leeuwin itself cannot be recognised.
Other European vessels passed by for the next two centuries, including the Dutch ‘t Gulden Zeepaert, commanded by François Thijssen, in 1627 and the French Gros Venture, under Louis Aleno de St Aloüarn, in 1772.
The first known sighting of the cape was by Bruni d’Entrecasteaux in 1791. d’Entrecasteaux thought the cape was an island, and named it “Isle St Allouarn” (“St Allouarn Island”), in honour of Captain de St Aloüarn. Ten years later, Matthew Flinders began his survey of the South coast of New Holland from Cape Leeuwin in 1801 when he named it. Flinders landed in the bay to the east of Cape Leeuwin, today’s Flinders Bay. Flinders was aware that the area had been known to the Dutch as “Leeuwin’s Land”.
At two in the morning we had 80 fathoms, and veered towards the land. It was seen from the masthead at five; and the highest part, the same which had been set in the evening, bore N. 12° W. This is the largest of the before-mentioned Isles of St Alouarn; but at half past seven we saw hills extending from behind, and, to all appearance, joining it to the mainland. This supposed isle is, therefore, what I denominate “Cape Leeuwin”, as being the south-western and most projecting part of Leeuwin’s Land.