New South Wales

Why is the Australian state of New South Wales called New South Wales? I have not been to New South Wales but I have relatives there, and I have been to the old South Wales. From what I gather, they are not very much alike. The old one is damp and rainy, often cold, and largely mountainous. The new one is mostly dry and sunny, and although there are some mountains, I believe it is mostly flattish desert or semi-desert (no deserts in the old Wales).

Also, it seems to me, that it is odd to have named a newly discovered land specifically after South Wales rather than after Wales as a whole. So far as I am aware, there is no New Wales, New North Wales, or New West Wales, so those names were also available. (I do not think anyone ever talks about even an old East Wales.) Of course, no part of Wales has a climate or topography much like south-eastern Australia.

I did check Wikipedia, which also took me to this page, and discovered (to no surprise) that Captain Cook gave New South Wales its name. However, Cook was not Welsh, he came from the north of England, so what gives?. It appears he originally decided to name it just New Wales, which makes a tiny bit more sense, but quickly changed his mind to New South Wales instead. Why?

James Cook really only saw NSW from his ship, so he was only saying that NSW looked like South Wales from his ship – he may have landed once or twice, but he never saw any part of the inland.

Yes, Cook came from Whitby in Yorkshire, but he was an experienced navigator, and would have seen the coasts of both North Wales and South Wales.

Cook wrote in his journal: “I now once more hoisted English Coulers [sic] and in the Name of His Majesty King George the Third, took possession of the whole Eastern Coast from the above Latitude 38°S down to this place by the name of New South Wales.” This name was already applied to the south west coast of Hudson Bay, which had been called New South Wales after his native land, by the Welshman Thomas James on 20 August 1631, during a voyage of discovery in search of a Northwest Passage into the South Sea.[4] It was 139 years later that James Cook gave the same name, without explanation, to the east coast of New Holland.[5]

in other words, no one thought to ask Cook at the time and it’s now a mystery.

Oddly I was just reading Bryson’s book, “In a Sunburned Country” and apparently they have no fucking idea. Amazing, isn;t it?

That was certainly the standard explanation when I was at school and I see it’s echoed in this article on Wiki:

“It is believed” sums it up I think. I don’t think anyone really knows for sure, as **coremelt **notes.

Incidentally, most of what Cook named as “New South Wales” is now part of Queensland, and has been since 1859.

Then you have obviously never been there. I’m guessing you’re American. Americans seem to have this fixed idea that Australia is just a much bigger version of Saudi Arabia.

Nope; NSW is hilly, and mostly green. I’ve travelled through quite a lot of it, so I can personally attest to this.

While Australia does have quite a lot of desert, it’s not the majority of the continent any more than the deserts of the US southwest cover the majority of the USA.

Most of the western half of NSW is flat and semi-arid, looking like this or this – not quite desert, but not green most of the time.

Is it the new “South Wales”, or the new, south(ern), Wales?

It’s grazing land. It’s fairly dry, but is isn’t sand dunes. In other words: agricultural land, not desert.

And I could cherrypick a couple of photos showing western NSW as green, too. So what?

There is a lot of grazing land in the US that would be called desert by an American. I think it’s just a slight nuance in the language. This wiki link to aUS mapcalls it semi-arid steppe. This link to an Australia map calls it semi-arid.

Those pictures aren’t cherry-picked: the vegetation is generally only green if it’s irrigated, it’s next to a river or lake, or there has been recent rain. How about this picture of western NSW: there’s not much green west of Nyngan and West Wyalong.

There is also no reason to have called the continent New Holland. Abel Tasman never even landed, and there’s nothing very Netherland-ian about the place anywhere.

Which still doesn’t change the fact that little, if any, of NSW is desert. Which was my point. “Dry” does not mean “desert”, the words are not synonyms.

I’m sure I was told it wasn’t the New (South Wales), but rather the New Wales in the South. I’m not sure who told me that, though. Having been there, it didn’t feel very Welsh to me (other than the locals talking in a silly accent ;))

However, if you flip Milford Haven upside down it looks a bit like Sydney Harbour. (Or Port Jackson, to be pedantic.)

I’m not suggesting that’s the real reason, though.

I’m glad you asked.

Is there really any expectation that the “News” should resemble their namesakes? I have never once thought that New Jersey would look like Jersey, New York should look like York, etc.

And half of Los Angeles neighborhoods (the half which aren’t named after Spanish Saints) are apparently named after wealthy suburbs of Chicago and the East coast. But if you expect the Highland Park neighborhood of L.A. to be anything like the one on Lake Michigan you’ve got another thing coming.

My assumption was that explorers and developers generally named places more out of homesickness, than resemblance.

In fact, however, I originally said “flattish desert or semi-desert”. I think, your objections notwithstanding, that flattish semi-desert is a reasonable descriptor of the arid landscape of most of NSW, especially when contrasted (which is what I was doing) with the largely mountainous topography and cold and very wet climate of the original South Wales.

I said upfront in my OP that I have never been to NSW, but my sister, with whom I communicate, has lived there for almost 40 years, and my mother-in-law grew up there, so I do have some idea what it is like. I am not American (in fact, British, with a father from the original South Wales), but I lived in America for many years, so, to me ( like, I expect, most actual Americans) desert does not necessarily mean sand dunes. The Arizona and Nevada deserts, of which I have some experience, do not consist of sand dunes and are not without vegetation. Quite a bit of the SW USA is considered desert, but there are few areas of sand dunes.

Incidentally, at least one quite famous movie, made in and about New South Wales, by a director who is a native, rather explicitly implies that the interior of the state (which it shows, quite extensively) is actual desert.

Oh absolutely, and I would not be at all puzzled if Cook had named the region New North Yorkshire (even though that is even more of a three word mouthful than what he did choose), but Cook was not Welsh and so hardly likely to have been homesick for South Wales.

It seems to me that there are two plausible reasons for naming somewhere New Somwhere-else, either homesickness/pride in one’s native land, or a perceived resemblance. Neither seem to apply in this case (except, perhaps, for a faint and superficial resemblance between the coastlines).

An additional source of puzzlement is the specificity of New South Wales as opposed to just New Wales, especially as, according to coremelt, the name New South Wales was already taken (at least it was given by an actual Welshman in that case), whereas, so far as I am aware, New Wales was not.

just to clarify even more for those not familiar with Australian geography. The great dividing range is within site of the coast for most of the 3500 km from far north Queensland to Victoria all down the east coast of Australia. It’s a 1000 meter high escarpment within view of the sea in many areas eg like the south coast near Wollongong (Illawarra region) and same near Byron Bay. And east of the dividing range is a rain shadow, it gets a lot more arid immediately west of the great dividing range.

We even have fairly large pockets of temperate rain forest as far south as Victoria in rain shadow areas.

So yeah, a lot of the Australia east coast could pass for south wales, green, craggy and temperate.

Except you are wrong and it isn’t. MOST of NSW is not arid. Only the westernmost parts are arid. MOST of NSW is green and hilly.

What coremelt says a few posts later is correct.