Abel Tasman Sights a New Island South of Australia
- 24thNovember 1642 -
Born in Lutjegast, Netherlands, around 1603, Tasman worked for the Dutch East India Company on anti-smuggling raids and other marine exercises before receiving his first command in 1634.
In 1642 he was commissioned to investigate the mysterious Southern land, then called Terra australis incognita. Not much was known of this continent and the East India Company were keen to establish trading posts as well as look for a passage across the Pacific to Chile. He was given two small ships, Heemskerckand Zeehaen, an armed transport ship for the task.
Initially he sailed west to Mauritius and then turned south before being forced back by the intense cold to the 45thparallel. He then continued East and on November 24thsaw the mountains of a land he called Anthoonij van Diemenslandt, or as the English later renamed it Van Diemen’s Land. This was in honour of the Governor of Batavia, Tasman’s home.
On December 1stthey anchored off the island and explored it the next day. They found some local plants that they could eat but the next day the weather closed in and they were unable to return. A carpenter on board, Peter Jacobson, volunteered to swim across and plant the prince’s flag. The crew reported hearing voices and seeing smoke rising from various points on the island but never encountered any human beings.
They continued East and on December 4thspotted the west coast of South Island, New Zealand. Here they anchored at Wharewhangi Bay, near to the spot now called Abel Tasman National Park. The initial meeting between the Europeans and the Maoris was tense but peaceful before Tasman sailed east and landed on the coast on North Island on Manawatu Bay. Here they celebrated their first Christmas on New Zealand.
Continuing up the west coast of the North Island they landed in Tonga on 21stJanuary and saw Fiji, but did not land. By April they had found New Guinea before returning on 15thJune 1643 to Batavia.
Tasman was keen to go on a second expedition but this was rejected by the Dutch government as the first was deemed a failure due to a lack of trading posts being established. 10 years later, 1653, he retired and stayed living in Batavia where he owned a great amount of land and a cargo ship. He died there in October 1659.
On 1stJanuary 1856 Van Diemen’s Land was renamed Tasmania in honour of Abel Tasman. It is known for its vast wilderness areas. Together with 234 small islands it is the southernmost state in Australia and home to a population of 518,000. Covering a surface area of nearly 25,000 square miles about 40% of the population live in the capital, Hobart, and it is the 26thlargest island in the world.
Photo taken by Steffen Hillebrand, near Totaranui, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ