Abel Tasman: A sailor of the seas: His voyage of discovery [18 December 1923]

[Editor: An article about Abel Tasman, the Dutch discoverer of Tasmania. Published in The World, 18 December 1923.]

Abel Tasman.

A sailor of the seas.

His voyage of discovery.

“Journal or description by me, Abel Janzs Tasman, of a voyage made from the town of Batavia, in the East Indies, for the discovery of the unknown South-land, in the year 1642, the 14th of August. May it please Almighty God to grant His blessing thereto. Amen.” So begins the journal kept by Tasman, the great explorer of the 17th century, on the day he left Batavia with his expedition, consisting of the two ships, the “Heemskirk,” and “Zeehan.”

In the early part of 1600 very little was known of the great southern land, now known as Australia, and with the object of finding out something about this vast continent, the Governor of the Dutch East Indes, Anthony Van Dieman, decided to despatch an expedition. It was not through any spirit of adventure, that this voyage of discovery was undertaken, but the desire to discover rich mines of gold and silver, or new articles of commerce, to add to their abundant wealth.

The instructions issued to those about to go on this hazardous voyage were to the point. They were to give in the journal, or log and were ordered to keep the “fullest particulars of the productions of the countries, what sort of goods the people had to trade, and what they would take in exchange.” For this purpose the ships were laden with the most remarkable variety of articles of merchandise. Gold and silver were to be of the first importance. The Governor’s instructions concluded, “Keep them (the natives) ignorant of the value of same (gold and silver); appear as if you were not greedy for them; and if gold or silver is offered in any barter, you must feign that you do not value those metals, showing them copper, zinc, and lead, as if those minerals were of more value with us.”

The command of this expedition was entrusted to Abel Janszoon Tasman, a. seaman of great experience, who had served the Dutch East India Company well and faithfully for ten years, and was then 40 years of age. Tasman was born at Hoorn, North Holland. He had previous to the voyage in which he discovered Tasmania, made a lengthy journey in the Western Pacific. The ship “Heemskirk,” of 200 tons, with a crew of 60 men, was assigned to Tasman, with the little fly boat, “Zeehan,” with 50 hands as tender.

The expedition reached Mauritius on September 5, 1642, and here it was found necessary that extensive repairs should be carried out, for both vessels were leaky, and almost unfit for sea. This delayed them for quite a month, but on account of the contrary winds they did not take their departure till October 8, when they set sail for the unknown south. The southward course was kept for several weeks without finding any signs of the supposed continent. A council of officers was held, when it was decided to make for latitude 44 degrees south, keep to that, and if no land were seen, to steer for the Solomon Islands, and so return home. By the middle of November they came to the conclusion that they passed the extreme limits of the continent, if there were one, but on November 24 land was seen. The country was mountainous and clothed with a dark forest.

To quote Tasman himself, “This is the farthest land in the South Sea we met with, and as it has not yet been known to any Europeans, we called it Anthony Van Diemen’s Land, in honor of our Governor-General, our master, who sent us out to make discoveries.”

It cannot be wondered at that they skirted the uninviting coast, not attempting to land. The expedition continued to sail on, passing around the south of Tasmania, naming several points and islands. But for a north-westerly gale the ships would have anchored in the Derwent.

The first land in Tasmania sighted by Tasman is supposed to be the mountainous country, north of Macquarie Harbor. Dealing with the voyage of Tasman after he first sighted Tasmania, the late Mr. J. B. Walker states: “When the shades of evening fell over the strange land they had just discovered, it was deemed prudent to run out to sea during the night, and when morning broke the land was far distant. The breeze had died away, and it was noon before they had enough wind to run in again towards the shore. By five o’clock in the evening they were within 12 miles of the land, and they kept on their course until within four miles of what was without doubt Point Hibbs.

“The ships stood out to sea again,” continues Mr. Walker’s narrative, “and sailed south-east in thick, foggy weather, in which only glimpses of the coast were obtained.” Tasman took some of the high headlands and mountains about Port Davey for islands, calling them De Witt and Sweers Islands. Then he rounded South-West Cape, and named the Maatsuyker Islands, passing close to a small island about 12 miles from the mainland, which looked like a lion, and which was identified afterwards by Flinders as the rock named by Furneaux, the Mewstone. Thence he passed between the mainland and a rock which he named Pedra Branca (“White Rock,” and known to our fishermen as “Peter’s Bank,”) from its resemblance to Pedra Branca off the coast of China. He sailed past the entrance to D’Entrecasteaux Channel without entering it, though in his charts he marks an opening in the coast.

“Rounding the Friars (which he called Boreels Isles), on November 29, Tasman bore up for a large bay, intending to anchor there. When he had almost reached his intended anchorage (this was the spot where Furneaux anchored in 1773, and which he named Adventure Bay), a heavy storm arose, and he was driven out so far to sea that next morning he could hardly discern the land. It was from this incident that Storm Bay got its name. When the wind moderated he continued his easterly course, and rounding Tasman’s Island (the Pillar), he turned northward along the east coast of Tasman’s and Forestier’s Peninsula until, on December 1, an hour after sunset, he came to anchor “in a good port in 22 fathoms, the bottom fine, light grey sand.”

“Wherefore,” says Tasman, piously, we ought to lift up thankful hearts to Almighty God.” The position of this anchorage, as shown in Tasman’s chart, is north-west of the rock islet now called Green Island, just north of the basaltic cliffs of Cape Frederick Henry.

Early in the morning of December 2 a boat was sent to explore, and entered a bay a good four miles to the north-west (Blackman’s Bay). The boat was absent all day, and returned in the evening with a quantity of green-stuff, which was found fit to cook for vegetables. The crew reported that they had rowed some miles after passing through the entrance to the bay (now known as the Narrows. They had heard human voices, and a sound like a trumpet or small gong (probably a coo-ee), but had seen no one. They saw trees from 12 to 15 feet round and 60 to 65 feet up to the first Branch. In the bark of these trees steps had been hacked with a flint for the purpose of climbing to the birds’ nests. From the steps being five feet apart they inferred that the natives were either very tall, or had some unknown method of climbing. The forest was thin and unencumbered by scrub, and many of the tree trunks were deeply burnt by fire. In the bay were great numbers of gulls, ducks, and geese. At various times during the day both the boat’s crews and the people on board the ships had seen smoke rising from different points on shore, “so that without doubt in this place must be men, and those of uncommon height.”

The next day, December 3, the boats went to the south-east corner of the bay, in which the ships were anchored, in order to get fresh water, but, though they found a lagoon, the shore was so low that the waves had broken through, and the water was too brackish for use. The wind blew strongly from the east, and south-east, and in the afternoon, when they again tried to effect a landing with the boats, the sea ran so high that one boat was obliged to return to the ship. The other larger boat, under the command of Tasman himself, made for a little bay to the W.S.W. of the ships, but the sea was too rough to allow of landing. The carpenter, Peter Jacobsen, volunteered to swim ashore with a pole on which was the Prince’s flag. He planted the flag pole in the ground on the shore of the bay, and thus Tasman took possession of our islands for the Dutch.

On the morning of December 4, the storm having subsided, and the wind blowing off shore, they weighed anchor, and stood to the northward, passing Maria Island and Schouten Island, the latter so named by Tasman after his fellow townsman of the good port of Hoorn. Maria was the name of the wife of Van Diemen. On December 5 Tasman took his departure from a high round mountain (St. Patrick’s Head), and stood away to the eastward to make fresh discoveries.

Tasman did not accomplish what his masters desired, which was as has been mentioned, profitable trade, either in valuable metals or articles of commerce, therefore on his return was in consequence coldly looked upon, and found it difficult to obtain other employment. From this it will be seen that the Dutch East India Company thought his discoveries not worth bothering about. They never returned to these shores at any rate. And it was 180 years before this land was again visited, and this time it was by the French.

Van Diemen’s Land retained the name given it by Tasman until 1885; when by official notice in the Hobart “Gazette,” it was named after its intrepid discoverer.

The World (Hobart, Tas.), 18 December 1923, p. 7

[Editor: Corrected “Almightly” to “Almighty”; “appear is” to “appear as”; “unkown” to “unknown”; “wtih a pole” to “with a pole”; “wil be seen” to “will be seen”. Removed bracket after “Rock,”. Changed “commerce, the” to “commerce, therefore”.]

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