Tasman and Tasmania: 273rd anniversary of discovery [24 November 1915]

[Editor: An article about Abel Tasman. Published in The Post (Hobart), 24 November 1915.]

Tasman and Tasmania

273rd anniversary of discovery.

On November 24, 1642 — 273 years ago to-day — Abel Jansoon Tasman, commanding the Dutch ship Heemskirk, and Gerrit Zanszoon, master of the flyboat Zeehaen, first sighted land on an island which was destined eventually to bear Tasman’s name. Despatched on a voyage of discovery, looking for the Unknown South Land, which appears to have existed perhaps more in mind than in fact, the two frail little vessels had been subjected to considerable buffeting.

It was in the palmy days of the Dutch settlement of Batavia. The Governor, one Antony Van Diemen, embued with the spirit that has immortalised the Dutch as explorers and colonisers, had given the command of this expedition to his trusted captain, Tasman. In this desire to extend the national interests of the Netherlands, Van Diemen was not acting without orders. Britain, then under Queen Elizabeth, in the opening year of the 17th century, had granted a charter to City of London merchants to trade to the East Indies — the foundation of the long famous East India Co., and a similar charter had next year been granted to merchants of Amsterdam. Thus, the East India Co. of the Netherlands founded.

There was then evident the rivalry in trade now seen between more modern nations. Each was looking for new territory. It will be seen that British colonisation has been the more successful. Nothing seems to have been made in the way of progress, so far as Dutch settlement is concerned, until the year 1622, but even then it was 20 years afterwards that the expedition fated to discover Tasmania w as fitted out.

* * * *

On August 14 of the last mentioned year the Heemskirk and the Zeehaen left Batavia. Three months later they were successful in their quest. It is quite evident that they did not know whether it was certain they would sight land, but Tasman evidently considered it likely, although he must have trusted more in faith than in knowledge.

On August 27 a council was held, and a man was kept constantly at the topmast, where he could look out, and that “whoever first discovered land, sand, or banks under water should receive a reward of three reas and a pot of arrack.” Who was the fortunate seaman to receive this reward history falls to tell us, but on November 24 land was sighted, distant, it was conjectured, about 10 miles. Tasman had been successful in his quest!

“As this land,” says his journal, “has not before been known to any European, we called it Antony Van Diemen’s Land, in honor of our High Magistrate, the Governor-General, who sent us out to make discoveries.” But the voyagers were in little hurry to land, preferring to cruise along the shore, and on the evening of the 28th they came near three small islands. The next day they were forced out to sea.

Returning on December 2, early in the morning, two boats were sent to a bay to look out for “fresh water and other things.” They found tall trees with steps cut in the trunks to allow of climbing up to get birds’ nests! Traces of animals “with claws resembling those of tigers,” trees marked by fire, and smoke rising in several places.

On the following day Francis Jacobsz, the ship’s carpenter, swam through the surf and planted a standard on the shore, taking possession of the new territory in the prince’s name. On December 5 Tasman quitted his newly acquired territory, rounded St. Patrick’s Head, and set sail for New Zealand. He had found his new land, but had left it. Such was one of the strange methods of Dutch colonising.

The land Tasman first saw was Point Hibbs, a cape on the West Coast, about 30 miles south of Macquarie Harbor. As the explorers neared the coast they observed lofty mountains rising in the background, two of which bear the names of Tasman’s two vessels, so named afterwards by Flinders. Tasman’s voyage around the limited part of the coast extended to Storm Bay and Frederik Hendrik Bay . The ceremony of planting the standard over, anchor was weighed, the ships passed Maria Island, which he named after a member of Van Diemen’s family, thence along the lofty shores of Schouten Island — so named after the Dutch commander who first rounded Cape Horn in 1610. Tasmania had been found and lost. New Zealand was to be the next goal. The ships returned to Batavia on June 15, 1643.

* * * *

Little is known of Tasman’s early life. One authority gives his birthplace as Luztjegasl, in the province of Groningen, in the year 1603. Another says he was born a year earlier at Hoorn, on the Zuyder Zee. There is no record of his early life, but he followed the sea, and in two years rose from sailor to master, and was employed in the spice trade. He was married while young to Claesjie Heyndrjeks, who, dying, left him an only daughter. Tasman married a second time, his bride being Jaunetjie Tjaers, who survived him. Tasman died a substantial and well-to-do citizen of Batavia at the age of 56.

As a navigator and explorer he was one of the greatest between Magellan and Cook. Still, he was content with little more than a sight of the land he had set out to seek. Tasman allowed himself only five days for the prosecution of the most interesting discovery of Tasmania. “He was,” says Howitt, “at the very door of Australia, and went away without knocking.”

It would seem that he was quite content to find his goal, to plant on it a flag and a pole, on which “all carved their names.” His journal contains many curious references. He left Tasmania, “leaving the flag as a memento to posterity and to the inhabitants of the country, who, though they did not show themselves, we thought were not far off carefully watching the proceedings of the invaders of their territory.”

Tasman is described as a keen trader, a capable and daring seaman, a bold fighter and an able commander. These things counted for more, apparently, with his employers, than the necessity for holding on to a land once it had been acquired.

* * * *

More than a century passed before an effort was made by the maritime nations of Europe to follow up Tasman’s discoveries in the temperate meridians of the South. The French were the next to visit Van Diemen’s Land.

On March 4, 1172, Captain Marion du Fresne, with two vessels, the Mascarin and Castries, arrived at Frederik Hendrik Bay. Furneau, in the Adventure (March 9, 1773) was the next. In 1777 Cook came. Cox, in the Mercury (1789) and Bligh (1789), D’Entrecasteaux and Kermandec followed.

* * * *

Tasman, like the men of his time and nationality, was somewhat of a puritan. He opens the journal of his discovery of Tasmania by saying:— “Journal or description of a voyage from Batavia for making discoveries of the Unknown South Land, 1642, May God Almighty be pleased to give His blessing to this voyage. Amen.” And when he weighed anchor and left Tasmania, he entered in his logbook:— “The Lord be praised!” Whether this exclamation was one of relief at leaving his newly discovered domain, must remain a mystery!

After first seeing the shores of Tasmania, he was blown almost out of sight of land. Finally he came to anchor in “a good port.” “Wherefore,” Tasman says, “we lift up thankful hearts to Almighty God.”

* * * *

Howitt, in his history of alien discoveries, says that Tasman was greatly in love with the daughter of Governor-General Van Diemen — an error into which many others have fallen. Howitt also states that no complete narration of Tasman’s voyages has been published, and it is probable that the Dutch never intended it to be. They, however, constructed the chart of New Holland on the pavement of the Stadt House at Amsterdam, chiefly from Tasman’s data, and Dirck Rembrandz published an extract from Tasman’s journal, which has ever since been regarded as of great value, and has been repeatedly translated into English.

The Post (Hobart, Tas.), 24 November 1915, p. 2

[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]

Speak Your Mind