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Abel Janszoon Tasman

Abel Janszoon TasmanBorn: c. 1603
Birthplace: Lutjegast, Netherlands
Died: c. 1659
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Explorer

Nationality: Netherlands
Executive summary: Discovered Tasmania and New Zealand

The greatest of Dutch navigators, the discoverer of Tasmania, New Zealand, the Tonga and the Fiji Islands, and the first circumnavigator of Australia, was born at Lutjegast in Groningen, about 1603. In 1634 we first meet with him in the East Indies, sailing from Batavia (February 18) to Amboyna. On the 30th of December 1636 he sailed from Batavia for home; reached Holland August 1, 1637; started on his return to the East April 15, 1638; and reappeared at Batavia October 11, 1638. On the 2nd of June 1639 Tasman, along with Matthew (Matthijs Hendricxsen) Quast, was despatched by Antony Van Diemen, governor-general of the Dutch East Indies (1636-45), on a voyage to the north-western Pacific, in quest of certain "islands of gold and silver", supposed to lie in the ocean east of Japan. On this voyage Tasman and Quast visited the Philippines and improved Dutch knowledge of the east coast of Luzon; they also discovered and mapped various islands to the north, apparently the Bonin archipelago. Sailing on to north and east in search of the isles of precious metals, they ranged about fruitlessly in the northern Pacific, at one time believing themselves to be 600 Dutch miles east of Japan. After this the voyage was continued almost constantly westward, but in varying latitudes. reaching as high as 42 N., always without success. On the 15th of October the navigators decided to return, and, after touching at Japan, anchored at the Dutch fortress-station of Zeelandia in Formosa on the 24th of November 1639. After this Tasman was engaged in operations in the Indian seas (sailing to Formosa, Japan, Cambodia, Palembang, etc., as a merchant captain in the service of the Dutch East India Company) until 1642, when he set out on his first great "South Land" expedition. This was planned and organized by Governor Van Diemen, who cherished great schemes for the extension of the Dutch colonial empire. Several Dutch navigators had already discovered various portions of the north and west coasts of Australia (as in 1605-06, 1616, 1618-19, 1622, 1627-28, etc.), but Tasman now first showed that this great South Land did not stretch away to the southern pole, but was entirely encircled by sea within comparatively moderate limits. Sailing from Batavia, on the 14th of August 1642 with two vessels, the "Heemskerk" and "Zeehaen", and calling at Mauritius (September 5 to October 8), Tasman sailed first south, then east, almost seven weeks, and on the 24th of November sighted (in 42 25' S., as he made it) the land which he named Anthoonij van Diemens landt after Van Diemen, now called Tasmania. He doubled the land, which he evidently did not perceive was an island, coasting its southern shores, and, running up Storm Bay, anchored on the 1st of December in Frederick Henry's Bay, on the east coast of Tasmania -- so named after Prince Frederick Henry of Nassau, then the head of the Dutch republic. There he set up a post on which he hoisted the Dutch flag. Quitting Van Diemen's Land on the 5th of December, Tasman steered east for the Solomon Islands, and on the 13th of December discovered (in 42 10' S., as he reckoned) a "high mountainous country", which he called Staten landt ("Land of the States", i.e., of Holland, now New Zealand). Tasman and his company believed the newly discovered land to form part of the same great antarctic continent as the other Staten landt which Schouten and Lemaire had sighted and named to the east of Tierra del Fuego. Cruising up northeast along the west coast of the South Island, he anchored on the 18th of December, at the entrance of a wide opening, which he took to be a fine bay (Cook's Strait). He gave the name of Moordenaars (Murderers, now softened to Massacre) Bay to this spot, where several of his men were killed by the natives (December 19). From Murderer's Bay Tasman sailed southeast along the south shore of Cook's Strait, apparently getting into Blind or Tasman Bay, but not discovering the full extent of the strait here dividing New Zealand into two main islands. Returning westward he then coasted the west side of the North Island, until, on the 4th of January 1643, he came to the northern extremity of New Zealand. From there he bore away to north-northeast, at first intending to keep that course for 30 of longitude from North Cape, New Zealand. On the 19th to 25th of January, he discovered various islands of the Tonga or Friendly group, especially Amsterdam (Tongatabu), Middelburg (Eva), and Rotterdam. Here the ships took in water and provisions, which they had not done since leaving Mauritius, and the crews went onshore for the first time since leaving Van Diemen's Land. Rotterdam Island they explored with some care. From there Tasman steered north and west, reaching on the 6th of February the eastern part of the Fiji archipelago, which he called Prince William's Islands and Heemskerk's Shoals; on the 22nd of March he sighted the islands of Ontong Java. On the 1st of April he was near the north-eastern extremity of New Ireland (Neu Mecklenburg), mistaken by him for a part of New Guinea, off a point known to the Spaniards as Cabo S. Maria. From there he passed westward along the north of New Ireland, New Hanover, New Britain (Ned Pommern) and New Guinea. He reached the western extremity of New Guinea on the 18th of May; Schouten's Islands were noted to the south of the vessel's course on the 12th of May. Tasman's track, lying between New Guinea and Halmahera (Gilolo), then brought him south to Ceram; he passed through the narrow strait between Celebes and Buton on the 27th of May, and arrived at Batavia on the 15th of June 1643 after a ten months' voyage. The materials for an account of Tasman's important second voyage in 1644 are scanty, but we know he was instructed to obtain a thorough knowledge of Staten Land and Van Diemen's Land, and to find out "whether New Guinea is a continent with the great Zuidland, or separated by channels and islands", and also "whether the new Van Diemen's Land is the same continent with these two great countries or with one of them." In this voyage Tasman had three ships under his command, the "Limmen", "Zeemeeuw" (or "Meeuw"), and "Brak" (or "Bracq"). His course lay along the southwest coast of New Guinea; he mistook the western opening of Torres Straits for a bay, but explored (and perhaps named) the Gulf of Carpentaria: for the first time the coastline of this great bay was mapped with fair accuracy. Though preceded by Jansz (1606) and Carstensz (1623) on the east shore of the gulf as far as 17 S., Tasman first made known the south, and most of the west, coast. Beyond this he explored the north and west coasts of Australia as far as 22 S., and established the absolute continuity of all this shoreline of the "Great Known South Continent"; his chart gives soundings for the whole of this coast. Tasman's achievements were coldly received by the Dutch colonial authorities; but on the 4th of October 1644 they rewarded him with the rank of commander (he had frequently enjoyed the use of the title already). On the 2nd of November 1644 he was also made a member of the Council of Justice of Batavia. He was a member of the committee appointed on the 18th of April 1645 to declare a truce between the Dutch East India Company and the viceroy of Portuguese India. In 1647 he commanded a trading fleet to Siam, and in 1648 a war fleet sent against the Spaniards of the Philippines (May 15, 1648, to January 1649). By 1653 he had left the company's service, but still lived, apparently as one of its wealthiest citizens, in and near Batavia. His will, made the 10th of April 1657, seems to have but slightly preceded his death, which probably happened before October 22, 1659, and certainly before February 5, 1661.

    Dutch East India Company



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