TASMAN, Abel Jansz (1603-1659)


TASMAN, Abel Jansz (1603-1659)
discoverer of Tasmania and New Zealand
was born in Groningen, Holland, in 1603. We first hear of him at the end of 1631 when he, a widower living at Amsterdam, married Jannetjie Tjaers. He was shortly afterwards in the East Indies Company service, and by 1634 was mate of a ship trading from Batavia to the Moluccas. In July of that year he was appointed master of a small ship, the Mocha. He visited Holland in 1637, and returned to Batavia in October 1638 bringing his wife with him. In 1639 he was sent as second in command of an exploring expedition in the north Pacific. There were stories of a rich island in latitude 37½ degrees north, but as the island did not exist the expedition was naturally unsuccessful. After many hardships Formosa was reached in November, 40 out of the crew of 90 having died. Other voyages followed; to Japan in 1640 and in 1641, and to Palembang in the south of Sumatra in 1642, where he succeeded in making a friendly trading treaty with the sultan. In August 1642 Tasman was sent in command of an expedition for the discovery of the "Unknown Southland" which was believed to be in the south Pacific. Strange as it may seem he went first to Mauritius, but there was some knowledge of prevailing winds, and from there a course was set to the south of Australia, the western shore of which was known to the Dutch. On 24 November 1642 he sighted the west coast of Tasmania probably near Macquarie Harbour. The land was named Antony Van Diemen's Land after the governor-general of the Dutch Indies. Proceeding south Tasman skirted the southern end of Tasmania and turned north-east until he was off Cape Frederick Henry on Forestier's Peninsula. An attempt at landing was made but the sea was too rough. The carpenter, however, swam through the surf and planting a flag took formal possession of the land on 3 December 1642. Tasman had intended to proceed in a northerly direction but as the wind was unfavourable he steered east, and on 13 December sighted land on the north-west coast of South Island, New Zealand. Proceeding north and then east one of his boats was attacked by Maoris in war canoes, and four of his men were killed. Tasman then went north along the west coast of North Island, eventually turned north-west to New Guinea, and arrived at Batavia on 15 June 1643. In 1644 he did some exploring round the Gulf of Carpentaria but did not discover Torres Strait, and on 2 November he was appointed a member of the council of justice at Batavia. He went to Sumatra in 1646, and in August 1647 to Siam with letters from the company to the king. In May 1648 he was in charge of an expedition sent to Manilla to try to intercept and loot the Spanish silver ships coming from America, but he had no success and returned to Batavia in January 1649. In November 1649 he was charged and found guilty of having in the previous year hanged one of his men without trial, was suspended from his office of commander, fined, and made to pay compensation to the relatives of the sailor. On 5 January 1651 he was formally reinstated in his rank and spent his remaining years at Batavia. He was in good circumstances, being one of the larger landowners in the town. He died at Batavia in October 1659 and was survived by his second wife and a daughter by his first wife. His discoveries were most important but led to nothing for more than 100 years.
James B. Walker, Abel Janszoon Tasman: His Life and Voyages; John Pinkerton, A General Collection of the best and most interesting Voyages and Travels, vol. II, p. 439, a translation with comments and omissions of Tasman's journal of his 1642-3 voyage of which there are several Dutch editions; A. J. Van Der Aa, Biographisch Woordenbock der Nederlanden, vol. 24. See also Walker's The Discovery of Van Diemen's Land in 1642: with Notes on the Localities mentioned in Tasman's Journal of the Voyage, and C. T. Burfitt, "The Discovery of Tasmania", Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. III, p. 113.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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