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Book of Discovery - M. B. Synge

Tasman Finds Tasmania

At this time Anthony Van Diemen was governor at Batavia, and one of his most trusted commanders was Abel Tasman. In 1642, Tasman was given command of two ships "for making discoveries of the Unknown South Land," and, hoisting his flag on board the Sea-Hen, he sailed south from Batavia without sighting the coast of Australia. Despite foggy weather, "hard gales, and a rolling sea," he made his way steadily south. It was three months before land was sighted, and high mountains were seen to the south-east. The ship stood in to shore. "As the land has not been known before to any European, we called it Anthony Van Diemen's Land in honour of our Governor-General, who sent us out to make discoveries. I anchored in a bay and heard the sound of people upon the shore, but I saw nobody. I perceived in the sand the marks of wild beasts' feet, resembling those of a tiger."

Setting up a post with the Dutch East India Company's mark, and leaving the Dutch flag flying, Tasman left Van Diemen's Land, which was not to be visited again for over one hundred years, when it was called after its first discoverer. He had no idea that he was on an island. Tasman now sailed east, and after about a week at sea he discovered a high mountainous country, which he named "Staaten Land." "We found here abundance of inhabitants: they had very hoarse voices and were very large-made people; they were of a colour between brown and yellow, their hair long and thick, combed up and fixed on the top of their heads with a quill in the very same manner that Japanese fastened their hair behind their heads."

Tasman anchored on the north coast of the south island of New Zealand, but canoes of warlike Maoris surrounded the ships, a conflict took place in which several Dutch seamen were killed, the weather grew stormy, and Tasman sailed away from the bay he named Murderer's Bay—rediscovered by Captain Cook about a hundred years later.

"This is the second country discovered by us," says Tasman. "We named it Staaten Land in honour of the States-General. It is possible that it may join the other Staaten Land (of Schouten and Le Maire to the south of Terra del Fuego), but it is uncertain; it is a very fine country, and we hope it is part of the unknown south continent." Is it necessary to add that this Staaten Land was really New Zealand, and the bay where the ships anchored is now known as Tasman Bay? When the news of Tasman's discoveries was noised abroad, all the geographers, explorers, and discoverers at once jumped to the conclusion that this was the same land on whose coast Pelsart had been wrecked. "It is most evident," they said, "that New Guinea, Carpentaria, New Holland, Van Diemen's Land make all one continent, from which New Zealand seems to be separated by a strait, and perhaps is part of another continent answering to Africa as this plainly does to America, making indeed a very large country."

After a ten months' cruise Tasman returned to Batavia. He had found Van Diemen's Land and New Zealand, without sighting Australia.

A second expedition was now fitted out. The instructions for the commodore, Captain Abel Jansen Tasman, make interesting reading. The orders are detailed and clear. He will start the end of January 1644, and "we shall expect you in July following attended with good success."

"Of all the lands, countries, islands, capes, inlets, bays, rivers, shoals, reefs, sands, cliffs, and rocks which you pass in this discovery you are to make accurate maps—be particularly careful about longitude and latitude. But be circumspect and prudent in landing with small craft, because at several times New Guinea has been found to be inhabited by cruel, wild savages. When you converse with any of these savages behave well and friendly to them, and try by all means to engage their affection to you. You are to show the samples of the goods which you carry along with you, and inquire what materials and goods they possess. To prevent any other European nation from reaping the fruits of our labour in these discoveries, you are everywhere to take possession in the name of the Dutch East India Company, to put up some sign, erect a stone or post, and carve on them the arms of the Netherlands. The yachts are manned with one hundred and eleven persons, and for eight months plentifully victualled. Manage everything well and orderly, take notice you see the ordinary portion of two meat and two pork days, and a quarter of vinegar and a half-quarter of sweet oil per week."

[Illustration] from Book of Discovery by M. B. Synge

He was to coast along New Guinea to the farthest-known spot, and to follow the coast despite adverse winds, in order that the Dutch might be sure "whether this land is not divided from the great known South Continent or not."

What he accomplished on this voyage is best seen in "The complete map of the Southern Continent surveyed by Captain Abel Tasman," which was inlaid on the floor of the large hall in the Stadthouse at Amsterdam. The Great South Land was henceforth known as New Holland.


Front Matter

A Little Old World
Early Mariners
Is the World Flat
Herodotus the Traveller
Alexander Explores India
Pytheas Finds British Isles
Julius Caesar as Explorer
Strabo's Geography
The Roman Empire and Pliny
Ptolemy's Maps
Pilgrim Travellers
Irish Explorers
After Mohammed
Vikings Sail Northern Seas
Arab Wayfarers
Travellers to the East
Marco Polo
Mediaeval Exploration Ends
Mediaeval Maps
Prince Henry of Portugal
Bartholomew Diaz
Christopher Columbus
A Great New World
Vasco da Gama Reaches India
Discovery of Spice Islands
Balboa Sees Pacific Ocean
Magellan Sails Round World
Cortes Conquers Mexico
Explorers in South America
Cabot Sails to Newfoundland
Cartier Explores Canada
Search for a Northwest Passage
Frobisher Searches for Passage
Drake's Famous Voyage
Davis Straight
Barents Sails to Spitzbergen
Hudson Finds His Bay
Baffin Finds His Bay
Raleigh Searches for El Dorado
Champlain and Lake Ontario
Discoverers of Australia
Tasman Finds Tasmania
Dampier Discovers a Straight
Behring Finds his Straight
Cook Discovers New Zealand
Cook's Third Voyage
Bruce in Abyssinia
Mungo Park and the Niger
Vancouver and his Island
Mackenzie and his River
Parry and Lancaster Sound
The Frozen North
Franklin's Land Voyage
Parry's Polar Voyage
The Search for Timbuktu
Landers Discover the Niger
Ross Discovers North Pole
Flinders Names Australia
Sturt's Discoveries in Australia
Ross in the Antarctic Seas
Franklin Discovers Passage
David Livingstone
Burton and Speke in Africa
Livingston Traces Nyassa
Expedition to Victoria Nyanza
Baker Finds Albert Nyanza
Livingstone's Last Journey
Through the Dark Continent
Nordenskiold's NE Passage
The Exploration of Tibet
Nansen Reaches Farthest North
Peary Reaches the North Pole
The Quest for the South Pole
Dates of Chief Events