Abel Tasman Discovers New Zealand

New Zealand - Scott #232 (1940)
New Zealand – Scott #232 (1940)

On December 13, 1642, Dutch seafarer, explorer and merchant Abel Janszoon Tasman became the first European to sight New Zealand. He was in command of two vessels that belonged to the Dutch East India Company (VOC) which had dispatched Tasman to look for the fabled Southern Continent in August 1642. Eventually, he sailed across the sea which now bears his name and arrived off the coast of New Zealand. Five days later, on December 18, Tasman and his crew anchored in what is now known as Golden Bay, a short distance from the Maori pa at Taupo Point.

An unfortunate incident with local Maori led to four of his men being killed and one local person being injured. As a result, Tasman and his crew never went ashore. Instead, they fled the area and continued their journey north, up the west coast of New Zealand. The ships anchored again near the Poor Knights Islands in early January 1643 before finally leaving New Zealand waters. Abel Tasman never actually set foot on land.

Today, Abel Tasman is best known for his voyages of 1642 and 1644 in the service of the Dutch East India Company. He was the first known European explorer to reach the islands of Van Dieman’s Land (now called Tasmania), in addition to New Zealand. He was also the first to sight the Fiji islands.

The Maori have had a long association with the area that Tasman discovered dating back more than 600 years.  Archaeological evidence shows most occupation was seasonal, with iwi (tribes) living along the coast, gathering kaimoana (food from the sea) and growing kumara on suitable sites.

The first known iwi to live in the vicinity were the Ngaitara who came from the Wellington area.  Around 1600, they were followed by the Ngati Tumatakokiri who came from the Marlborough Sounds and gradually spread as far as Karamea.  The people of Te Ati Awa and Ngati Rarua also recognize the ancient people of Waitaha who tribal traditions say came to the area from their ancient homeland Hawaiki.

Ngati Tumatakokiri can lay claim to being the first Maori to make contact with Europeans as it is thought warriors from a pa site at Taupo Point were involved in the death of four of Abel Tasman’s men in a skirmish when the Dutch explorer anchored in Golden Bay in 1642.  Maori also suffered casualties and Tasman never landed in the area.

Abel Jans Tasman was born in 1603 in Lutjegast, a small village in the province of Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands. The oldest available source mentioning him is dated December 27, 1631, when, as a seafarer living in Amsterdam, the 28-year-old became engaged to marry 21-year-old Jannetje Tjaers from the Jordaan district of the city. In 1633, he sailed from Texel to Batavia in the service of the VOC, taking the southern Brouwer Route. Tasman took part in a voyage to Seram Island; the locals had sold spices to other European nationalities than the Dutch. He had a narrow escape from death, when in an incautious landing several of his companions were killed by people of Seram.

In August 1637, Tasman was back in Amsterdam, and the following year he signed on for another ten years and took his wife with him to Batavia. On March 25, 1638, he tried to sell his property in the Jordaan, but the purchase was cancelled. In 1639, he was second-in-command of an exploration expedition in the north Pacific under Matthijs Quast. The fleet included the ships Engel and Gracht and reached Fort Zeelandia (Dutch Formosa) and Deshima.

In August 1642, the Council of the Indies, consisting of Antonie van Dieman, Cornelis van ser Lijn, Joan Maetsuycker, Justus Schouten, Salomon Sweers, Cornelis Witsen, and Pieter Boreel in Batavia despatched Tasman and Franchoijs Visscher on a voyage of which one of the objectives was to obtain knowledge of “all the totally unknown provinces of Beach”. This expedition used two small ships, the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen .

Beach appeared on maps of the time, notably that of Abraham Ortelius of 1570 and that of Jan Huygen van Linschoten of 1596, as the northernmost part of the southern continent, the Terra Australis , along with Locach. According to Marco Polo, Locach was a kingdom where gold was “so plentiful that no one who did not see it could believe it”. Beach was in fact a mistranscription of Locach. Locach was Marco Polo’s name for the southern Thai kingdom of Lavo, or Lop Buri, the “city of Lavo”, (ลพบุรี, after Lavo, the son of Rama in Hindu mythology). In Chinese (Cantonese), Lavo was pronounced “Lo-huk” (羅斛), from which Marco Polo took his rendition of the name. In the German cursive script,  “Locach” and “Boeach” look similar, and in the 1532 edition of Marco Polo’s Travels his Locach was changed to Boëach, later shortened to Beach.

They seem to have drawn on the map of the world published in Florence in 1489 by Henricus Martellus, in which provincia boëach appears as the southern neighbour of provincia ciamba. Book III of Marco Polo’s Il Milione described his journey by sea from China to India by way of Champa (Southern Vietnam), Java (which he called Java Major), Locach and Sumatra (called Java Minor). After a chapter describing the kingdom of Champa there follows a chapter describing Java (which he did not visit himself). The narrative then resumes, describing the route southward from Champa toward Sumatra, but by a slip of the pen the name “Java” was substituted for “Champa” as the point of departure, locating Sumatra 1,300 miles to the south of Java instead of Champa. Locach, located between Champa and Sumatra, was likewise misplaced far to the south of Java, by some geographers on or near an extension of the Terra Australis.

As explained by Sir Henry Yule, the editor of an English edition of Marco Polo’s Travels: “Some geographers of the 16th century, following the old editions which carried the travellers south-east of Java to the land of “Boeach” (or Locac), introduced in their maps a continent in that situation”. Gerard Mercator did just that on his 1541 globe, placing Beach provincia aurifera (“Beach the gold-bearing province”) in the northernmost part of the Terra Australis in accordance with the faulty text of Marco Polo’s Travels.

It remained in this location on his world map of 1569, with the amplified description, quoting Marco Polo, Beach provincia aurifera quam pauci ex alienis regionibus adeunt propter gentis inhumanitatem (“Beach the gold-bearing province, whither few go from other countries because of the inhumanity of its people”) with Lucach regnum shown somewhat to its south west. Following Mercator, Abraham Ortelius also showed BEACH and LVCACH in these locations on his world map of 1571. Likewise, Linschoten’s very popular 1596 map of the East Indies showed BEACH projecting from the map’s southern edge, leading (or misleading) Visscher and Tasman in their voyage of 1642 to seek Beach with its plentiful gold in a location to the south of the Solomon Islandssomewhere between Staten Land near Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope.

Confirmation that land existed where the maps showed Beach to be had come from Dirk Hartog’s landing in October 1616 on its west coast, which he called Eendrachtslandafter the name of his ship. In accordance with Visscher’s directions, Tasman sailed from Batavia on August 14, 1642, and arrived at Mauritius on September 5, according to the captain’s journal. The reason for this was the crew could be fed well on the island; there was plenty of fresh water and timber to repair the ships. Tasman got the assistance of the governor Adriaan van der Stel. Because of the prevailing winds Mauritius was chosen as a turning point. After a four-week stay on the island both ships left on October 8 using the Roaring Forties to sail east as fast as possible. (No one had gone as far as Pieter Nuyts in 1626/27.) On November 7, snow and hail influenced the ship’s council to alter course to a more north-eastern direction, expecting to arrive one day at the Solomon Islands.

On  November 24, 1642, Abel Tasman reached and sighted the west coast of Tasmania, north of Macquarie Harbour. He named his discovery Van Diemen’s Land after Antonio van Diemen, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies. Proceeding south he skirted the southern end of Tasmania and turned north-east. Tasman then tried to work his two ships into Adventure Bay on the east coast of South Bruny Island where he was blown out to sea by a storm. This area he named Storm Bay. Two days later Tasman anchored to the north of Cape Frederick Hendrick just north of the Forestier Peninsula. Tasman then landed in Blackman Bay – in the larger Marion Bay. The next day, an attempt was made to land in North Bay. However, because the sea was too rough the carpenter swam through the surf and planted the Dutch flag. Tasman then claimed formal possession of the land on December 3, 1642.

After some exploration, Tasman had intended to proceed in a northerly direction but as the wind was unfavourable he steered east. Tasman endured a very rough journey from Tasmania to New Zealand. In one of his diary entries Tasman credits his compass, claiming it was the only thing that kept him alive. On  December 13, 1642, they sighted land on the north-west coast of the South Island, New Zealand, becoming the first Europeans to do so. Tasman named it Staten Landt on the assumption that it was connected to an island (Staten Island, Argentina) at the south of the tip of South America. He sailed north, then east and five days later anchored about 7 kilometers from the coast. He sent ship’s boats to gather water, but one of his boats was attacked by Māori in a double hulled waka (canoe) and four of his men were attacked and killed with mere.

“In the evening about one hour after sunset we saw many lights on land and four vessels near the shore, two of which betook themselves towards us. When our two boats returned to the ships reporting that they had found not less than thirteen fathoms of water, and with the sinking of the sun (which sank behind the high land) they had been still about half a mile from the shore. After our people had been on board about one glass, people in the two canoes began to call out to us in gruff, hollow voices. We could not in the least understand any of it; however, when they called out again several times we called back to them as a token answer. But they did not come nearer than a stone’s shot. They also blew many times on an instrument, which produced a sound like the moors’ trumpets. We had one of our sailors (who could play somewhat on the trumpet) play some tunes to them in answer.

As Tasman sailed out of the bay he observed 22 waka near the shore, of which “eleven swarming with people came off towards us.” The waka approached the Zeehaen which fired and hit a man in the largest waka holding a small white flag. Canister shot also hit the side of a waka.

Archaeological research has shown the Dutch had tried to land at a major agricultural area, which the Māori may have been trying to protect. Tasman named the bay Murderers’ Bay (now known as Golden Bay) and sailed north, but mistook Cook Strait for a bight (naming it Zeehaen’s Bight). Two names he gave to New Zealand landmarks still endure, Cape Maria van Diemen and Three Kings Islands, but Kaap Pieter Boreels was renamed by Cook 125 years later to Cape Egmont.

En route back to Batavia, Tasman came across the Tongan archipelago on  January 20, 1643. While passing the Fiji Islands Tasman’s ships came close to being wrecked on the dangerous reefs of the north-eastern part of the Fiji group. He charted the eastern tip of Vanua Levu and Cikobia before making his way back into the open sea. He eventually turned north-west to New Guinea, and arrived at Batavia on June 15, 1643.

Tasman left Batavia on January 30, 1644, on his second voyage with three ships (LimmenZeemeeuw and the tender Braek). He followed the south coast of New Guinea eastwards in an attempt to find a passage to the eastern side of New Holland. However, he missed the Torres Strait between New Guinea and Australia, probably due to the numerous reefs and islands obscuring potential routes, and continued his voyage by following the shore of the Gulf of Carpentaria westwards along the north Australian coast. He mapped the north coast of Australia making observations on New Holland, and its people. He arrived back in Batavia in August 1644.

From the point of view of the Dutch East India Company, Tasman’s explorations were a disappointment: he had neither found a promising area for trade nor a useful new shipping route. Although received modestly, the company was upset to a degree that Tasman didn’t fully explore the lands he found, and decided that a more “persistent explorer” should be chosen for any future expeditions. For over a century, until the era of James Cook, Tasmania and New Zealand were not visited by Europeans – mainland Australia was visited, but usually only by accident.

On  November 2, 1644, Abel Tasman was appointed a member of the Council of Justice at Batavia. He went to Sumatra in 1646, and in August 1647 to Siam (now Thailand) with letters from the company to the King. In May 1648, he was in charge of an expedition sent to Manila 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 January 5, 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.

Abel Tasman died at Batavia on  October 10, 1659, and was survived by his second wife and a daughter by his first wife. His property was divided between his wife and his daughter by his first marriage. In his testimony (dating from 1657) he left 25 guilders to the poor of his village Lutjegast.

Although Tasman’s pilot, Frans Visscher, published Memoir concerning the discovery of the South land in 1642, Tasman’s detailed journal was not published until 1898; however, some of his charts and maps were in general circulation and used by subsequent explorers.

Abel Tasman National Park was gazetted in 1942 on the 300th anniversary of Tasman’s arrival off the coast of New Zealand. Covering 22,530 hectares, it is the smallest of New Zealand’s 14 national parks but enjoys one of the largest number of annual visitors.

The region’s abundant food and proximity to the West Coast’s pounamu (greenstone) made it attractive to invading iwi and around 1800 Ngati Tumatakokiri were conquered by Ngati Apa from the North, Ngati Kuia in the east, and Ngai Tahu from the South. According to John and Hilary Mitchell in Te Tau Ihu o te Waka (Volume 1), when French explorer Dumont D’Urville anchored in Tasman Bay in 1827, the Maori in the area were possibly Ngati Kuia and/or Ngati Apa, along with Ngati Tumatakokiri. A chart from D’Urville’s visit shows six huts at Torrent Bay and he, and others like early surveyor John Wallis Barnicoat, recorded Maori in small settlements at Taupo Point, Mutton Cove, Mosquito Bay, Boundary Bay, Torrent Bay, Te Pukatea Bay, Whariwharangi, Awaroa, Marahau and Adele and Fishermans Islands.

In 1828, the Taranaki and Tainui tribes that were part of Te Rauparaha’s confederation swept through the region.  The local tribes were almost completely destroyed with the area then settled by Te Ati Awa, Ngati Rarua and Ngati Tama. Archaeologists have re-discovered artefacts, middens, pits, terraces, and pa sites.  These indicate a mobile lifestyle based on seasonal fishing, gathering and horticulture.

In 1770 — 128 years after Abel Tasman and his crew anchored off of the coast of New Zealand — Captain James Cook visited the area. He sailed past the entrance to what is now Tasman Bay on March 29, 1770, and again in May 1773. Due to unfavourable winds Captain Cook never risked closer inspection.

Renewed European interest in the area came 54 years later, and was the result of a visit by the French explorer Dumont D’Urville. His ship, the Astrolabe, anchored off the coast of the Park on January 16, 1827, and remained there for a period of one week. D’Urville named this sheltered part of the coastline south of Separation Point the “Astrolabe Roadstead”. He also named the nearby island “Adele” after his wife. During his time in the area D’Urville and his crew explored many of the bays and headlands around the Roadstead.

European settlement of the northern part of the South Island was the result of work done by The New Zealand Company. It was in the business of selling passage to New Zealand, as well as land to the new settlers. The New Zealand Company needed at least 200,000 acres of cultivable land for their venture and had already decided to name their settlement Nelson before they left England. However, they had not yet determined where this town would be located.

The rules of the game had changed in February 1840 with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and the establishment of New Zealand as a British colony. As a consequence, the New Zealand Company was no longer able to make its own deals with Maori for land. So while Wakefield had his eye on Canterbury or Lyttelton as the preferred site for the town of Nelson, those areas were no longer available. Instead, the new colonial Government offered land at Mahurangi and near the Waipa River north of Auckland. The Company declined their offer.

F.G. Moore, a pilot who had visited and mapped part of the area in 1840, persuaded the expedition leader, Arthur Wakefield, that the land around what is now Nelson would be suitable. Their first small fleet of ships, loaded with immigrants, anchored in the Astrolabe Roadstead on October 9, 1841.

Once they had anchored, the immigrants were keen to disembark the ships after their four-month voyage from Portsmouth, London. This put Wakefield under pressure to confirm the site of the new settlement, which was still being debated. Some of the settlers did, in fact, set up home near Motueka and in the surrounding flat land. In the end, the relatively safe waters of the Nelson inlet persuaded Wakefield to choose that location for the Company’s new town.

Settlement proceeded quickly over the following eight years. The fledgling town of Nelson grew to a population of 4,047 by 1850 and was the second largest town in the Colony. However, it was apparent very early on that there was a problem. In reality, there was insufficient good land around Nelson to meet the promises the Company had made to the settlers.

An intensive period of exploration and land surveying followed. This led to much of the land now within Abel Tasman National Park boundaries to be subdivided and sold to settler families during the 1850’s and 60’s. However, this was not good farming land. The area was difficult to access, had poor soils and the terrain was mostly challenging.

During the period between 1895 to the mid 1930’s, various parts of the area that are now within the Park were designated as reserves. In 1920-1921, a large area of the land was designated as provisional State Forest pending further investigation. It was the rumour of a proposal to establish a sawmill at Totaranui in 1937 that prompted environmental campaigner and Nelson resident, Perrine Moncrieff, to start pushing for the area to be designated a national park. That same year, there was discussion of building a coastal highway. This highway would provide easy access to the area and gave Moncrieff and others further impetus to pressure the government to set the land aside for scenic and other reserves. In 1939, the government decided to put off designating additional reserves until after the coastal road was constructed. As a result, the petition for National Park status was put on hold. A fire on land at Torrent Bay in 1941 spurred Moncrieff into action once again. She linked her proposal to declare the area a National Park to the upcoming 300th anniversary of Abel Tasman’s discovery of New Zealand. In March 1942, the Acting Minister of Lands, the J.G. Barclay, advised the Member for Nelson, Harry Atmore, that the petition had been granted.

Prime Minister Peter Fraser announced the government decision to set aside nearly 38,000 acres for the Abel Tasman National Park in November 1942. The area comprised 21,000 acres of provisional State Forest, 14,354 acres of Crown land and 1,368 acres of scenic and other reserves.

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands agreed to be patroness of the Park and sent a delegation to attend the official opening on December 19, 1942. This opening was meant to take place at Torrent Bay, but rough seas forced them to hold the ceremony in Kaiteriteri instead. After speeches by government and local representatives, the Governor General, Sir Cyril Newall, declared the Abel Tasman National Park open.

In 1987 the Department of Conservation took over responsibility for the management of the park. This is now administered by the Nelson Conservancy Office through field offices located in Motueka and Takaka.

Other places to have been named after Tasman include the Australian island of Tasmania — formerly Van Dieman’s Land — which was renamed after him includes features such as the Tasman Peninsula, the Tasman Bridge, the Tasman Highway, and the Tasman Sea. In New Zealand can be found Tasman Glacier, Tasman Lake, Tasman River, Mount Tasman, Tasman Bay, and the Tasman District. Also named after Tasman are Abel Tasman Drive, in Takaka, the Abel Tasman Memorial in Takaka, the former passenger/vehicle ferry Abel Tasman, The Able Tasmans – an indie band from Auckland, Jansz — a sparkling wine in NE Tasmania, Tasman — a layout engine for Internet Explorer, 6594 Tasman (1987 MM1) — a main-belt asteroid, Tasman Drive in San Jose, California, with its Tasman light rail station, and Tasman Road in Claremont, Cape Town, South Africa.

The original Tasman Map is held in the collection of the State Library of New South Wales. The map is also known as the Bonaparte map, as it was once owned by Prince Roland Bonaparte, the great-nephew of Napoleon. The map was completed sometime after 1644 and is based on the original charts drawn during Tasman’s first and second voyages. As none of the journals or logs composed during Tasman’s second voyage have survived, the Bonaparte map remains as an important contemporary artefact of Tasman’s voyage to the northern coast of the Australian continent.

The Tasman map largely reveals the extent of understanding the Dutch had of the Australian continent at the time. The map includes the western and southern coasts of Australia, accidentally encountered by Dutch voyagers as they journeyed by way of the Cape of Good Hope to the VOC headquarters in Batavia. In addition, the map shows the tracks of Tasman’s two voyages. Of his second voyage, the map shows the area of the Banda Islands, the southern coast of New Guineaand much of the northern coast of Australia. However, the area of the Torres Strait is shown unexamined; this is despite having been given orders by the VOC Council at Batavia to explore the possibility of a channel between New Guinea and the Australian continent.

There is debate as to the origin of the map. It is widely believed that the map was produced in Batavia, however, it has also been argued that the map was produced in Amsterdam. The authorship of the map has also been debated, while the map is commonly attributed to Tasman, it is now thought to have been the result of a collaboration, probably involving Franchoijs Visscher and Isaack Gilseman, who took part in both of Tasman’s voyages. Whether the map was produced in 1644 is also subject to debate, as a VOC company report in December 1644 suggests that at that time no maps showing Tasman’s voyages were yet complete.

In 1943, a mosaic version of the map, composed of colored marble and brass, was inlaid into the vestibule floor of the Mitchell Library. The work was commissioned by the Principal Librarian William Ifould, and completed by the Melocco Brothers of Annandale, who also worked on ANZAC War Memorial in Hyde Park and the crypt at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney.

Scott #232 was released on January 2, 1940, part of a set of 13 commemorating the centennial of British sovereignty over New Zealand eatablished by the Treaty of Waitangi. The 2-pence black brown and Prussian green (blue green and chocolate accoeding to Stanley Gibbons) was designed by J. Berry and recess pronted by Bradbury Wilkinson & Company Ltd., perforated 13.5×13 on paper watermarked with multiple script CA. Imperforated copies exist but tbese are probably plate proofs.

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