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Abel Janszoon Tasman

the first known European explorer to reach Tasmania and New Zealand and to sight Fiji

Abel Tasman

Abel Janszoon Tasman was born in Lutjegast, Netherlands, about 1603. Little is known about his early life except that he received a sufficient enough education to enable him to express his ideas clearly in writing and to become a skilled navigator. He married Claesgie Meyndrix, by whom he had a daughter. After she died, he married Joanna Tiercx (in January 1632).

By 1634, Tasman was in the East Indies with the Dutch East India Company. In that year, as Skipper of the Mocha, he had a narrow escape from death when, during an incautious landing, several of his companions were massacred by people of Ceram. As Senior Officer on the Banda, he sailed from Batavia on December 30, 1636, and arrived back in the Netherlands on August 1, 1637. He left for the East Indies again as Skipper of the Engel on April 15, 1638 (this time taking his wife with him), and arrived back at Batavia on October 11, 1638.

First Voyage of Exploration

On June 2, 1639, Tasman and Matthijs Hendricxsen Quast were sent by Antony Van Diemen, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies, on a voyage to the northwestern Pacific, in quest of certain "islands of gold and silver" supposed to lie in the ocean east of Japan. The men improved Dutch knowledge of the east coast of Luzon and discovered and mapped various islands in the Bonin archipelago, but never found the fabled islands. On October 15 the navigators decided to return, and, after touching at Japan, anchored at the Dutch fortress-station of Zeelandia in Formosa (Taiwan) on November 24, 1639.

places associated with Tasman's early life and first voyage of  exploration

Tasman was subsequently engaged in operations in the Indian seas as a merchant captain until 1642, when he set out on his first great "South Land" expedition, which was planned and organized by Governor Van Diemen, who had grand plans for extension of the Dutch colonial empire.

Second Voyage of Exploration

After sailing from Batavia on August 14, 1642 with two vessels, the Heemskerk and Zeehaen, and calling at Mauritius, Tasman sailed first south then east until, on November 24, he sighted the land which he named Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). Although the expedition charted and explored the land's eastern and southern shores, Tasman failed to determine that it was an island.

Leaving Tasmania on December 5, Tasman steered east and, on December 13, sighted a "high mountainous country," which he called "Staten landt" ("Land of the States," now New Zealand). Cruising up northeast along the west coast of the South Island, he anchored, on December 18, at the entrance of a wide opening, which he named Murderers Bay because several of his men were killed by natives there. Although he charted part of its southern coast, Tasman failed to realize that the bay was actually a strait separating "Staten landt" into two large islands (it is now known as Cook Strait). Returning westward, he then sailed along the west side of the North Island until, on January 4, 1643, he came to the northern extremity of New Zealand. From there, he set a course to the north-northeast.

On January 19-25, 1643, Tasman discovered various islands in the Tonga group, with Amsterdam (Tongatabu), Middelburg (Eva), and Rotterdam being the most notable. Here, the ships took on 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. From there, they headed north and west, reaching the eastern part of the Fiji archipelago, which he called Prince William's Islands and Heemskerk's Shoals, on February 6.

By April 1 Tasman was within sight of New Ireland, and from there he sailed westward past the north coast of New Ireland and around New Hanover, past the western coast of New Britain, along the north coast of New Guinea, reaching the westernmost point of New Guinea on May 18. After passing through the East Indies, the voyage ended at Batavia on June 15, 1643.

general route of Tasman's 1642-1643 voyage

Third Voyage of Exploration

In 1644, Tasman, in command of the Limmen, Zeemeeuw, and Brak, sailed along the southwest coast of New Guinea. Mistaking the western opening of Torres Strait (which separates New Guines from Australia), he then sailed into and explored the Gulf of Carpenteria, mapping its coastline with fair accuracy. He subsequently charted the north and west coasts of Australia as far as 22 S, making soundings along the way, before returning to Batavia.

route of Tasman's last voyage of exploration

Later Life

Tasman's achievements were received with little enthusiasm by the Dutch colonial authorities, who were disappointed that he had neither found a promising area for trade nor a useful new shipping route. He was, however, rewarded with the rank of Commander (a title he had already given himself), and, on November 2, 1644, was made a member of the Council of Justice of Batavia. He was a member of the committee appointed on April 18, 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. 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 April 10, 1657, seems to have but slightly preceded his death, which probably happened before October 22, 1659.


Australian Dictionary of Biography
Notorious Names Database

See Also

New Zealand

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The Robinson Library >> History of Discoveries, Explorations, and Travel

This page was last updated on 12/13/2018.