Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Abel Janszen Tasman

From volume XXIII of the work.
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TASMAN, Abel Janszen (c. 1602–1659), a distinguished Dutch navigator, born at Hoorn, North Holland, probably in 1602 or 1603. He is known to have made two important voyages of discovery in the Pacific and Southern Oceans; only of the second of them have we a full account. In June 1639 Tasman, along with Matthew Quast, was despatched by Van Diemen, governor-general of the Dutch East Indies, on a voyage to the Western Pacific, which was first directed to the Philippine Islands; part of the coast of Luzon was explored. Sailing east and north Tasman and Quast touched at several of the Bonin Islands, which they were probably the first to discover. Sailing still farther north, in quest of what were then known as the "islands of gold and silver," they reached the latitude of 38° 40' N., about 600 miles east of Japan, and continued east for other 300 miles on the parallel without discovering anything. On October 15 the navigators decided to return, and, after touching at Japan, anchored at Taiwan-fu, Formosa, November 21. After this, Tasman was engaged in operations in the Indian seas until 1642, when he set out on his first great expedition.[1] Several Dutch navigators had already discovered various portions of the west coast of Australia, and the Dutch East India Company were anxious to obtain a more accurate and extended survey of that land. Sailing from Batavia on August 14, 1642, with two vessels, the "Heemskirk" and "Zeehaan," Tasman on November 24 sighted the land to which he gave the name of Van Diemen, in honour of the governor-general, but which is now named Tasmania. He doubled the land, which he evidently did not know was an island, and, running up Storm Bay, anchored on December 1 in the bay to which he gave the name of Frederick Henry. There he set up a post on which he hoisted the Dutch flag. Quitting Van Diemen's Land on December 5, Tasman steered eastwards with a vague idea of reaching the Solomon Islands, and on December 13 he discovered a "high mountainous country," which he called "Staatenland" (New Zealand). Cruising along the west coast of the South Island, he anchored on the 18th in 40° 50' S. lat., at the entrance of a "wide opening," which he took to be a "fine bay," but which was no doubt Cook's Strait. He gave the name of Moordenaars (Massacre) Bay to the bay, at which he attempted to land, and where several of his men were killed by the natives. Leaving New Zealand, and pursuing an irregularly north direction, but never coming in sight of Australia, he discovered, on January 21, 1643, two islands belonging to the Friendly group, to which he gave the names of Middelburg (Eova) and Amsterdam (Tongatabu). After discovering several other islands in the Friendly group and their neighbourhood, Tasman steered north and west, reaching the neighbourhood of New Britain on March 22. On the 24th he passed Morghen Islands, and, sailing round New Ireland and along the north coast of New Guinea, he cleared the straits between New Guinea and Jilolo, arriving at Batavia on June 15. after a ten months' voyage.[2] The materials for an account of Tasman's important second voyage in 1644 are extremely scanty; they consist of Tasman's own chart and some fragmentary notes by Burgomaster Witsen in his work (1705) on the migrations of the human race (translated in Dalrymple's collection). Further information as to authorities[3] will be found in Mr R. H. Major's Hakluyt Society volume on Early Voyages to Australia, where also will be found the "Instructions" given to Tasman for his voyage to New Guinea. He is instructed to obtain a thorough knowledge of Staten and Van Diemen's Land, and "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 vessels under his command. His discoveries were confined to the north and north-west coasts of Australia, and his chart gives the soundings for the whole of this line of coast. He discovered the Gulf of Carpentaria, and established the continuity of the north-west coast of the land designated generally "the great known south continent," as far south as about the 22d degree. The fullest details as to maps of the voyage and other authorities will be found in Mr Major's Hakluyt Society volume referred to above. Tasman rightly ranks as one of the greatest navigators of the 17th century. He died at Batavia in October 1659.

For personal details, see paper on Tasman by Ch. M. Dozy in Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land-, en Volkenkunde van Nederlandsch-Indiē, 5th series, vol. ii. p. 308.

  1. See Siebold's paper in Le Moniteur des Indes-Orientales et Occidentales, 1848—49, pt. i. p. 390.
  2. The best English translation of Tasman's Journal is in Burney's Collection, vol. iii. The Dutch original was published at Amsterdam in 1860, edited by Jacob Swart, and contains the chart of the second voyage.
  3. The subject is thoroughly discussed by P. H. Leupe in the Bijdragen van het kon. Inst. voor Taal-, Land-, en Volkenkunde v.d. Ind. Archipel, ser. i. pt. iv. pp. 123–140; in Bijd. voor Vaderlandsche Geschiedenis en Oudheid Kunde, by R. Fruin, new series, pt. vii. p, 254; and in the same writer's work De Reizen der Nederlanders naar Nieuw Guinea (The Hague, 1875); also Col. A. Haga, Nederlandsch Nieuw Guinea (The Hague, 1884).