Tasman: a forgotten navigator
Tasman: A Forgotten Navigator.
By Captain W. EATON.
A FORGOTTEN NAVIGATOR
By Captain W. EATON.
Mr. President, Ladies, and Gentlemen,—This being (in the phraseology of the stage) my first appearance, a few introductory remarks, presenting my credentials as it were, may not be considered altogether inopportune.
Standing here to-night, it would be quite natural, and very much in accordance with my wishes, to eulogise the aims and ideals, and also the past triumphs of Geographical Science, but I think, and you will all agree with me, that to do so would be quite superfluous, and only furnish another illustration of what is termed "painting the lily."
But a few words bearing indirectly on our subject may not be out of place.
The great kingdom of Geographical Science has many ramifications, and these ramifications are so extensive and far-reaching that, like the territories of some powerful potentate, they sometimes infringe on the boundaries of neighbouring States. For instance, when we investigate the cause and effect of earthquakes, we find ourselves on the edge of the Dominion of Geology.
The north coast of Queensland is ravaged at intervals by cyclones, and when we try to solve the laws which regulate their motion when in our vicinity, we are on the outskirts of the Domain of Meteorology.
But Nautical Discovery is distinct from all neighbouring sciences. It stands alone, and is the very foundation of the building. To the ordinary student it is also the most attractive section of the science. Philology, Ethnology, Zoology, and the other abstruse 'ologies which contribute their quota to rear the great geographical edifice, are less attractive, but by no means less valuable.
But to the boy, or to the grown man, the literary or the illiterate, the story of Columbus, of Cook, of Dampier, and the grand roll of Arctic and Antarctic heroes, is for ever fascinating, and inspires in present and future generations high ideals and heroic aims.
Nautical discovery occupied a pre-eminent position in the earlier stages of our geographical knowledge. It is different to-day. The 19th century gave birth to Geography as a science, as it did to Chemistry and Biology, and, I may add, to New Astronomy, and to-day as a science it embraces land and sea; and, like Chemistry and the other sciences, it is very progressive in its nature, divulging its secrets bit by bit. There is no finality in science, "for we are ancients of the earth, and in the morning of the time," and there is no royal road to geographical science. It is not like poetry, an intuitive perception. It is the one great attribute of Nature, that, like a coy maiden, she never dispenses her favours to the careless or the indifferent. He who would become an adept in interpreting her secret must (to borrow a line from the poet Burns) "assiduous wait upon her." Not to be content with an occasional mild flirtation, but to be an ardent votary and sincere seeker after truth, and have for his motto that noble line from Tennyson: "Let knowledge grow from more to more. How pleasant are the ways which lead to knowledge!"
In my younger days, we used to sing in the old Scotch Kirk a paraphrase of Scripture setting forth the beauties of Divine wisdom —
"Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all
"Her paths are peace."
And so it is with knowledge, "Her ways," etc.
It may happen, as it often does happen in our work-a-day world, that we meet with crosses and troubles, but when these assail us, we have, in the pursuit and enjoyment of knowledge, the purest consolation, and which will enable us to rise on the stepping-stones of our worldly selves to higher things.
The present age is characterised by an intensely intellectual activity. The ordinary mind is bewildered by the daily discoveries and inventions of science. Some of these are so far-reaching that we ask ourselves when the limit to these wonders will be reached, and whether we will yet attain to a more divine intelligence, so that we may fathom those great mysteries, Time and Space.
We have a complacent feeling that Providence has hitherto kept many secrets of Nature under lock and key for our special behoof; that all through the ages men groped their way from the cradle to the grave, enveloped in the murkiest ignorance.
But we are beginning to have an uneasy feeling or suspicion that in many of our intellectual triumphs we have been forestalled. The Chinese claim many of our good things, and their claims cannot be altogether ignored. We cannot dispute their title to the mariner's compass, the discovery of which is not due to modern civilisation, but is mentioned, as illustrating the case in point. Also the hieroglyphics of old Nile, and the clay tablets of Babylon, and Nineveh, are making us reluctantly aware, that those old Eastern people knew more than we are inclined to credit them with.
The steamship, however, we can safely claim as our own, "The glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome" have nothing in common with this. Between the Roman war galley which carried Julius Cæsar to the shores of Britain and our modern battleship, there is a great gulf. The twenty-knot steamer is one of our modern wonders. All the resources and scientific appliances of the age have been called into requisition to produce the Atlantic liner.
However, when we read of some record-breaking Atlantic passage, where time and space have been abridged and the very elements subjected to our use, let us not forget that there were brave men before Agamemnon; that there were brave old ships which did great deeds, long before steamships were dreamt of; long before the China clipper, robed in studding sails, raced across the Indian Ocean; even long before Captain Cook existed, and he represents, to the average Australian, everything connected with our maritime history.
As there have been phases of civilisation long anterior to our own, so the sea of our ancestors has a history rivalling in interest, if not in importance, that of the present.
In those days when the world was wide, in that period which we still fondly call "the good old times" (although we have no desire for its return); when Australia and New Zealand, with their populous cities, and marvellous goldfields, were alike unknown, when the United States and Canada did not exist; when China and Japan were names inseparably connected with Marco Polo and Prester John, the records of our early maritime history were full of tragic interest. To the modern pioneers of the sea might be applied the old Biblical summing up, that "there were giants in the earth in those days."
Their ships were what we would term small; perhaps about the average size of the now extinct collier brig. We read of Bartholomew Diaz. who first rounded the Cape of Good Hope, in 1486, that his two vessels were 50 tons each, and to him the Cape was a veritable Cape of Storms. Ten years later, Vasco di Gama performed the same voyage in two crafts of 150 and 120 tons. John Davis, towards the end of the 16th century, penetrated the Arctic regions to almost 73° North latitude, in a clinker-built yawl of 20 tons, and discovered the strait which bears his name. The famous Drake, in the earlier part of his career, made a voyage to the Spanish Main in two vessels of 70 and 25 tons respectively. In 1576 Martin Frobisher voyaged to the Arctic regions in search of a N.W. passage to China, with a vessel of 25 tons and a pinnace of 10 tons. Columbus discovered the New World and encountered the winter storms of the North Atlantic in small vessels not any larger than our river and coasting craft. Only one of his vessels was decked over all. It is to us wonderful that the daring expeditions of those days into unknown seas should have been undertaken in such vessels.
Those early navigators relate their adventures in the quaintest of language, in which there is scarcely ever a note of complaint.
They are cast away on inhospitable shores. They are cut off by hostile savages. Their ships are often charnel houses of disease and death. They lose their masts in Cape storms, and their rudders on unknown shoals. Their food and their water are often of the roughest kind. All these and a host of other vicissitudes common enough in those days are endured, and described without the slightest tinge of our modern every-day sensationalism.
Their ships, although small, were generally strongly built. They are depicted on old maps and charts with very bluff bows and high, square sterns, innocent of the least approach to what is termed run. Consequently, they were slow in turning to windward. The incessant buffeting of stormy seas and the dreadful calms of the tropics often caused them to leak badly. There were none of the preserved foods and medicinal aids with which to-day we ward off scurvy, that once fatal scourge of the sea.
It may be interesting to give here the bill of fare, or what is now termed the scale of provisions, for the seamen of that period. The particulars here, quoted apply specially to the vessels of a Dutch expedition, which sailed from the Texel, in 1643, bound for Chili, and other possible places, and commanded by Hendrick Brouer, whom the annalist characterises as a man of much experience. With possible slight differences, it would also doubtless apply to the English shipping of that time.
"To each man one good cheese for the whole voyage.
"Three pounds of biscuit, one quartern of vinegar, and a pound of butter a week.
"Sundays:—¾ of a pound of salt beef.
"Mondays and Wednesdays:—6 ounces of salted cod.
"Tuesdays and Saturdays:—¼ of a pound of stock fish.
"Thursdays and Fridays:—¾ of a pound of bacon and grey peas.
"At all times as much boiled oatmeal as they choose to eat." This scale of provisions contrasts not unfavourably with the present writer's experience of twenty-five years ago in the average British vessel. The amount of vinegar to the salt meat and salt fish is perhaps a little out of proportion, like Falstaff's ha'porth of bread to the intolerable two gallons of sack. John Davis, of Davis Straits fame, tells us particulars of his men's dietary, in one of his Arctic voyages. Each mess of five men was to receive four pounds of bread daily, twelve quarts of beer, six stock fish, and an extra gill of peas on salt-meat days.
Viewed from our standpoint, the appliances for the navigation of their vessels were of the rudest description. The latitude was found in a very rough manner up to the end of the sixteenth century by a very primitive instrument, termed a cross-staff. Captain John. Davis, just mentioned, invented a superior instrument, called a back-staff. Hadley's quadrant, now in use, did not make its appearance until nearly a century and a half later. The speed of the vessel was found by flinging overboard, astern, what is termed a logship, with line attached. As the vessel sailed onward the line was allowed to run out. The line was marked by knots, and the time of its running out measured by a minute glass. Therefore, as sixty seconds are to an hour, so was the distance between each knot to a nautical mile. This was termed "heaving the log," and is the origin of our present way of denoting the speed of a ship as so many knots or miles an hour. This method was in universal use from that period until our steamboat age. Now we have what is known as the patent log, which measures a far greater speed than did its old-fashioned predecessor.
To ascertain the longitude was the supreme difficulty. The method had been proposed of observing the distance of the moon from the sun, with simultaneous altitudes—what is now known as taking a lunar. But the instruments necessary were then too rough for such a delicate operation.
In 1605 a Spanish expedition sailed from Peru for "the discovery of lands and seas in Southern parts." It was commanded by Quiros and Torres, two eminent navigators. The narrative of the voyage was written by Torres. He gives the latitude of the various positions of his vessels no less than seventeen times, but never once alludes to longitude.
The charts then in use were rude and unreliable. Map-making was known to the Greeks and Romans. The most celebrated geographer of ancient times was Ptolemy, an Alexandrian of the second century, who originated a system which, strange to say, was for thirteen centuries, with some slight variations, accepted as representing the true configuration of the earth's surface.
His geography dealt not only with the known, but the unknown. Outside of the Roman world, as Indo-China, Northern Europe, and the greater part of Africa, his system of geography, owing to lack of scientific observation, was rough and incorrect. It was principally based on vague rumours, or the grotesque tales of adventurous travellers.
During the Middle Ages his system obtained universal credence. Very little was done during those dreary centuries to expand or improve his conceptions. Original thought was not a characteristic of those times. It was dangerous to be original.
As a specimen of the Ptolemaic geography, a map by a later follower of Ptolemy places the southern extremity of Africa at about the 16th parallel of latitude, but by way of compensation connects it with an elongation of the coast of China.
Mr. R. H. Major, in his work, "Early Voyages," gives the following translation of the text which accompanies this map: "Thirty degrees from Java the less, is Gatigara, nineteen degrees on the other side of the Equinoctial, toward the South. Of lands beyond this point, nothing is known, for navigation has not been extended further, and it is impossible to proceed by land, in consequences of the large lakes, and lofty mountains in those parts. It is said, that there is the site of the Terrestrial Paradise."
As another instance of Ptolemy's geography, Ceylon is made to extend to 15 degrees of latitude and 12 of longitude; consequently it is made fourteen times as large as the reality.
China was also placed 60 degrees nearer to Western Europe, and led Columbus to imagine that the distance to the New World was so much less, "and that a moderately short voyage westward would bring them to its shores, or to the extensive and wealthy islands which lie adjacent."
The great ocean covering two-thirds of our earth was mysterious and unknown. It is interesting to reflect that, in all probability, it had ever been a vast solitude, undisturbed by man’s puny handiwork; where the trade-wind, and the gale, and the hurricane, had been, during vast ages—(ere ever man was)—doing Nature's work, as they do, to-day.
An eminent writer of the Middle Ages, and who is quoted by Washington Irving, says: "No one is able to verify anything concerning the ocean, on account of its difficult and perilous navigation, its great obscurity, its profound depth, and frequent tempests; through fear of its mighty fishes, and haughty winds. There is no mariner who dares to enter into its deep waters; or, if any have done so, they have merely kept along its coasts, fearful of departing from them." But the Portuguese navigators, creeping southwards along the African coast, bit by bit, rounding the Cape of Good Hope, and eventually reaching India, gave a stimulus to geographical research.
Cartography, hitherto of an archaic and academic nature, became elevated to the dignity of a useful science. The invention of printing, and consequent revival of letters, gave powerful aid in extending geographical knowledge. Printed works by Spanish and Portuguese navigators could now be passed from hand to hand, instead of being buried in inaccessible libraries, as had been the former works of a similar character.
On the decline of the Spanish and Portuguese maritime ascendancy, Holland, then in all the flush of recent victory over its great enemy Spain, came to the front as the world's greatest sea power.
The Dutch, in spite of the enmity of their Portuguese and Spanish rivals, contrived to profit by their superior maritime experience, and produced several eminent cartographers. Linschoten, a Dutchman, who had voyaged to the East, produced, in 1595, his Itinerario, illustrated with maps. Lucas Wagenaar, also of Holland, published the first Marine Atlas in 1584.
These, and other works of a similar nature, were a powerful aid to Dutch exploration. The first appearance of the Dutch in the East was in 1596, just eight years after the Spanish Armada. To reach India by the Cape of Good Hope, they had to run the gauntlet of the Portuguese naval power, and by the Cape Horn route they had to fight their bitter enemy Spain.
They therefore, in the last years of the 16th century, made three different attempts to reach the East by the North-east passage of the Arctic regions. Each attempt was unsuccessful. Their third voyage was specially tragic. Although having no special connection with our subject, one incident in connection with this voyage may be interesting.
Their vessel got hopelessly jammed by the ice, and the crew had to winter in Nova Zembla. Here their great commander, Barentz, died, and the following summer the crew escaped in boats. In 1871 the hut in which they had wintered was discovered. It had been strongly built, and had withstood the Arctic storms of 274 years. Everything in the hut was almost in the same condition as which these emaciated Dutch sailors had left, nearly three centuries before. The clock on the wall—the cooking pans over the fire-place—a book on navigation in the Dutch language, by a Spanish author—an account of China, by Mendozai—a flute which still gave out a few notes of music—a halbert leaning against the wall—and the shoes of a boy who had died. The Arctic climate has a wonderful preserving power.
In the beginning of the 17th century we find the Dutch in possession of Java; and now the sturdy figure of Abel Jansen Tasman looms dimly through the centuries. Navigator and explorer, he occupies, by reason of his discoveries, a commanding position among the world’s great seamen. Without the fiery genius of Drake, or the scientific and observant mind of Dampier, he possessed abilities of no common order.
Like our Captain Cook, he was of lowly origin, and commenced his sea life with the Dutch fishermen in the North Sea. He joined the service of the Dutch East India company as a common sailor, and rose rapidly to the position of a master of a vessel, or skipper, as the Dutch term it. He had already commanded in two important trading expeditions from Batavia to Japan and the North Pacific, and proved himself a capable seaman and bold leader of men. Some of his maps are still extant, and show considerable knowledge of cartography. Dr. Thomson, Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, Queensland, relates in his "Round the World," having seen, in the possession of Prince Roland Bonaparte, President of the French Geographical Society, Paris, Tasman's original manuscript map of Australia.
In 1642, when forty years of age, Tasman was commissioned by the Council of Batavia to discover the extent of the unknown South Continent. Very little of this land was then known. There was no conception of its extent or configuration. The planet Mars, in our own day, with its reputed canals, is not more mysterious.
The existence of a great Southern continent—Terra Australis Incognita—had long been the belief of cosmographers. As there were large continents in the Northern Hemisphere, it was argued that, in accordance with the usual natural law of compensation, there should be equally large continents in the Southern Hemisphere.
It was not until Captain Cook had sailed over the site of those imaginary lands that the theory was finally dissipated.
Since the Dutch had established themselves in the East, this unknown land had engaged their attention. They had visited, but not explored, the Gulf of Carpentaria. They had also touched on the West and South coasts, but only in an accidental manner. There is no authentic record of the east coast having been visited by them.
At this time the great Australian Continent, the future empire of the South, was lying, like Tennyson's sleeping princess, waiting for the discoverer to wake her into animated life.
Two vessels were commissioned for the voyage. They were bluff bowed galliots—the "Heemskirk" and the "Zeehaan." The "Heemskirk" was in that day classified as a yacht. Quite the opposite in everything to our modern aristocratic vessel of that name. The "Zeehaan" ranked in size and equipment as a fly-boat, and was smaller than her consort, the "Heemskirk."
The expedition was not purely exploratory. The very practical and hard-headed directors of the Dutch East India Company were never actuated by any adventurous ideals; neither did they believe that the honour of exploration, like the practice of virtue, was it own reward. Profitable dividends were tho chief ends in view.
For this purpose the two vessels were laden with all sorts of goods, under the care and management of a merchant or supercargo. It may be interesting to mention, parenthetically, that Tasman's monthly salary was 80 guilders, or, in English money, £6 13s. 4d. Two years later, this was increased to 100 guilders, or £9 6s. 8d.—not by any means an income commensurate with the importance of his position, even allowing for the greater value of money at that period.
Tasman, on taking command of the expedition, commences his journal, or log, as follows:—
"Journal of Description by me, Abel Jansen Tasman, of a voyage from Batavia for making discoveries of the unknown South land in the year 1642. May God Almighty be pleased to give His blessing to the voyage. Amen."
The modern skipper does not, as a rule, enter such a valediction in his log. and in the experience of many years I have never known one who expressed such sentiments verbally. This by the way.
At first we might imagine that Tasman must have been of an unusually religious nature. But this does not necessarily follow. It was an age which believed in the supernatural; when religion, dominated every phase of Politics, every condition of Art, and nearly every department of Literature. It coloured all personality, and permeated the life and thought of the people. It is, therefore, not surprising that this spiritual and religious temperament was often strangely blended with cruel matter of fact action.
Carlyle has lately pictured to us the true Cromwell as a Christian soldier and statesman, but the Irish nation has not forgiven the cruel massacre of Drogheda.
Sir John Hawkins, when engaged raiding with fire and sword the negroes for transport to the Spanish Main, had daily prayers on his vessels. When becalmed for twenty-eight days in the tropical, latitudes, he expected great mortality among the closely-packed slaves; "but," says his biographer, "the Almighty God, who never suffereth His elect to perish, sent us the ordinary trade-wind."
We read, also, that Drake's men partook of the Holy Communion in Magellan Straits, before commencing their career of pillage in the South Seas. Afterwards, when he had raided the Spanish galleon from the Philippines, he released the empty ship, and gave the unfortunate Spanish captain a letter of safe conduct, the religious sentiments of which would have done honour to any evangelist.
Tasman left Batavia in August, 1642, and entered the Indian Ocean by the Sunda Straits. He ran across from land to land, with a fresh south-east trade-wind on his port quarter, and arrived at Mauritius after a rapid passage of 22 days.
This, although rather a circular course for the South land, and if imitated would not be approved of by the modern shipowner, was under the conditions, the best track that could have been followed. It enabled Tasman to take a great sweep of the Southern Ocean, and gave him fair winds shortly after leaving Mauritius.
On his run from Batavia across the Indian Ocean, he had apparently no means of knowing his longitude, unless by what is termed dead reckoning, and which can never be depended on after a few days' run. He therefore adopted the usual plan of that time, and also of long afterwards, of getting into the latitude of his destination, and then running on that parallel until arrival.
Tasman's longitudes, as might be expected, were very far from being correct. In his journal he says, "By our reckoning, we were still 200 miles east of Mauritius when we saw it," That is, he had over-run his distance, by dead reckoning, an average of 9 miles every 24 hours, but his ships, for the greater part of the way, were under the favouring influence of the Equatorial current, the extent and influence of which he was probably ignorant.
The island of Mauritius was at this time a Dutch possession. When discovered, in 1507, by the Portuguese, it was uninhabited, and showed no traces of ever having been the abode of man. Its fauna was meagre, for it only contained one mammal, a large fruit-eating bat.
It is interesting to know that this small island was the home of that celebrated but now extinct bird, the Dodo. This curious bird is described by naturalists as a massive, clumsy, and defenceless creature; about as large as a swan; covered with downy feathers; having a very strong hooked bill; short, stout legs; a short tail, and wings too small for flight. Intimacy with Europeans has not been favourable to many of the native races, human or otherwise. The Dodo was no exception to this rule, for about forty years after Tasman’s visit it became extinct.
Forests of ebony were then plentiful in the island. Since then it has been largely cleared, to make room for the more profitable sugar-cane. Tasman tells us that while lying here he received news of a certain French vessel being in the neighbourhood. Thereupon certain of his crew were despatched to the north-west of the island, being suspicious that the Frenchman intended to cut ebony, which would not be allowed. Evidently freetrade was not a popular belief in those days. We read in Tasman's journal that during his stay here every preparation was made for their great voyage to the unknown land.
The crews were sent on shore to assist the huntsmen in catching game for present and future use. The position and rating of huntsmen on those exploring ships is now rather a mystery, and in our modern vessels has lapsed, owing to increased facilities in every port for obtaining supplies. Ship chandlers and butchers have usurped the place of the huntsmen, and now the name is only suggestive of the modern English hunting field.
As the result of this battue, a large number of wild hogs, and wild goats, were obtained, and equally divided between the two ships. The carpenters were also sent on shore to cut firewood and spare spars.
The ships required repairs. They were both old, and one was considerably rotten. Their spars and rigging, satisfactory enough in smooth seas and tropical weather, were not altogether fit for the desolate stormy billows of the Southern Ocean. We doubt if any of our present day sailors, even the most reckless, could be induced to sign articles in such vessels, bound on such a voyage. The opportunity was therefore taken to re-fit and repair them for possible rough weather.
Before proceeding further, I may mention that all the accounts of Tasman’s present voyage are derived from his own journal. A short abstract in the Dutch language was published at Amsterdam, thirty years afterwards. In later years partial translations were given in English and French collections of voyages. A copy of the journal and of the original sketches and charts were in 1776 discovered in London in a collection of old books, and came into the possession of Sir Joseph Banks. The manuscript of the English translation is now in the British Museum. In the beginning of last century, Captain Burney published the more important parts of this translation in his "History of Discovery in the South Sea"—a work now only found in dusty libraries or private collections. Tasman's memory has received scant honour in his own country, for it was not until 1860 that his full journal was printed at Amsterdam, and given to the world.
The entire narrative is given in the most dry-as-dust manner, in a language as grey and sombre as the Southern seas, and as uninteresting as the flats and dykes of his native Holland. Throughout the journal we cannot get a glimpse of Tasman's natural self. He is to our view a mere abstraction, and we can only judge him by his deeds. This voyage proved to be one of the most important of any which had been undertaken since the first circumnavigation of the globe, but we only know its results, and in language very much akin to that of a Gazetteer.
In this characteristic he is no unworthy representative of his great countryman, William the Silent. Tasman and his officers were apparently the most unimaginative of Dutchmen. He volunteers no description of Mauritius. No mention is made of its picturesque mountains—its coral reefs—its abundance of fish—its climatic conditions—its flora and fauna—only an island not remarkable as a profitable asset to his employers, the Dutch East India Company.
They lay at Mauritius thirty days, and on the 8th of October they weighed anchor and launched out into the great unknown sea; two tiny barques in search of a great continent. For several days the winds were variable, and the variation of the compass is noted as 23½° West.
For nineteen days after leaving Mauritius the lonely navigators give no sign; only record in the baldest of language that the winds were easterly, or westerly, or variable, as might be.
On the 27th they saw a great deal of duck-weed floating in the sea. A council of the captains and pilot was held, and in their own quaint language it was resolved to keep a man constantly at the masthead to look-out; and whosoever first discovered land, "sands, or banks, under water," should receive a reward of three reals, and a pot of arrack. This no doubt encouraged increased vigilance on the part of the Dutch sailors. We get no glimpse of their life on board, or how they passed the dreary days, with a wild waste of unknown seas around them, and a world of uncertainty ahead.
No mention is made of animal life or any other object of nature which generally attract the attention of travellers in unknown regions. They plodded on in their comfortless crafts, full of dogged, silent courage, amid the cold moaning of Southern gales. There is nothing here akin to the hopes, and fears, and anxieties, and petty jealousies, which agitated Columbus and his companions on their first great voyage of discovery.
After the look-out at the masthead was set, little scraps of information are doled out very sparingly. On November 4th, four weeks out, as they saw more seaweed, it was naturally conjectured that they were nearing land, and that night the ship was hove to.
The journal tells us that seals and thunnies were seen. As the approximate latitude that day was 48° South, and the longitude about 86° East, the nearest land was the island of St. Paul's, 380 miles astern. Cape Leewin was about 1,300 miles ahead. They had passed between St. Paul's and Kerguelan's Islands.
On the 6th they had a westerly gale, with snow, and it is mentioned that it was very cold. This is the first and only note of complaint that we hear from them. Their latitude was 49° South, and long. 94° East. The difference of longitude in these two days gives their speed at 160 miles in twenty-four hours—about 7 knots an hour.
They now begin to think that they are too far south, for the land they are in search of. Another council was called, when it was proposed that they should keep to the more northerly parallel of 44° South until they had passed the 129th meridian, and then make for the parallel of 40° South, and, if no land was then seen, to keep in that parallel until 180° East was reached, and then steer North. It was therefore resolved to steer North-east until 44° South.
As they get more northerly, the westerly gales lulled, but the sea ran high from the southward, and they opined, therefore, that there was no large tract of land in that direction. On November 17th, forty days out, their latitude was 44° 15' South, and their longitude 126° East. They found the compass variation 8° West. That is, the north point of the compass needle is drawn 8 degrees west of the true north. The magnetic pole has so changed its position in two and a half centuries that the variation in this locality is now 2° West. The variation of the compass needle was familiar enough to the navigators of Tasman's time, but to Columbus, who first observed the aberration, it occasioned great uneasiness, and much terror to his officers and crew. They had now passed Cape Leewin, and were abreast the Great Australian Bight. It shows the accuracy of Tasman's navigation when he mentions that he must now have passed that part of the South land already known, or at least as far eastward as the land which Peter Nuyts had visited fifteen years before.
That night they lay to, and at daylight sailed again eastward. On November 22nd, if Tasman had steered North about 50 miles, he would have discovered the Kangaroo Island of South Australia.
Tasman is here alarmed at the eccentricities of his compass, which swings four points, or 45 degrees. He imagines that there must be loadstones in the vicinity. Those of us who have had the pleasure of reading the voyages of the celebrated navigator, Sinbad, may remember that on one occasion his ship was wrecked when passing a distant mountain of such magnetic power that it drew every iron bolt from the sides of Sinbads vessel, causing a general collapse.
Before the laws of magnetism were so well understood as they now are, a modified idea of a similar nature obtained credence, not only with seamen, but with minds of scientific order.
Without going to the extreme view given in Sinbad's history, as to a magnetic force acting on the ironwork of a vessel at sea, it was, and is still, a belief that there are various shores throughout the world, the rocks of which are so full of magnetic iron as to seriously interfere with the compasses of passing vessels.
The Admiralty charts call attention to such localities. The northern shores of the Gulf of Finland are of such a nature, and also the northern coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence has in the Admiralty "Books of Direction" the same physical character.
The writer has navigated in both of these places, and can testify to the compass being sometimes unreliable to a certain extent; so much so that in the Gulf of St. Lawrence a steamer of which the writer was chief officer was sailing on what was considered a perfectly safe course, but ran ashore in the darkness, and became a total wreck.
But other views are now beginning to be adopted. It is scarcely possible to navigate a vessel with safety, so close to the shore as to influence her compass to any appreciable amount; but it is possible that a vessel may sail over magnetic rocks, well below the surface, but quite near enough to render her compass unsteady and erratic.
On the 24th November, their compass was again steady, as before. They were steering a course to gain the 40th parallel, when in the afternoon they saw land about 40 miles off. They had discovered Tasmania.
After a run of 47 days, mostly in stormy weather, Tasman’s longitude was only 90 miles too far west; that is, by his reckoning the longitude when land was seen was 142° 24' East. He was 40 miles off the land, which made his real longitude 144° 25' East. It is, of course, impossible to know whether this result was due to professional skill or merely an accidental coincidence.
Fearing that the coast of this new land might have hidden dangers, they stood out to sea until morning. Next day it was calm, and the succeeding day they were blown off the land by a northerly gale; and it was not until four days after, on 1st of December, that they anchored their storm-tossed ships in what is known as Blackman Bay; whereupon Tasman piously exclaims: “We ought to lift up thankful hearts to Almighty God."
Next day the boats were sent on shore, and they returned at night with an unsatisfactory report. Water, of which they were in great need, was scarce. The country was thinly wooded, and smoke was seen in various directions. No inhabitants were seen.
The day following the Dutch flag was hoisted on shore, and the country named Van Diemen's Land, in honour of the Governor of Java.
The first landing of Columbus on the shores of the New World was dramatic and imposing. He fell on his knees and kissed the earth, while his followers, lately mutinous and dejected, now gave themselves up to the most unbounded transports of joy. Our prosaic Dutchmen were of a different calibre. The Teutonic mind of Tasman was of sterner material. It may be interesting to hear him tell, in his methodical way, how he took possession of this land:—
Afternoon.—We went with the said boats, together with the pilot, Major Francois Jacobz—the skipper, Gerrit Janz—Isack Gilsemans, merchant of the "Zeehaan"—the junior merchant, Abraham Coomans—and our chief carpenter, Pieter Jacobz, to the S.E. corner of the bay, having with us a pole, with the company's, mark cut therein, and the Prince's flag, in order to set the same up there, so that it may be evident to posterity that we have been here, and taken the said land for a possession and property. Having rowed with our boats about half way, it began to blow hard, and the sea to rise so high that the launch of the "Zeehaan," in which were the pilot-major and merchant Gilsemans, was obliged to return on board. The surf broke at such a rate that the land could not be approached without danger of the boat being dashed to pieces. We ordered the said carpenter to swim ashore, by himself, with the pole and Prince's flag; and remained with the long boat lying to the wind. We made him set up the said pole, with the flag at the top. in the earth, before a decaying tree, one of a group of four. After the carpenter had accomplished this matter, above rehearsed, in view of me, Abel Jansen Tasman, and the junior merchant, Abraham Coomans, we rowed the boat as near to the shore as we dared venture, and the said carpenter swam back again to the long boat, through the surf.
There is nothing emotional in this transaction. On the 4th of December they sailed away in a northerly direction, along the east coast, with the wind off the land, keeping a look-out for a possible watering place. Several bush fires were observed.
Here we get a glimpse of Tasman's personality. In a very characteristic note he says: "Here I should give you a description of the extent of coast and the islands near, but I hope to be excused, and refer you, for brevity's sake, to the maps made of it, and found herewith." Verily the force of taciturnity could no further go. In our present age of universal talk this silence would be indeed golden.
Tasman's most serious need at this time was fresh water. This was always the great difficulty with our early voyagers. Their fresh water, stored in barrels, was liable to leakage in bad weather, and deterioration in hot climates. Rain water was used and conserved at every opportunity.
Sir Richard Hawkins, son of Sir John, of negro traffic notoriety, commanded an expedition, composed of three vessels, to the South Seas fifty years before this. Sir Richard must have been very much in advance of that age, for in his "Observations" he says: "Our fresh water had failed us many days, by reason of our long navigation, yet with an invention I had in my ship I easily drew out of the water of the sea sufficient quantity of fresh water to sustain my people, with little expense of fuel, for with four billets of wood I stilled a hogshead of water, and therewith dressed meat for the sick and whole."
On December 5th, Tasman left Van Diemen's Land to its original solitude, and 130 years elapsed before it was again visited by a white man. Of course, Tasman believed that the land he had discovered was part of the great South Continent, and this idea prevailed until Bass and Flinders long afterwards proved Van Diemen's Land to be an island.
It was resolved to steer an east course, and for six days they had strong south-west winds. On the eighth day out, 13th December, they sighted land with high mountains, veiled in clouds. This was New Zealand.
Tasman says: "This is the second land we have discovered. We have given it the name of Staaten Land, in honour of their High Mightinesses the States-General, and also because it may be that this land is joined to Staten Land (near Cape Horn); but this uncertain."
The high land sighted by Tasman was the west coast of the South Island, just south of Cook's Straits. Steering to the north-east, he anchored in what is now known as Golden Bay. Here their boats' crews were attacked by the natives, who were as fierce and intractable then as Cook found them long afterwards. Tasman describes them of good stature, strong boned, and of a rough voice. Their colour is between brown and yellow; their hair black, which they tie up on the crown of their heads like the Japanese, and with a large white feather stuck upright in it.
Their vessels were, two narrow long canoes fastened together, upon which boards were fixed to sit on. Their paddles were more than a fathom long, and were pointed at the ends.
This is all that Tasman can tell of them, as he never got an opportunity to land. They attacked his boats without any provocation on his part as far as is known, and killed four of his men. Their canoes came out immediately afterwards in considerable numbers, and he fired on them in self-defence.
As there could be no friendly intercourse after this, he brought his ships to another anchorage, now called Tasman’s Bay, near where the town of Nelson stands. Here they rode out a severe north-west gale.
Tasman narrowly escaped discovering the straits which divides the North and South Islands. This honour was reserved for Cook. He now proceeded northwards, following the trend of the west side of the North Island. Making a last effort to obtain fresh water, they anchored on the North side of the Three Kings Islands. They sent their boats away, with them the empty water barrels, but the sea ran so high and the attitude of the natives on shore was so threatening, that the boats returned to the ship. Tasman, still short of water, left New Zealand, and steered for more hospitable shores. Captain Cook was the next white visitor to New Zealand. Neither here, nor in Van Diemen's Land, did Tasman make any attempt to explore or give shape to the lines of coast. The scientific explorer was yet to come.
The little expedition sailed away in a north-east direction, and in fifteen days discovered the Friendly Islands, or Tonga Group, lying in 20° South latitude. Here their reception was very different from that of the Maoris. The natives were mild and peaceful, and had no warlike weapons. Tasman, who could no doubt appreciate such, after his recent tragical experience, calls them "a good, peaceful people." They cultivated fields of yams, plantains, and cocoanuts. Their gardens were laid out in regular squares of bananas and other trees, the fruits of which were found very pleasant after the rough voyage. They also manufactured a kind of cloth from the bark of a tree, and altogether their condition was similar to that in which Cook afterwards found them.
They appeared to have no idea of a Supreme Being, but those we term savages are sometimes reticent in expressing their superstitious beliefs to strangers. Tasman notices with curiosity that all the elder women had their little fingers cut from both hands, but the young women had not.
But they were inveterate thieves. Tasman seems to have acted towards them in this respect, with a truly philosophic and Christian spirit. He tells us that "one of the natives was detected in stealing a pistol and a pair of gloves, the property of the skipper. We took the things from him without anger." How different from the cruel and tyrannical treatment such races have often received.
They were a simple and untutored race. We sometimes feel inclined to regret that our civilisation, which is only suited for strong and strenuous nations, should be introduced into an arcadia such as this. That the iron doctrine of the survival of the fittest should have come into action, and that even the very virtues of our boasted civilisation should lead to the deterioration and ultimate extinction of a once happy people.
Here we take leave of our little company of Dutchmen. Their future proceedings have for us no personal or scientific interest. They pursued their leisurely course northward of the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, and arrived at Batavia after a ten months' absence. Tasman finishes his journal characteristically, as follows: "We arrived at Batavia, June 15, 1643. God be praised for this happy voyage.—Amen."
Tasman's great voyage was disappointing to the Dutch East India Company. He had discovered no golden regions, or any people eager for trade. Voyages of merely geographical discovery had for them no attraction. It is this sordid spirit in his countrymen which has stunted his well-deserved fame.
There was nothing in this expedition to fire the imagination or attract the world wide admiration, as did the brilliant voyages of Drake or Anson, yet it was far more important than either.
Tasman ranks next to Cook as a navigator, and in the importance of his discoveries. They both possessed that happy combination of character which enforces discipline without tyranny, and also a humanity and sense of justice which conciliated the native races.
The unanimity of purpose and mutual good feeling displayed by all the members of this expedition is an agreeable contrast to the jealousies and quarrels, so common to our early exploring voyages.
Tasman lived sixteen years more. Two years after this voyage he was again in command of three exploring vessels, and made a partial survey of the Gulf of Carpentaria, and also established the continuity of the north coast of Australia, as far as the 22nd parallel of latitude. He was also employed in some minor voyages. His later years were passed at Batavia, in comfortable circumstances, and there he died, 1659.
Farewell, honest Tasman, grim, silent Dutchman; Carlyle might well have given thee a niche in his Temple of Fame.
Outridge Printing Co.,398 Queen Street. Brisbane.
- ↑ Read at the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, Queensland, April 27, 1905 .
- ↑ Washington Irving's "Life of Colombus."
- ↑ Novaya Zemlya.
This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.