A beautiful and safe bay

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Visscher's chart of New Zealand up to December 18th

Visscher’s chart of New Zealand up to December 18th

On the morning of December 18th Tasman’s ships sat at anchor near the end of Farewell Spit, on the ocean side. The previous morning they had been 7km to the North of Cape Farewell, and in the day between they had travelled just 27 km.

They had surveyed the end of the sandspit and knew they could enter safely into what appeared to be an excellent harbour; there was shelter from all but a south-east wind.

They could also see valleys that would hold good rivers, and tree covered hills; they should have no difficulty in securing good water and firewood there.

Tasman convened the Ships’ Council, and they determined “that we should try to get ashore here and find a good harbour; and that as we neared it we should send out the pinnace to reconnoitre.”

Accordingly, they then weighed anchor, and moved into the Bay in calm weather.

Model of the Heemskerck's pinnace: Auckland Maritime Museum.

Model of the Heemskerck’s pinnace: Auckland Maritime Museum.

In the afternoon, the pinnace from the Heemskerck and the cock-boat from the Zeehaen were dispatched “to seek a fitting anchorage and a good watering-place”

They were gone the whole afternoon and into the evening, with very significant crews aboard. Both Visscher and Gilsemans were in the small boats, along with the skipper of the Heemskerck, Ide Tiercxz.

They’d sent the small boats ahead to find a safe anchorage, but as evening fell, the decision about where to anchor was made for them.

“At sunset when it fell a calm we dropped anchor in 15 fathom, good anchoring-ground”

Model of the Zeehaen's cock-boat: Auckland Maritime Museum.

Model of the Zeehaen’s cock-boat: Auckland Maritime Museum.

Tasman’s recorded latitude and longitude for that anchorage position is unfortunately woefully deficient. His longitude was always un-reliable, but on this occasion he’d also not been able to measure the sun’s altitude, nor on the day before. So his recorded coordinates cannot be relied on at all. In addition to this, and atypically for an anchorage, he gave no description of bearings to prominent features.

The Sailors Journal also adds nothing of value, and records of the anchorage only this;

“By the help of God we came to anchor in a beautiful and safe bay, in 15 fathoms of water”.

Hendrik Haelbos, the Barber-surgeon added nothing helpful either.

“… and discovered on the eighteenth of December a convenient harbour”

The best we can do to reconstruct this location is to use Visscher’s chart.

Pilot-Major Visscher was recording the coastline as they passed, and we still have the chart that he himself drew. His original chart is the one in the Huydecoper Journal; the chart in the Hague Journal is a copy.

Deriving Tasman's position at anchor

Deriving Tasman’s position at anchor

By taking a clip from Visscher’s map (a), digitising the main features and their course (b), and fitting it to a current map (c), we can approximate the position at anchor (d).

Tasman’s anchorage in Golden Bay was around 40° 45′s, 172° 55′e

As they waited for their boats to return in the growing gloom they saw lights on the shore, and then saw four boats in addition to their own.

Two of the four boats started coming towards their ships, at which their pinnace and the cock-boat turned back.

“about an hour after sunset, we saw a number of lights on shore and four boats close inshore, two of which came towards us, upon which our own two boats returned on board”

Half an hour later, as the last daylight was fading, they had company.

Tasman’s journal for December 18th 1642, up to the return of the small boats.

In the morning we weighed anchor in calm weather; at noon Latitude estimated 40° 49′, Longitude 191° 41′; course kept east-south-east, sailed 11 myles. In the morning before weighing anchor, we had resolved with the Officers of the Zeehaan that we should try to get ashore here and find a good harbour; and that as we neared it we should send out the pinnace to reconnoitre; all which may in extenso be seen from this day’s resolution. In the afternoon our skipper Ide Tiercxz and our pilot-major Francoys Jacobsz, in the pinnace, and Supercargo Gilsemans, with one of the second mates of the Zeehaan in the latter’s cock-boat, went on before to seek a fitting anchorage and a good watering-place. At sunset when it fell a calm we dropped anchor in 15 fathom, good anchoring-ground in the evening, about an hour after sunset, we saw a number of lights on shore and four boats close inshore, two of which came towards us, upon which our own two boats returned on board; they reported that they had found no less than 13 fathom water and that, when the sun sank behind the high land, they were still about half a mile from shore.

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