In 1898 Professor Heeres from The Dutch Colonial Institute, Delft wrote this in the Introduction of a remarkable volume of work.
“For some years past numerous applications, in the first place from Australia, have been made to us for documents and works relating to Tasman and his discoveries. In the course of the investigations required on our part in order to comply with the wishes of such applicants, we soon became convinced that all existing works on the subject are either unreliable or sadly incomplete.”
What follows in his book is an extraordinarily scholarly examination of the authoritative and extant documents related to Abel Tasman’s voyage of 1642.
Included in the book is a set of lithographic plates, one for each page of Tasman’s journal of the Voyage. On the page facing each plate is an English translation of text.
The Heeres book contains plates of the copy of Tasman’s Journal held at the National Archives, The Hague. However, that is not the only Tasman journal.
At the time of its issue there were many published accounts of Tasman’s voyage, in Dutch, English and French, and they varied in detail. Heeres examined the bona fide’s of each document, compared them in meticulous detail, and showed the following:
None of the published works were a journal written in Tasman’s own hand, they were all copies of some other document.
The ‘original’ manuscript, based on the notes taken on board by Abel Tasman, is lost to us. What remains are some ‘original copies’ of that document, and some copies of those copies.
Three of the copies of Tasman’s journal that were made within his lifetime still exist, and these are all thought to be be ‘original copies’.
It should be noted that replication of a journal multiple times was normal practice for the VOC, as they sought to maximise the benefits of the knowledge gained from voyages into unfamiliar locations.
One journal copy, held at the National Archives in the Hague, is signed by Abel Tasman personally. It includes a chart of New Zealand as well as a number of other illustrations. This is the principal reference quoted in “Six Boats”.
A nearly identical document held in the British Museum is thought to be a wholesale copy of the one in the Hague. The British Museum copy contains all the same drawings and charts as the Hague copy, but is not signed personally by Tasman. It bears the note “found signed”, indicating that the transcriber was copying a document that was already signed, and the copyist was not only replicating the document, but also the signature.
Detailed comparison of the two documents shows that words misspelled in the Hague copy are also misspelled in the British copy, suggesting that the document in the British Museum is either copied from the same original document as the Hague copy, or is a copy of the Hague copy itself.
The third copy is known as the ‘Huydecoper’ copy, and is held in the State Library of New South Wales.
Whilst the text of this journal is very nearly identical to the Hague copy, it is missing all of the illustrations. Pages were left for the illustrations, but for whatever reason they were never added. However, two charts, of Tasmania and New Zealand, are included, and these are of great interest.
The two charts in the Huydecoper copy bear a note that they have “been drawn with great diligence and assiduity by Franchoijs Jacobszoon, steersman”.
The charts in the Huydecoper copy are drawn by Franchoijs Jacobszoon Visscher; the expeditions Chief Pilot. They are not copied from of charts drawn by him, but are originals in his own hand.
The illustrations in the Hague and the British museum versions of the journal are copied from those originally drawn by Isaac Gilsemans and are not thought to be by his hand.
One other fragment of a contemporary journal exists. It was donated to the National Archive at the Hague by Mr. D. Blok of Amsterdam and consists of just a single leaf. The page itself however is of great interest. It is a rendering of the scene in Golden Bay on the morning of December 19th, 1642. On its reverse is a coastal survey of Farewell spit and the hills behind Golden Bay. It will be discussed further later.
The English translations of the Hague copy, the British copy and the Huydecoper copy are virtually identical. There can be no doubt that they are copies of the same source document. The content and detail are exactly the same apart from very slight differences; none of which are material to the period of the journal written off the New Zealand Coast; between December 13th and January 6th.
The English translations of the texts differ only in the manner in which they are transformed into comfortable English sentences. The information content is exactly the same with only very few minor exceptions.
Whilst we have these three contemporary copies of the journal kept by Tasman on the Heemskerck, we do not have the equivalent journal from the Zeehaen. Nor do we have the daily notes that Chief Pilot Visscher kept, and that are known to have been forwarded to the VOC Head Office in Amsterdam. Neither of these two documents has yet been discovered, and are presumed lost.
However, Tasman’s Journal is not the only surviving record of the voyage; two other accounts remain.
Among the papers kept by Salomon Sweers, Council of the Indies member, was a diary kept by one of the sailors on the Heemskerck. It is a rough diary that contains mostly notes on sail changes. It includes daily latitude and longitude, but it is impossible to reconcile these with the positions in Tasman’s journal. On several occasions however it contains details not recorded elsewhere. These details, are included in ‘Six Boats’ where they add to the overall understanding of the day’s events.
The last account of the Voyage is from the Surgeon-Barber Henrik Haelbos. It was included in a book published in 1671 by Arnoldus Montanus “De Nieuwe en Onbekende Weereld: of beschrijving van America en ‘t Zuid-land”, “The New and Unknown World: or Description of America and the Southland”.
This account is not in diary form but is clearly written after the event as a narrative of the whole voyage. It includes a few observations that add to our understanding of the events of December 18th and 19th, and these are included in the ‘Six Boats’ account of those days.
In summing up his observations on the various journals, Heeres wrote of the Hague copy;
“Most probably our manuscript is not an original diary kept up to date day after day: it may be more correctly described as a consecutive narrative, which was most likely digested from the regular ship’s journal in the course of the voyage; which was afterwards copied fair by another hand than Tasman’s, and finally signed by Tasman himself.”
The Journal text presented in ‘Six Boats’ is taken from the Heeres translation of the Hague copy. Excerpts from the Sailors journal and the Hendrik Haelbos account are included where they add detail, .