Tag Archives: 1642

Lee shore

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Shipwrecks on the Hokitika shoreline

Citation “Shipwrecks at Hokitika River mouth, West Coast. Greymouth Evening Star : Photographs of the West Coast. Ref: 1/2-050050-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22517348”

In January 1642, whilst the voyage was still being planned, Visscher had written to Head Office in Amsterdam making recommendations on the timing, and the course of the expedition.

His recommendation was that they should explore in an easterly direction. But their understanding of the winds at that latitude gave cause for concern.

“so that with the wind blowing hard from the west, which would make the coast there a lee shore, one would be exposed to many perils.”

Their experience and their expectation was that westerly gales were normal in this latitude and that when they approached land, they would be coming from the west.

Any new land discovered would lie across their path, and downwind of them… a lee shore.

Their square rigged ships couldn’t make way into the wind, the best they could achieve was to sail across it. A lee shore meant they risked being wrecked if the wind and swell strengthened.

After sighting Land, Tasman turned the Heemskerck towards it, fired a cannon to alert the Zeehaen to his change of course. In the afternoon, he convened the Ships Council. They decided to make for the land “as soon as at all possible”.

As they continued on their south-east course through the afternoon and evening, more land came into view and it became apparent that the land was large, and ran from South West to North East.

It wasn’t a group of islands with passages in between, this was a continuous lee shore. It was extremely dangerous to stay on this course in the darkness.

“In the evening we deemed it best and gave orders accordingly to our steersmen to stick to the south-east course while the weather keeps quiet but, should the breeze freshen, to steer due east in order to avoid running on shore, and to preclude accidents as much as in us lies; since we opine that the land should not be touched at from this side on account of the high open sea running there in huge hollow waves and heavy swells, unless there should happen to be safe land-locked bays on this side. At the expiration of four glasses of the first watch we shaped our course due east.”

Tasman's approach to the New Zealand Coast

Tasman’s approach to the New Zealand Coast

They decided that if the wind picked up they would turn to the East “to preclude accidents”. This would slow their progress towards land during darkness, allowing daylight to return before approaching the shore, in search of “safe land-locked bays”.

At 10:00 at night, they turned to the east, and in the morning they found themselves 2 myles from the shore.

Abel Tasman reached the New Zealand shoreline near Kumara Junction; north of Hokitika and south of Greymouth.

Tasman is sometimes referred to as ‘the timid explorer’, but his reluctance to approach the west coast of New Zealand shouldn’t be interpreted as lack of daring, but as due prudence. New Zealand’s West Coast is a dangerous place for shipping; the wrecks along its length are silent testament to this.

Shipwreck on the Greymouth Bar

Citation “Ring, James, 1856-1939. The steam ship “Hawea” run ashore at the entrance to the Grey River, Greymouth. Ref: 1/2-137181-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22897776″

During the West Coast Gold Rush of the 1860’s, Hokitika was a busy place. It was the main supply port for men and supplies bound for the gold fields… but it was a lee shore, and dangerous. In a single gale in 1863, 8 vessels were driven onto the shore around Hokitika.

Tasman’s caution navigating the West Coast of New Zealand was perfectly appropriate.

When James Cook sailed down the West Coast of New Zealand, he showed the same caution as Tasman, only occasionally going close ashore. Despite charting the entire West Coast of both Islands, Cook noted none of the main harbours; Kawhia, Aotea, Raglan, Manukau, Kaipara or Hokianga. He never went close enough to the coast to see the entrances.

Tasman had encountered difficulties with the lee shore in Tasmania and had the same problem again. It would continue to be problematic for the duration of his exploration of New Zealand.

First Land

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Abel Tasman's actual vs estimated position on Dec 13th 1642.

Abel Tasman’s actual vs estimated position on Dec 13th 1642.

On December 13th 1642, Abel Tasman was nowhere near where he thought he was.

While Tasman’s Latitude was correct, his longitude estimation between Tasmania and New Zealand was wrong by over a degree.

In his journal entry for 14th December Tasman wrote something that exposed this error.

He described being so close to the coast that he could see the surf breaking, yet according to his longitude estimate he was still 150 km from the nearest land.

At noon on 14th of December Tasman also put this in his journal; “At noon Latitude observed 42° 10′, Longitude 189°3′; course kept east, sailed 12 myles. We were about 2 myles off the coast.” (a Dutch ‘myle’ is one fifteenth of a degree of latitude, or 7.4km).

This allows us to reconstruct exactly where he was at noon on Dec 13th.

Abel Tasman's actual vs estimated position on Dec 13th 1642.

Abel Tasman’s actual vs estimated position on Dec 13th 1642.

He was 2 myles off the coast, and had sailed directly east 12 myles since the previous day… and for that day, Tasman had been able to make a sighting of the midday sun; and he recorded an ‘observed’ latitude 42° 10’s.

At midday on December 13th 1642, Abel Tasman was in the latitude 42° 10’s, 104 km off the coast, and heading south east towards ‘large, high-lying land’. The land was ‘at about 15 myles distance’; approximately 110 km.

So what was the high land had had seen and was sailing towards?

This analysis shows which land was visible to Tasman from his location at noon.

Geographic analysis of the land visible to Abel Tasman from his noon position on Dec 13th.

Geographic analysis showing the land visible to Abel Tasman from his noon position on Dec 13th.

The peaks nearer the coast, Mt Camelback and Mt Grahem were visible to him, but at 561m and 828m respectively they were very low on his horizon and most likely lost in the surface haze.

Most of his skyline was formed by the line of peaks in the middle distance; Cairn Peak (1,859), Mt Reeves (1,783m), Mt O’Connor (1,815m) and Mt Bowen (1,985). Tasman wrote that he saw land about 15 myles away, and this line of peaks is 17 ½ myles from his noon position.

The distant skyline filled the gaps between these peaks and comprises mountains at the northern end of the Southern Alps, including Mt Murchison (2,400m) and Urquarts Peak (2,118m). These peaks form a slightly higher horizon, but are further away; nearly 20 ‘myles’.

Abel Tasman could have seen the biggest peaks in the Southern Alps; Mt Cook and Mt Tasman. They were well above his horizon, and even though Mt Cook (3754m) was 160 km away, it’s perfectly possible to see it from this distance in favourable conditions.

Mount Cook seen from  Fourteen Mile beach, 140km away

Mount Cook seen from Fourteen Mile beach, 140km away

From his actual position on 13th December he could have seen Mt Cook and Mt Tasman; the biggest peaks in the Southern Alps, but he could not have seen them to his south east. If he had seen them, he would have recorded seeing them to his south-south-west.

When Tasman saw a ‘large, high-lying land’, he was not looking at that snow capped peak that now bears his name, but at Mount O’Connor, Mount Reeves, and Cairn Peak.

The first 'high land' that Abel Tasman saw.

The first ‘high-lying land’ that Abel Tasman saw.

This, is the ‘high-lying land’ that was seen by Abel Tasman.

The main peak appearing south east of Abel Tasman on Dec 13th 1642 was Mt O’Connor, 1,815m.

A large, high-lying land

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On December 5th 1642 Tasman and his Council decided that since the wind direction would no longer allow them to follow the coast of Tasmania, they should turn East.

“we could no longer steer near the coast here, seeing that the wind was almost ahead. We therefore convened the Council and the second mates, with whom after due deliberation we resolved, and subsequently called out to the officers of the Zeehaan that, pursuant to the resolution of the 11th ultimo we should direct our course due east…

… we then shaped our course due east for the purpose of making further discoveries”

Abel Tasman's path across the Tasman Sea

Abel Tasman’s path to December 13th

For the next seven days Tasman sailed east, and his journal includes only the day’s weather and his routine report of; position, course kept and distance sailed. On Dec 12th he recorded that he was not expecting to find land as he was experiencing open ocean swells.

“The heavy swells continuing from the south-west, there is no mainland to be expected here to southward”

In this, he was wrong. There isn’t land to the South-west of his position on that day, but there is land to the South, and he was much closer to it than he suspected.

Abel Tasman's path across the Tasman Sea

Abel Tasman’s path to December 13th

His journal for the following day began routinely, reporting his observed latitude, estimated longitude, and the weather. However, it continued…

“Towards noon we saw a large, high-lying land, bearing south-east of us at about 15 myles distance”

On December 13th, 1642 Abel Tasman and his crews saw New Zealand, and Tasman wrote the words “Groot in hooch verheven Landt’… ‘a large, high-lying land’ in his journal. Abel Tasman, his journal, both vessels and most of the crew survived the voyage. Copies of journal still exist, making theirs the earliest validated European discovery of New Zealand.

This is the complete Journal entry for December 13th, 1642.

The page from Abel Tasman's journal including the entry for December 13th

The page from Abel Tasman’s journal including the entry for December 13th

“13th December”

Latitude observed 42° 10′, Longitude 188° 28′; course kept east by north, sailed 36 myles in a south-south-westerly wind with a top-gallant gale. Towards noon we saw a large, high-lying land, bearing south-east of us at about 15 myles distance; we turned our course to the south-east, making straight for this land, fired a gun and in the afternoon hoisted the white flag, upon which the officers of the Zeehaan came on board of us, with whom we resolved to touch at the said land as quickly as at all possible, for such reasons as are more amply set forth in this day’s resolution. In the evening we deemed it best and gave orders accordingly to our steersmen to stick to the south-east course while the weather keeps quiet but, should the breeze freshen, to steer due east in order to avoid running on shore, and to preclude accidents as much as in us lies; since we opine that the land should not be touched at from this side on account of the high open sea running there in huge hollow waves and heavy swells, unless there should happen to be safe land-locked bays on this side. At the expiration of four glasses of the first watch we shaped our course due east. Variation 7° 30′ North-East.”

Just before noon they saw land, and immediately turned towards it. They were travelling east, and they turned to the south-east. After noon the council was convened and it was decided to continue south-east and reach the land ‘as soon as possible’.

Tasman’s position at anchor in Marion Bay, Tasmania was -42° 50′s, 147° 57′e (relative to Greenwich). By noon on Dec 13th he estimated his position to be 20° 58′ further East, and he measured his latitude at noon as -42° 10′s.

Correcting his longitude error, based on his actual position at anchor in Tasmania, gives us an adjusted Dec 13th position of -42° 10′s 168° 55′e.

Tasman reported seeing land to the south-east; not south-east by east, or south-east by south… he uses a 32 point compass. When he wrote ‘south-east’, this means that the land he saw lay between south-east by east, and south-east by south… or Bearing 123° to 147°.

Land to the South East

Land to the South East

So what was this land they saw to the south east? … bearing between 123° and 147°, from -42° 10′s 168° 55′e.

The Southern Alps from Gillespies Beach on the West Coast

The Southern Alps from Gillespies Beach on the West Coast

If you look south-east from this location, in the direction 123° to 147° (South-east by South to South-east by East), you see the Southern Alps. Mount Cook would be on the right hand edge of your view, with Mt Tasman slightly to its left.

This picture is taken on Gillespies Beach, on the West Coast. It is 7 ‘myles’ to the peaks. Mt Tasman is on left, and Mt Cook is centre-right.

However, there’s a problem with this.

From his December 13th estimated location, whilst the highest peaks of the Southern Alps are roughly in the direction Tasman gave, they are too far away.

From that location those peaks are 26 ‘myles’ away (194 km), and although it’s obviously difficult to judge ‘line of sight’ distance, this is almost double the 15 ‘myles’ recorded by Tasman. Also, whilst these mountains are high enough to be above the horizon at this distance; at 194 km, they’re a long, long way off. It is sometimes possible to see this distance, from sea level, in New Zealand… but it is quite unusual.

The next morning Abel Tasman saw the land clearly, and made a note in his journal that allows us calculate precisely where he was at noon on Dec 13th… and it’s not where he thought he was.

Abel Tasman had sighted New Zealand but he did not see Mt Cook, or Mt Tasman.

His estimated longitude, even after adjustment relative to his Tasmanian anchorage, was wrong by 116 km.

Lawful property

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Tasman’s expedition was conducted under comprehensive written instructions, and all decisions were taken with reference to these instructions. Tasman didn’t have sole charge of the expedition; he was the president of the ships’ council, on which he held the casting vote.

Their instructions included details on how to proceed when encountering new land, and the method by which they should lay claim to it.

Isaac Gilseman's drawing of the ships at anchor in Frederick Henricx Bay.

Isaac Gilseman’s drawing of the ships at anchor in Frederick Hendricx Bay.

“All continents and islands, which you shall discover, touch at and set foot on, you will take possession of on behalf of Their High Mightinesses the States General of the United-Provinces, the which in uninhabited regions or in such countries as have no sovereign, may be done by erecting a memorial-stone or by planting our Prince-flag in sign of actual occupation, seeing that such lands justly belong to the discoverer and first occupier; but in populated regions or in such as have undoubted lards, the consent of the people or the king will be required before you can enter into possession of them, the which you should try to obtain by friendly persuasion’ and by presenting them with some small tree planted in a little earth, by erecting some stone structure in conjunction with the people, or by setting up the Prince-flag in commemoration of their voluntary assent or submission; all which occurrences you will carefully note in your Journal, mentioning by name such persons as have been present at them, that such record may in future be of service to our republic.”

The bay that they anchored in is now called “Marion Bay” after the Frenchman, Marion du Fresne, who stayed there in March 1772 whilst on his voyage in search of Great Southern Lands.

On the morning of December 3rd, Tasman and Isaac Gilsemans lead another party into Blackmans Bay. They took the same two boats as the day before, and again were a well-armed party with “a number of musketeers, the oarsmen furnished with pikes and side-arms”.

Their caution was based on the accepted wisdom of the day. Tasman’s instructions included the following;

“In landing with small craft extreme caution will everywhere have to be used, seeing that it is well-known that the southern regions are peopled by fierce savages, for which reason you will always have to be well armed and to use every prudent precaution”

They had returned empty handed. They found that the available water in the bay was all so low lying as to be brackish from the tide. On his return he convened the council, and they determined to execute their duty regarding claiming the land, and then move on.

The honour party comprised Tasman and “Pilot-major Francoys Jacobsz, Skipper Gerrit Jansz, Isack Gilsemans, supercargo on board the Zeehaan, subcargo Abraham Coomans, and our master carpenter Pieter Jacobsz.”

They had met with no indigenous people, so only the last of the recommended options was available to them; planting a flag.

“We carried with us a pole with the Company’s mark carved into it, and a Prince-flag to be set up there, that those who shall come after us may become aware that we have been here”

In the course of the afternoon, the conditions began to worsen, and the cock-boat from the Zeehaen, with Gilsemans and Visscher on board, turned back to the ships. Tasman however, pressed on in order to execute their obligation.

Gilseman's drawing of the ships at anchor in Frederick Henricx Bay besides an actual outline, and Tasman's movements in the bay.

Gilseman’s drawing (rotated to north) of the ships at anchor in Frederick Hendricx Bay besides a modern coastline, and Tasman’s movements in the Bay.

“ When we had come close inshore in a small inlet which bore west-south-west of the ships the surf ran so high that we could not get near the shore without running the risk of having our pinnace dashed to pieces. We then ordered the carpenter aforesaid to swim to the shore alone with the pole and the flag, and kept by the wind with our pinnace; we made him plant the said pole with the flag at top into the earth, about the centre of the bay…

…. Our master carpenter, having in the sight of myself, Abel Jansz Tasman, Skipper Gerrit Jansz, and Subcargo Abraham Coomans, performed the work entrusted to him, we pulled with our pinnace as near the shore as we ventured to do; the carpenter aforesaid thereupon swam back to the pinnace through the surf. “

Tasman’s journal for that day recorded that his duty had been performed.

“…we have been here, and have taken possession of the said land as our lawful property”

Conditions deteriorated further. In the evening they had to lower their yards and put out a second anchor, but by the next morning the storm had abated. The storm must have been severe, as on raising the anchors the next day they found that one had both flukes completely snapped off; they raised only the shaft.

Their efforts to find water had been unsuccessful, and so it was decided they should follow the coast “to pass to north to landward of the northernmost islands and seek a better watering-place”. They sailed along the coast noting “several columns of smoke” as they passed.

They had seen no people, but there was little doubt that they had been seen.

When Visscher had explored around Blackmans Bay he’d reported that “they had heard certain human sounds and also sounds nearly resembling the music of a trump or a small gong not far from them though they had seen no one”. While they were exploring, observers on the ships “saw clouds of dense smoke rising up from the land”

Similarly, when the flag was being planted, Tasman observed;

“… leaving the above-mentioned as a memorial for those who shall come after us, and for the natives of this country, who did not show themselves, though we suspect some of them were at no great distance and closely watching our proceedings.”

Tasman’s journal for that day, 4th December 1642, concluded:

“Here it would be meet to describe the trend of the coast and the islands lying off it but we request to be excused for briefness sake and beg leave to refer to the small chart drawn up of it which we have appended.”

Visscher's map of Tasmania side by side with a modern coastline

Visscher’s map of Tasmania side by side with a modern coastline

Visscher’s chart of Tasmania is quite remarkable. It is drawn with west at the top of the page, (shown rotated here) and compares very favourably with a contemporary map, conmsidering that most of the time they were more than 20 km off the shore, and that they had no means of accurately determining longitude.

The next day, December 5th, they tried to follow the coast again, but found themselves unable to.

On the west side of Tasmania they had been concerned about being driven onto the shore, and now, they couldn’t reach it.

Coastal survey of the land they passed on leaving Frederick Henricx Bay.

Coastal survey of the land they passed on leaving Frederick Henricx Bay.

“at this point the land fell off to the north-west so that we could no longer steer near the coast here, seeing that the wind was almost ahead. We therefore convened the council and the second mates, with whom after due deliberation we resolved, and subsequently called out to the officers of the Zeehaen that, pursuant to the resolution of the 11th ultimo we should direct our course due east,…
… we then shaped our course due east for the purpose of making further discoveries”

Now they turned east, having determined to sail at the latitude 41° for a further 26° of longitude.

Sailing east in search of “further discoveries”, another large land extending from 34°s to 47°s, now lay across their path; New Zealand.

Land of Giants

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24th November.

“… In the afternoon about 4 o’clock we saw land bearing east by north of us at about 10 miles distance from us by estimation; the land we sighted was very high; towards evening we also saw, east-south-east of us, three high mountains, and to the north-east two more mountains, but less high than those to southward; …

… we convened our ship’s council with the second mate’s and represented to them whether it would not be advisable to run farther out to sea; we also asked their advice as to the time when it would be best to do so, upon which it was unanimously resolved to run out to sea at the expiration of three glasses, to keep doing so for the space of ten glasses, and after this to make for the land again.”

It was 48 days since they last saw land, but now that they had found land, they were confronted with danger.

Their ships couldn’t make way into the wind; the best they could achieve was to sail directly across it.

Their recent experience was of strong, and often fierce conditions coming from the West, and this coast was a ‘lee shore’; the land was downwind from them. If the wind turned to a westerly storm here they would be driven onto the shoreline.

Sighting Tasmania

Sighting Tasmania. Mt Heeskirk and Mt Zeehan are named in recognition of this achievement. They are the two mountains to the north-east mentioned in Tasman’s journal.

The prudent action was to turn away from the shore while conditions permitted. However, their instructions were to claim land that they find for the VOC, and for this they had to go ashore and plant a flag.

They were in a dilemma that would be repeated many times on this voyage.

They were required to claim all land that they discovered, but if that land was a lee shore, then it was very unwise to approach it. If the land was in the contrary position, upwind of them, then it was safe to land… but they couldn’t reach it because they couldn’t make way into the wind.

The Council was convened in the evening and it was agreed to run out to sea for a while before turning back to land, thus holding their safe distance from the land overnight. They decided to run out to sea for ‘three glasses’, and then back to land under reduced sail for ‘ten glasses’. Time measurement on board was done using sand glasses, each glass being 30 minutes. So ‘three glasses’ and ‘ten glasses’ are 1 1/2 hours and 5 hours respectively.

In the morning the Council met again, and “with the wind now from the South East” they risked making for the coast again.

25th November.

“… in the evening we got near the coast; three miles off shore we sounded in 60 fathom coral bottom; one mile off the coast we had clean, fine, white sand; we found this coast to bear south by east and north by west… our ship being 42° 30′ South Latitude, and average Longitude 163° 50′. We then put off from shore again. If you should happen to be overtaken by rough weather from the westward you had best heave to and not run on. “

They were very cautious on this coast, and properly so; if the conditions changed they would not be able to escape being wrecked. Not only did the shoreline run north-south with a typically westerly wind, the coast was also dotted with islands. They had no way of coming to a halt, and sailed by day and night, so these islands posed an extreme hazard in the dark.

Drawings by Isaac Gilsemans of the southern coastline of Tasmania

Drawings of the southern coastline of Tasmania by Isaac Gilsemans, from the deck of the Zeehaen.

For the next four days they played ‘cat and mouse’ with the coast. Land would come into sight, they would move toward it, the conditions would be unfavourable, and then they would bear away again. As they followed the coast around to the South, the land slowly turned from a westerly aspect, to southerly, and then easterly, making finding a safe anchorage increasingly likely, but only available to them if the wind let them reach the shore.

On 29th November they saw a favourable looking bay, and set out to seek an anchorage there. However, again, the conditions conspired against them.

Storm Bay

Storm Bay

“..In the evening about 5 o’clock we came before a bay which seemed likely to afford a good anchorage, upon which we resolved with our ship’s council to run into it, as may be seen from today’s resolution; we had nearly got into the bay when there arose so strong a gale that we were obliged to take in sail and to run out to sea again under reduced sail, seeing that it was impossible to come to anchor in such a storm; in the evening we resolved to stand out to sea during the night under reduced sail to avoid being thrown on a lee-shore by the violence of the wind…”

The scene of this event is still known by the name Tasman gave it; Storm Bay.

By daybreak they found they were nearly out of sight of land, but turned to it again. However, having passed the southernmost point of Tasmania, land now lay to their North-West, and when the wind turned to the north, the best they could achieve was to sail west, leaving the land to their North.

Abel Tasman finally secured an anchorage in Tasmania on 1st December, 1642

Abel Tasman finally secured an anchorage in Tasmania on 1st December, 1642

Again, on the next day, their attempts to reach the coast were thwarted by unfavourable conditions, but finally, on December 1st, they met with success.
1st of December.

… in the afternoon we hoisted the white flag upon which our friends of the Zeehaan came on board of us, with whom we resolved that it would be best and most expedient, wind and weather permitting, to touch at the land the sooner the better, both to get better acquainted with its condition and to attempt to procure refreshments for our own behoof…

…about one hour after sunset we dropped anchor in a good harbour, in 22 fathom, white and grey fine sand, a naturally drying bottom; for all which it behoves us to thank God Almighty with grateful hearts.”

At anchor in Frederick Henricx Bay

At anchor in Frederick Henricx Bay

They had finally managed to reach a safe anchorage, at a place they named Frederick Henricx Bay.

It had been 55 days since they last replenished their stocks of water and firewood, and Tasman had a contingent of 110 men to support. Replenishing their stocks of water was a matter of some urgency.

In the morning two boats went ashore to search for provisions… “in order to ascertain what facilities (as regards fresh water, refreshments, timber and the like) may be available there.”

Visscher was in charge of the pinnace from the Heemskerck, and was accompanied by the cock-boat from the Zeehaen. Both boats had musketeers on board, and the rowers were armed with pikes and ‘side arms’.

They were gone the whole day, and in the evening they returned and delivered an account of their exploration to the Council.

At anchor

Position at anchor, and Visschers exploration of Blackmans Bay

They had rowed around the point and about 4 kilometres into what is now called Blackmans Bay, and returned with samples of vegetables which they had seen growing there “in great abundance”. The land was high, level and “covered with vegetation (not cultivated, but growing naturally by the will of God)”. There was good timber there, but the water they found wasn’t deep enough to fill barrels, “because the watercourse was so shallow that the water could be dipped with bowls only”. This was impracticable in view of the amount of water they needed to bring aboard.

The Council was particularly interested in what signs of people had been observed.

Visscher told them he’d seen many fireplaces, and on occasions smoke rising from the bush. They’d heard sounds “nearly resembling the music of a trump or a small gong not far from them” but had not actually seen anyone.

His report concluded that

1881 Engraving of an aborigine climping a tree using rope and hatchet

1881 Engraving of an aborigine climping a tree using rope and hatchet.

“… they had seen two trees about 2 or 2½ fathom in thickness measuring from 60 to 65 feet from the ground to the lowermost branches, which trees bore notches made with flint implements, the bark having been removed for the purpose; these notches, forming a kind of steps to enable persons to get up the trees and rob the birds’ nests in their tops, were fully 5 feet apart so that our men concluded that the natives here must be of very tall stature, or must be in possession of some sort of artifice for getting up the said trees; in one of the trees these notched steps were so fresh and new that they seemed to have been cut less than four days ago….
… So there can be no doubt there must be men here of extraordinary stature”.

And so began the legend, that the ‘Great South Land’ was peopled by giants.

There was actually a simpler explanation, but it was less appealing to the press of the time.

Visscher’s observation of “some sort of artifice for getting up the said trees” was correct, but the press found that the prospect of; monsters, giants and cannibals sold far more copies than did a length of rope and a hatchet… and so the giants myth was perpetuated.

Expeditions to Australia, in search of Giant specimens, continued right up to the nineteenth century.


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The Council had decided that they should turn east, and in doing so they had avoided potential disaster.

29th October.

“At noon we directed our course to eastward with a north-north-westerly wind and a top-gallant gale; our estimated latitude being 45° 47′, and Longitude 89° 44′; course kept south-south-east sailed 17 miles.”

Tasman's eastward progress

Tasman’s eastward progress

Having just avoided the French Southern and Antarctic lands they ran eastwards for three days, before again turning south-east.

The foul weather and intermittent fog persisted, as did sightings of weed on the water, and at the latitude 49°S Tasman recorded that

“our men begin to suffer badly from the severe cold”.

The weather was so bad that it was impossible to convene the Council. However, they passed messages in a small barrel between the ships.

On Nov 7th, Visscher, the Pilot Major delivered some extraordinary news… the Company’s understanding that the Solomon Islands reached as far as 220°E was certainly incorrect, and could not be relied on. On board the Zeehaen, Visscher had a globe of the world, and a map… and disagreed very significantly on the longitude of the Solomon Islands. On close inspection Visscher discovered that they had different origins for longitude.

The VOC used the convention that zero longitude, the meridian, was measured from the Peak of Tenerife. This was the coordinate system in their map, “the large chart of the South Sea”, the map drawn by Gerritsz showing all the known lands in Australia.

However, the globe was an older device, and had a different meridian.

“The terrestrial globe shows us that the easternmost islands of the Salomonis are in the longitude of fully 220°, reckoning said longitude from the meridian of the islands of Corvo and Floris.”

The globe used the Portuguese convention, having its meridian at the Azores, which at the time the convention was adopted, was the westernmost of any known land.

Even after making adjustments for the different meridians, the discrepancy between the chart and the globe was enormous. Depending on the features compared, the globe and chart differed by between 11° and 19° of longitude.

Their instructions were to sail east, as far as the eastern extremity of the Solomon Islands… but now there was significant confusion about just where that was.

Following a complex series of calculations he decided they should rely on their newer Gerritsz map, rather than the Portuguese globe, and made a written recommendation.

Hence our advice is that we should stick to the 44th degree South Latitude until we shall have passed the 150th degree of Longitude, and then run north as far as the 40th degree South Latitude, remaining there with an easterly course until we shall have reached the 220th degree of Longitude, after which we should take a northerly course so as to avail ourselves of the trade-wind to reach the Salomonis islands and New Guinea…
…Signed, Francoys Jacobsz.

Bad weather continued to make it impossible to convene the Council, and it was not until two days later that Tasman replied to the Pilot’s message.

“Towards evening we dispatched to the officers of the Zeehaan the letter following, together with the Annotations of Pilot-major Francoys Jacobsz, the said papers being enclosed in a wooden canister-shot-case, duly waxed and closely wrapped up in tarred canvas, which case we sent adrift from the stern part of the poop; the letter duly reached its destination and ran as follows:

To the officers of the Zeehaan.

We should have greatly liked to have had your advice on the 7th instant but, time and opportunity being unpropitious, we resolved with the members of our council and our second mates to shape our course north-east as far as 44° South Latitude, and then keep a due east course as far as 150° Longitude; should you agree to this resolution then be pleased to hoist a flag at your stern as a sign of approval that we may duly ratify the resolution. We also request you to do your best to sail in during the night until further orders and, if you should think it possible to come alongside of us in the boat, be pleased to float a flag from the foretop by way of signal, in which case we shall stay for you, seeing that we are very desirous of communicating with you by word of mouth. Farewell. Actum Heemskerk sailing in about 44° South Latitude, this day November 9, 1642.


After reading the above, those of the Zeehaen hoisted the Prince-flag in sign of approbation of our resolution.”

Over the preceding days they had been pushed progressively north, and were now already at 44°S. They accordingly now set their course east.

In the preceding two weeks two decisions had been made that had completely changed the outcome of the expedition.

On the 29th Oct, in heavy fog, they had turned east. Had they continued south they would have met, most likely tragically, with the French Antarctic Lands, which would remain undiscovered until 1772.

From Mauritius, they had sailed 7,000km without sighting land. On 9th November they determined, contrary to their instructions, to run East at the Latitude of 44°S.

That decision placed them in the same latitude as the land that would subsequently bear their commanders name… Tasmania.

On Nov 11th the weather eased and they were finally able to convene the Council.

“We ran up the white flag, upon which the officers of the Zeehaen came on board of us, when we resolved in the plenary Council to run on in the parallel of about 44° South Latitude from our present longitude (averaging 123° 29′) as far as 195° Longitude, being the meridian of the east side of New Guinea as delineated in the chart.”

The Council confirmed that they should sail on in the latitude 44°S.

South Land and progress

The Gerritsz map of the South Seas, overlaid on an image of Australia and Tasman’s progress to 24th Nov.

By 17th November they had reached the eastern extremity of their chart, and passed again into the unknown. Now they were not only further South in this ocean than any Dutchman had ever been, they were also further to the East.

“we estimated that we had already passed the South land known up to the present, or so far as Pieter Nuyts had run to eastward.”

Tasman continued to the East in mixed weather, and the journey was otherwise uneventful except for this unusual event on 22nd November.


Click the image for more about Lodestone

“we found that our compasses were not so steady as they should be, and supposed that possibly there might be mines of loadstone about here, our compasses sometimes varying 8 points from one moment to another, so that there would always seem to be some cause that kept the needle in motion”.

He had sailed over a magnetic anomaly that caused his comapass to vary through a 90° arc. ‘loadstone’ (sic) is a magnetic rock, and in Tasman’s time was used to magnetize to their compass needles.

The following day he compared his position to a location we can verify.

“At noon Latitude observed 42° 50′, Longitude 162° 51′; course kept east, sailed 25 miles; we found the variation to the compass to be 1 degree North-West, so that the decrease is a very abrupt one here; by estimation the west side of New Guinea must be north of us.”

It was 47 days since he left his last known position, Mauritius, and at this point in his journal we can test his ‘dead reckoning’ estimate of Longitude.

On 22nd November he wrote that he believed the western extremity of New Guinea was now due north of his position. The western point of New Guinea lies in 130° 57′, due east of Greenwich. He estimated his longitude that day as 162° 51′, measured East from the Peak of Tenerife. This is 134° 2′ E using our contemporary convention of the Greenwich Meridian.

His longitude estimate error is 3° 5′. In terms of change in longitude from his reference point, Mauritius, this is a 4% error; or expressed the other way, Tasman’s ‘dead reckoning’ of longitude was 96% reliable.

Tasman’s journal for the next day, began innocuously…

“Good weather and a clear sky. At noon Latitude observed 42° 25′, Longitude 163° 31′; course kept east by north, sailed 30 miles; the wind south-westerly and afterwards from the south with a light top-gallant breeze.”

However, that day one of his sailors earned a bonus;

“three pieces-of-eight and a can of arrack to whoever shall first see and observe land”.

On November 24th, 1642 Tasman recorded in his journal. “In the afternoon about 4 o’clock we saw land bearing east by north of us at about 10 miles distance from us”.

coastal survey of Tasmania

The first depiction of Tasmania. Drawn by Isaac Gilsemans from the deck of the Zeehaen. Click to open the source document

The captions on this drawing read:

A view of the coast when you are six miles from it.
A view of Anthonij van Diemens Landt, when you come from the west, and are in 42½° S. Latitude.

Naming detail

An extract from Tasman’s journal where the name Van Diemen’s Landt is conferred. Click to open the source document

“This land being the first land we have met with in the South Sea and not known to any European nation we have conferred on it the name of Anthoony Van Diemens landt in honour of the Honourable Governor-General, our illustrious master, who sent us to make this discovery;”

The land he named in honour of his employer, now bears his own name… Tasmania.


Abel Tasman banner

Abel Tasman finally escaped ‘Old Harbour’ Mauritius on 8th October, 1642. He must have had severe concerns about the strength of his ships, as he spent twice his allotted time there. He was to stop at Mauritius for approximately two weeks gathering provisions; firewood, water and livestock. But he remained there until he was satisfied that his ships were properly prepared for the rigours of the Southern Ocean.

His instructions were to sail from Mauritius South, to latitude 52°S or 54°S, and the instructions were remarkably specific.

As before mentioned, your necessities having been provided for, you will about medio October, or earlier, set sail from the Mauritius, shaping your course with the trade-wind nearly southward, as high as wind and weather shall permit, until about the Southern Latitude of 36 or 38 degrees, when you have got out of the eastern trade-wind, you shall fall in with the variable winds, with which you will always put about on the best tack for getting to the southward, until you get into the western trade-wind, with which you will sail nearly southward until you come upon the unknown South-land, or as far as South Lat. 52 or 54 degr. Inclusive; and if in this latitude you should not discover any land, you will set your course due east

He was to sail south, initially on the ‘Eastern trade wind’, but actually, at the Latitude of Mauritius, the wind is normally from the south-east, as he had so painfully discovered when trying to leave the Old Harbour. The ‘western trade-wind’ he would meet was the Antarctic Circumpolar wind. He would enter this at about 40°S.

In the shifting winds in the transition, he was always to take the tack that would best move them south.

The next day, they were sailing in good weather and a breeze, they still had Mauritius in sight, but after that Tasman began to record deteriorating conditions. Once clear of the influence of Madagascar the ocean swell grew dramatically.

On the 10th October he recorded the sea running ‘high from the south’, and despite all their earlier preparations, the Mizzen Mast broke. They ‘fished’ it. Two days later they had to do it again.

Rigging on the Heemskerck and Zeehaen

Rigging on the Heemskerck and Zeehaen

They pushed on south, but on the 18th October, had to heave to. The Zeehaen had turned to the wind and stopped. They hailed across that the boards that the shrouds were fixed to had worked loosed, and they needed to brace them.

By the 22nd October they were at latitude 38° 11′ and were now deeper into the Southern Ocean than anyone had been before. The most southerly land known was Amsterdam Island; halfway between Good Hope and Australia. The island had first been seen by Spanish explorer Juan Sebastián Elcano in 1522, but was not named. It was re-discovered for Holland in 1633, and named it Nieuw Amsterdam by Anthony van Diemen; Tasman’s boss.

It was on the 24th October that they hit their first big storm. They had reached 40°S; and were now in the ‘Roaring Forties’, the vicious wind that rips around Antarctica.

“…we took in our bonnets, lowered our foresail down to the stem, and ran on before the wind with our mainsail only; we dared not try to the wind because of the strong gale blowing. This gale was attended with hail and rain to such a degree that we feared the ship would not live through it.”

It must have been an extreme storm, as no-where else in his journal does Tasman ever describe concern for the conditions he was sailing in.

In the gale they lost sight of the Zeehaen, and this was a major problem. The Zeehaen was the principal supply ship, but more importantly, she was the only vessel capable of rendering aid should they require it.

They lay to, put a man up the mast,and waited. The next morning, to their great relief, the Zeehaen was sighted. They re-joined, but before they could get underway again, the Zeehaen broke a top yard, and they had to replace it.

Track of Abel Tasman heading into the Southern Ocean

Track of Abel Tasman heading into the Southern Ocean

They were finding the Southern Ocean very tough going.

The following day, 27th October they saw something in the water which gave them significant concern… ‘rock-weed’. There was land or shoals somewhere near.

“Item the 27th.

In the morning before early breakfast we saw a good deal of rock-weed and manna-grass floating about; we therefore hoisted a flag, upon which the officers of the Zeehaan came to board of us; we convened the Council and submitted to their consideration the instructions of the Honourable Governor-General and Councillors of India in case we should see and observe land, shoals, sunken rocks, etc. We then submitted to the council the question whether, now that we observed these signs of land, it would not be best to keep a man at the masthead constantly and make him look out for land, shoals, sunken rocks and other dangers; also what sum had best be fixed upon as a reward to be given to him who should first see land, upon which the Council thought fit to keep a man on the lookout constantly, and to give three pieces-of-eight and a can of arrack to whoever shall first see and observe land …”

The storms were so violent that their ships were breaking under the strain, and when they came, they had no choice but to run with the wind. Control over the direction they sailed was lost and now there was the possibility that when running they could be cast onto rocks.

The following day, matters got worse. They saw pieces of trees and leaves on the water and then, they became fog-bound. They knew that land was close because of the floating debris, but now, they couldn’t see it.

The position was extremely dangerous. They are in un-charted waters; and have no knowledge of the whereabouts of any land whatsoever. They also have no way to stop. They have no brakes. At sea, all the can do is slow their progress; they can either turn up to the wind and slowly drift backwards, or they can put out a sea anchor ( a large canvas bag on a line ) to slow their downwind progress.

There was however something they could do to detect the presence of land, even if they couldn’t see it.

“we time after time fired a musket and now and then also a great gun”.

Concerned that they would strike land that they couldn’t see, they fired guns, and listened for the echo.

On the 29th October, still locked in fog, Tasman convened the council, to ask;

“seeing that in this fog and darkness it is hardly possible to survey known shores, let alone to discover unknown land, it would not be best and most advisable to shape our course to eastward until the advent of clearer weather.”

The Council agreed, and despite not having yet reached the 52°S or 54°S prescribed, they turned East… and that decision probably saved the expedition.

Cook Glacier, Kerguelen Island

Cook Glacier, Kerguelen Island, French Southern and Antarctic lands: Source Wikipedia commons

For the last few days their progress had been south-south-east. This was as close as they could hold to the instruction, to proceed directly south.

Directly in their path, and unseen in the fog, was the 130km wide, French Southern and Antarctic lands; Islands that wouldn’t appear on a chart until 1722.

Under Instructions

Abel Tasman banner

Model of the Heemskerck at the Auckland Maritime museum

Model of the Heemskerck at the Auckland Maritime museum

Model of the Zeehaen at the Auckland Maritime Museum

Model of the Zeehaen at the Auckland Maritime Museum

In order to appreciate the progress of Tasman’s 14642 voyage it is necessary to understand the circumstances under which he was operating.

The VOC company wanted to find the Great South Land, to see if they was anything there that they could exploit commercially. They also wanted to know if there was a passage between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean through which they could gain access to the gold bearing coast of South America.

These were the two goals of the expedition.

Tasman was provided with two ships for the expedition, the Heemskerck, and the Zeehaen. Both ships carried cannons. He had 110 men in total, 19 of them soldiers, full rations for a year, and rice sufficient for 18 months.

The cost of the expedition was enormous. Not only did the VOC provide the vessels, crew, provisions, and goods for barter, they also diverted these vessels from profit making activity.

They did not take on this expense casually.

Tasman was given comprehensive written instruction on where he should go, and what he should do on discovering land. The VOC also put in place a management structure to ensure that their instructions were followed.

In the course of their business, the vessels of the VOC carried cargoes of incredible value… and this was the caused of significant temptation among skippers and crews; the risk of having a whole cargo stolen was high. For this reason, the ships’ skippers did not have sole charge of their vessels, rather, each ship’s operation was governed by a ‘Ship’s Council’.

All VOC vessels sailed with ‘Supercargo’ , a Company man, in charge of all trading activity. The Supercargo was always a council member.

It was the duty of the Ship’s Council to ensure that the instructions of the company were carried out.

On Tasmans expedition, the Council comprised:
From the Heemskerck: The Commander, Abel Jansz Tasman, The Skipper Yde T’jercxsz, The Pilot-Major Francois Jacobsz (a.k.a. Visscher) and Subcargo Abraham Coomans, who also acted as Secretary.
From the Zeehaen:The Skipper Gerrit Jansz, The Supercargo Isaack Gilsemans, and the first steersman Henrick.

The Commander, Abel Tasman, was an equal Council member except that in the case of a tied resolution, he had a casting vote.

“In this Council all matters relating to the progress of this voyage and the execution of our instructions will have to be discussed and determined, the Commander to have a double vote in case of equality of votes; “

Tasman was the president of a management committee, whose duty it was to execute the written instructions of the company, and Abel Tasman could not vary from those instructions without the approval of the Council.

In this respect, the voyage of Abel Tasman was completely unlike all the other famous expeditions. Tasman was not able to make decisions quickly, nor could he win through with an extreme proposal; exploration by committee was a cautious, even timid, process.

He had an additional difficulty in that his Council was distributed across the two vessels. In order to make a decision that was at variance with their instructions, Tasman had to convene the Council. This was done by flying a large white flag, upon which the Council members on the Zeehaen would come across. But to do this required that the vessels drop their sails, and lay to, and could only happen when the conditions permitted passage between the vessels.

The Gerritsz map of Australia carried by Abel Tasman

The Gerritsz map of Australia carried by Abel Tasman

A depiction of their arrival in Tonga, drawn by Isaac Gilsemans

A depiction of their arrival in Tonga, drawn by Isaac Gilsemans

Two of the Council members warrant particular mention.

‘Francois Jacobsz’ also known as ‘Visscher’ was the Chief Pilot and navigator. He was the chart-maker, and it was his calculations that were used to calculate their current position.

‘Isaack Gilsemans’ had a dual capacity. He was the company’s trader, but he was also the draughtsman, responsible for drawing the coastal surveys and other illustrations in the Commanders journal.

Gilsemans had a bewildering array of goods on board to barter with. Among them were; Tin, Pewter, Lead and Steel, with a small quantity of gold and pearls. Iron goods included, pots and pans, and knives and hatchets. His hoard also included some curiosities; hundreds of mirrors and combs and intriguingly… elephants teeth, and a brass bath.

The Ship’s Council was guided by comprehensive written instructions. In addition to the course they should sail they were given instruction on the men’s weekly rations, aimed at conserving their provisions. They were explicitly warned to take care of their stocks of water and firewood.

They were instructed to keep a lookout when approaching land, and advance a reward to the man first sighting it. They were also given clear instruction on how they should lay claim to any land found, and to inquire (without showing too much interest) about whether or not there was gold thereabouts.

On finding land they should follow its coast to see where it lead, taking care to note all; “islands, points, turnings, inlets, bays, rivers, shoals, banks, sands, reefs, cliff; rocks, etc”. Each of these they must “carefully map out and describe, and also have proper drawings made of their appearance and shape”.

In addition to the written instructions, Tasman was provided with, among other items; the Gerritsz map of Australia, notes from the skipper of the Gulden Zepppart, a Spanish description of the Solomon Islands, and a lexicon of words of the Solomon Islanders.

In his quest for the South Land, the route that Tasman should navigate was this:

The course instructions given to Abel Tasman

The course instructions given to Abel Tasman

From Mauritius they should sail south to the latitude of 52°S or 54°S. Then they should turn east, until reaching the longitude of the eastern extremity of the Solomon Islands (incorrectly thought to be 220° East of the Peak of Tenerife) before turning north. Then they should proceed at fist northwards, and then North-west to New Guinea, and the Philippine’s, before finding their way back to Batavia.

If Abel Tasman had followed the directions he was given, then he would have discovered nothing at all.


Abel Tasman banner


Tasman’s route to Mauritius

Abel Tasman sailed into the old ‘Grand Harbour’ on the South-East coast of Mauritius on 5th September 1642. There, at the VOC fortress of ‘Fredrick Hendrik’ he met with it’s commander Adriaan van der Stel.

Mauritius was a new colony, having only been established in 1638. It was named after the Dutch Prince Mauritius and lay between the Dutch colonies at Batavia and Cape Town. It was a strategically positioned haven for the many VOC ships on that route, and had an abundant supply of a highly prized commodity; Ebony. As well as keeping the colony a secure refuge for VOC vessels, Adriaan van der Stel was tasked with harvesting ebony for shipment to the European markets. Supply ships arrived at the outpost bringing provisions, munitions and slaves to work in the forests. They and laden with valuable ebony.

Prior to the Dutch, Mauritius had been visited by the Portuguese from 1507 onwards, but before that it was already known to Arab traders, and had first appeared on a Portuguese map of the world in 1502.

Cantino map 1502

The Cantino Planisphere, 1502

Abel Tasman was in Mauritius to refresh his men and take on board final provisions before beginning the exploration part of his voyage. The instructions he was given were clear about what he should do once he arrived.

“… you will take your way westward to the island of Mauritius (running in sight of Diego Rodrigos), and come to anchor there in the South-east harbour before the fortress of Fredrick Henrick, where you will hand to Commander Adriaan Van der Stel our annexed letters together with the commodities you have taken on board for the said island; while you are there, you will quickly and properly provide your ships with water, firewood and refreshments, bestowing on this no more than 14 or 15 days, however, or till. the 12 or 15th of October at the latest, taking due care that during that time your crews be properly refreshed and dieted exclusively on fresh viands, to which end we have given the needful orders to Commander Van der Stel, to assist you to the extent of his power, and if necessary to allow you to go a-hunting for wild animals.”

Tasman’s instructions made it plain that he should re-provision and refresh his men, taking no longer than 14 or 15 days to do so, but he took twice that time.

When Tasman left Batavia the first thing he did was go back to anchor; “where we refitted our ship which was disabled to such a degree that we could not possibly have put to sea in her”.

After crossing the Indian Ocean he was even more concerned about the condition of his vessels, and spent a month refitting them before sailing again.

These diary extracts show the extent of the re-fit he undertook on the Heemskerck.

“We were engaged nearly all day repairing our ropes and tackle; considering that our rigging was old, weak and not much to be depended on we added three more large ropes to the rigging on both sides the main and foremast in order to steady the same”

“In the morning our skipper, together with the carpenter aforesaid, went to the wood in the boat for the purpose of fetching thence the timber, and took the same to the fortress of Frederik Heyndrick, there to be sawn into boards of the most fitting dimensions.”

“In the morning we sent ashore our chief boatswain and boatswain’s mate with a number of sailors and a quantity of cordage in order to make ropes.”

“We sent a bag of rice to our men in the wood and fished our main-yard.”

“We fished our foremast at the back”

“In the morning ourselves and Gerrit Jansz, Skipper in the Zeehaan, together with a number of sailors with axes, went ashore to the wood in order to procure fitting timber for top-yards, anchor-stocks and mizzen-yards etc., for the purposes of our further voyage; we returned towards evening bringing a piece of round timber proper for fishing a top-yard, and also an anchor-stock for ourselves and two ditto for the Zeehaan. “

“This day we had a number of sawn boards brought from shore and a quantity of rope made ashore.”

“We fetched from the wood 3 anchor-stocks and a round piece of timber for a top-yard”

“The carpenters caulked the ship on the outside, stopped all the leaks they could find, and furthermore overhauled everything and duly pitched the seams.”


The Heemskerck and Zeehaen anchored in front of Fort Frederick Henrick with the supply vessel, Arent

While many of his men were occupied with the repairs, the others worked on re-stocking provisions. Boatloads of firewood and water were rowed out to the ships, and fresh meat was brought in.

In the month that they were anchored off the fortress they hunted, and brought back to the ships; 73 goats, 18 hogs and 26 cattle.

They had previously determined that they would get under way again on 4th October, but when that day came, they found they were unable to leave.

October 4th.

“This was the day we had fixed upon for putting to sea but owing to contrary winds we were unable to stand out to sea…”

They remained stuck in the harbour for the following three days;

“The contrary wind still continuing, we were unable to beat out of the bay, “

“We warped the kedge-anchor to get out at the south-east entrance and kedged a second time, but were compelled to give it up owing to the strong contrary wind.”

“The wind blowing from the east we were still busy with the kedge-anchor; in the evening we came to anchor under the islands in front of the bay in sixty fathom muddy bottom“

departing mauritius

The ‘Old Harbour’, Mauritius

Exasperated, Tasman wrote this in his journal;

“This bay is very hard to get out of seeing that the south-east wind is continually blowing here; whoever has no urgent business here had better keep out of it.”

Tasman’s difficulty was not unusual. The Heemskerck was a square rigged vessel that could only sail either downwind, or across the wind. It could not advance significantly upwind. If the wind came from the direction he wished to go then Tasman could not make direct progress, he had to tack. The harbour entrance he had to pass through was narrow and turning, and there wasn’t enough space to tack to make upwind progress. For Tasman it was either wait, or ‘warp’.

Heemskerck's pinnace

A model of the Heemskerck’s pinnace at the Auckland Maritime museum. Inside the boat is a small kedge anchor

‘Warping’ was the technique they used to move the vessel if the wind opposed them, or if there was no wind. The rowboat was sent out from the ship with a small anchor in it, a ‘kedge’ anchor. This anchor had a rope trailing back to the ship. The rowboat positioned itself ahead of the ship, and lowered the kedge anchor on a light line. On the ship, the main anchor was lifted and rope to the kedge anchor was hauled, pulling the ship forward. Then the ship’s anchor was lowered again, and the rowboat used the recovery line to lifted the kedge anchor, and moved forward. The process was repeated, and the ship moved forward in slow, small increments.

It was a laborious way of making ground, but was often the only means of getting out of a difficult, or becalmed harbour.

On October 8th, the wind turned and they finally managed to get themselves into open water.

“In the morning the weather rainy with a light land-breeze and whirlwinds; we weighed our anchors but had to drop them again owing to contrary winds; about 8 o’clock the wind turned to the north-east by east, we weighed anchor and accordingly ran out to sea south-eastward, for which God be praised and thanked; the southern extremity of this island of Mauritius is in 20° 12’”

Clear of the harbour and it’s enclosing reefs they turned right, and headed out into the unknown South.

The Dutch East India Company

Abel Tasman banner

“This day 14 August A.D. 1642, we set sail from the roads of Batavia with two ships, the Yacht Heemskerck and the Flute Zeehaen, the wind being north-east with good weather…”

These are the opening words of Abel Tasman’s journal.

On August the 14th 1642 two Dutch ships; the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen, well manned and well provisioned, slipped their moorings in Jakarta. The ships were searching for the great ‘Southern Land’ believed to exist somewhere in the Southern oceans. Abel Janszoon Tasman had command of this voyage of discovery for the Dutch East India Company.

Jakarta, then known as Batavia, was a Dutch colony, but the word ‘colony’ seems a rather inadequate description. Batavia was one of several similar ‘colonies’ that were established, and entirely managed by a private company… the Dutch East India company.

VOC coin.

A coin issued by the VOC in 1780.

The Dutch East India company, or more properly the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) was an extraordinary enterprise. It had secured a 25 year monopoly from the Dutch government, to conduct trade in the East Indies. It had simultaneously acquired some very unusual terms; it had the right to establish colonies and to raise arms to defend them, it could conscript and imprison, and it could issue its own currency.

Externally the VOC appeared in many ways to operate like a Sovereign state rather that a business. It established ‘colonies’ wherever it traded, and built fortresses and held them by force. It warred without reservation on the local populations if they posed a threat to their commercial objectives.

The Dutch colonies established by the VOC were trading garrisons; secure points, strategically placed around the globe, through which their international trading business was conducted. And the VOC owned all points of that supply chain. Their business was trading goods between Asia and the Far East, and Europe; and it was enormously profitable.

The VOC was incredibly successful as a business. It was the first company to sell shares, and those shares yielded on average 18% p.a. for the next 200 years. The VOC was the world’s first global enterprise, and in today’s terms would be compared to Google, Sony, or Apple.

The Capital of its colony in Indonesia was Batavia, which we now know as Jakata. Batavia was the hub for all trade around the Malay Peninsula and beyond. There, the VOC installed a Governor General. The VOC was however, first and foremost a company. Its objective was not to conquer the globe for the glory of the Nation, it was for profit. So, unlike a sovereign state, the Governor General had thoroughly constrained power… he was a manager, not a ruler. The role ‘Governor General’ might be more usefully thought of as the Chairman of a management team. That team was called the ‘Council of the Indies’, and its sole purpose was to manage profit returns to the Head Office in the Netherlands.

The VOC fleet was huge, and its staff numbered in the thousands. Its ships sailed from Europe to their Colony at the Cape of Good Hope, and then outwards across the Indian Ocean, to Batavia and beyond. They sourced silver, gold, silks, and all manner of spices and other valuables, from countries across the Far East; Madagascar, India, China, Japan, Malaysia and Korea, and shipped these goods back to Europe. The scale of trade was enormous, and so was the profit. On one voyage, in command of four ships, Abel Tasman brought goods back to Amsterdam worth 3 million guilders.

The aim of the VOC was always profit, and to protect and grow that profit. They sought constantly to improve efficiency; by finding suitable goods to back-load to the ‘Indies’, and by improving the routes they sailed. But the benefits won from these efficiency gains were limited. For significant profit growth they needed to expand both the quantity and the range of valuables that they could carry to Europe. Thus, there was a constant quest for new goods, and new territories to trade with.

By 1642 the globe was pretty well discovered, but for centuries there had been rumours about the existence of a great ‘Southern Land’.

Typus Orbis Terrarum. 1564

This 1564 map of the world, ‘Typus Orbis Terrarum’, indicates a huge unknown Southern Land.