Tag Archives: Abel Tasman

First light

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On the Morning of December 19th 1642, Abel Tasman and the Ngati Tumatakokiri had their first close look at each other.

The events of that day are recorded in Tasman’s journal, the Sailors Journal and the Surgeon-barbers account.

We also have this remarkable drawing by Isaac Gilsemans.

Gilsemans' drawing of the events of December 19th

Gilsemans’ drawing of the events of December 19th

It is captioned “A view of the Moordenaers Bay, as you are at anchor there in 15 fathom”, and is a collage of six independent illustrations that each depicts a different part of the day.

The legend at the upper right describes the individual parts of the drawing as below:

A. Our ships.
B. The prows which came alongside of us.
C. The cock-boat of the Zeehaen, which came paddling towards our ship, and was overpowered by the natives, who afterwards left it again owing to our firing; when we saw that they had left the cock-boat, our skipper fetched it back with our pinnace.
D. A view of a native prow with the appearance of the people.
E. Our ships putting off to sea.
F. Our pinnace bringing back the cock-boat.

This drawing is from the journal held at the National Archives, the Hague. A high resolution and zoomable scanned version of the original document can be found here:

Abel Tasman was sitting at anchor in Golden Bay. They had entered the Bay in the late morning and moved towards the shore before becoming becalmed, and lowering their anchors.

Gilsemans' drawing of the events of December 19th

Gilsemans’ drawing of the events of December 19th showing the position of the ships at anchor in Golden Bay

The illustration shows the ships, with land behind. The view is looking to the south-west. The headland on the left hand side is the promontory forming the Eastern end of Golden Bay, culminating at Separation Point. It is now the Abel Tasman National Park.

The Heemskerck is on the left, closer to the headland and the Zeehaen on the right, further towards the centre of Golden Bay.

With the last of the light the night before, Tasman had had visitors from the land; two boats full of warriors, but they had not managed to communicate in any useful way.

At first light, the south-landers were back. This time the south-landers came much closer, and this time in full daylight. It was the first time both parties had a good look at each other. The accounts of the Sailor and the Surgeon-barber are briefer that Tasman’s account, and this first visit of the day is only recorded in Tasman’s journal.

“Early in the morning a boat manned with 13 natives approached to about a stone’s cast from our ships; they called out several times but we did not understand them, their speech not bearing any resemblance to the vocabulary given us by the Honourable Governor-General and Councillors of India, which is hardly to be wondered at, seeing that it contains the language of the Salomonis islands, etc.”

One of the things supplied to Tasman for his voyage was a lexicon of words from the Salomon Islands. They tried some of these words, but found them of no use, “which is hardly to be wondered at”; they were after all from a country 3,500 km away.

In his journal entry for 19th December, 1642 Tasman made the first recorded description of the Maori:

“As far as we could observe these people were of ordinary height; they had rough voices and strong bones, the colour of their skin being brown and yellow; they wore tufts of black hair right upon the top of their heads, tied fast in the manner of the Japanese at the back of their heads, but somewhat longer and thicker, and surmounted by a large, thick white feather…”

“…For clothing, as it seemed to us, some of them wore mats, others cotton stuffs; almost all of them were naked from the shoulders to the waist.”

This description shows us that the waka had come very close indeed; close enough to see the top knots on the heads of the natives.

Gilsemans' drawing of the events of December 19th

Detail of the ‘South-landers’ and their boats

The waka depicted was not a drawing of the boat that visited first thing in the morning. That boat had 13 occupants; the one drawn has 11. It is not an illustration of a single boat, but representative of the people and boats they saw that day.

The illustration shows everyone bare chested, except the man standing, and that is what we would expect. The man standing would be the chief, and only the chief might own something as prestigious as a cloak.

Tasman recorded that their hair was tied up in a knot on top of their heads, and Gilsemans drew exactly this. Gilsemans however did not draw feathers in the hair, and most surprisingly there is no allusion in either the accounts, or drawing to any of the south-landers having tattoos.

The illustration doesn’t offer any detail of what the men were wearing, but the journal described the clothes as ‘mats’ or ‘cotton stuffs’.

The clothes would all have been woven flax or other fibre, and of varying fineness, but the Maori had no cotton. The Maori did have a type of cloth, called ‘tapa’, but it was rare and very highly prized indeed. Only a few examples of Tapa cloaks remain.

The detailed drawing shows the boat’s construction as well as the people, and some important details are recorded. Of immediate note is that the boat is double hulled; this was new to the Dutch. There is a horizontal lath drawn running the length of the hulls, and it appears lashed in place. This is a construction detail that would be unfamiliar to the Dutch. The lower part is the bottom of the hull, and is made from a single trunk; above the lath are separate long planks. These are tied together to deepen the hull, and the join is covered by the lath. This technique is still used in contemporary waka’s.

The sterns of the hulls are shown raised, and there is an indication of some sort of carving on them. An odd thing about the drawing is the position of the steersman; he is shown at the bow. The steersman would normally stay of the back of the boat, except on an ocean waka, when he might move to the front during tacking.

Unfortunately, Gilsemans recorded no detail of how the hulls were joined together, but Tasman provided this description.

“Their boats consisted of two long narrow prows side by side, over which a number of planks or other seats were placed in such a way that those above can look through the water underneath the vessel: their paddles are upwards of a fathom in length, narrow and pointed at the end; with these vessels they could make considerable speed.”
Gilsemans' drawing of the events of December 19th

Facing west from the lookout at Taupo Pa. Tasman’s ships were anchored in the centre of the view

From their position on the deck of the Heemskerck, the waka must have passed nearly almost directly beneath them, as Tasman noted that the paddlers could “look through the water underneath”.

They had showed the south-landers some of the trading goods they had on board, but it seems there was no interest in them. “We repeatedly made signs for them to come on board of us, showing them white linen and some knives that formed part of our cargo.“

Onboard the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen they had a bewildering array of goods to trade; these are some of them:

4 pieces of coloured cloth
5 pieces of silk patholen
4 pieces of Guinea linen
500 Chinese small mirrors
50 catties of Chinese coral
50 ordinary knives
19 pounds of Elephants teeth
2 packets of Tinsel
200 pounds of ironmongery
3/4 reals weight of gold
50 pounds of Dutch steel
1 picol of sugar
25 pounds of tin
50 pounds of pewter
25 pieces of assorted iron pots
20 pounds of cloves
200 small Chinese wooden combs
50 small hatchets
4 pounds of tortoise shell
50 pounds of lead
50 Chinese needles
4 broad Surate chintzes
10 pounds of mace
3/4 reals weight of silver
20 pounds of nutmegs
50 pounds of various brass wares
50 pounds of ebony
100 assorted pieces of porcelain
1 large brass basin
3 pearls

Both the night before, and on this morning, Tasman recorded that the waka’s approached, and then the men on board had called out. But they hadn’t understood what was said.

James Cook however was able to understand what was said;he had a translator, Tupaia.

In his Journal under the heading “War Practises of New Zealanders”, Cook recorded the manner in which they were usually approached by the Maori if their arrival was un-heralded.

“Whenever we were Visited by any number of them that had never heard or seen anything of us before they generally came off in the largest Canoe they had, some of which will carry 60, 80, or 100 people. They always brought their best Cloaths along with them, which they put on as soon as they came near the Ship. In each Canoe were generally an old Man, in some 2 or 3; these used always to direct the others, were better Cloathed, and generally carried a Halbard or Battle Axe in their hands, or some such like thing that distinguished them from the others.”

As soon as they came within about a Stone’s throw of the Ship they would there lay, and call out, “Haromoi harenta a patoo ago!” that is, “Come here, come ashore with us, and we will kill you with our patoo patoos!” and at the same time would shake them at us.

At times they would dance the War dance, and other times they would trade with and talk to us, and Answer such Questions as were put to them with all the Calmness imaginable, and then again begin the War Dance, shaking their Paddles, Patoo patoos, etc., and make strange contortions at the same time.”

Tasman reported the same behaviour that Cook described; that the waka would approach to about a stone’s throw, and then the natives would shout out to them.

Tasman thought they were being friendly.

Cook however understood the warning he was being given… Do not approach us, or come ashore, or we will kill you.

On the morning of December 13th Tasman wrote that the natives visited and then paddled away back to the beach. “They did not come nearer, however, but at last paddled back to shore“

But they weren’t gone for long.

Visitors in the dark

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Tasman's position at anchor on December 18th

Tasman’s position at anchor on December 18th

Below is Tasman’s journal entry relating to the events of the afternoon and evening of December 18th, 1642.

The original spelling and punctuation are retained, but paragraph breaks have been inserted for ease of reading.

“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 latters 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 myle from shore.

When our men had been on board for the space of about one glass the men in the two ¹prows began to call out to us in the rough, hollow voice, but we could not understand a word of what they said. We however called out to them in answer, upon which they repeated their cries several times, but came no nearer than a stone shot; they also blew several times on an instrument of which the sound was like that of a Moorish trumpet;

we then ordered one of our sailors (who had some knowledge of trumpet-blowing) to play them some tunes in answer.

Those on board the Zeehaen ordered their second mate (who had come out to India as a trumpeter and had in the Mauritius been appointed second mate by the council of that fortress and the ships) to do the same;

after this had been repeated several times on both sides, and as it was getting more and more dark, those in the native prows at last ceased and paddled off.

For more security and to be on guard against all accidents we ordered our men to keep double watches as we are wont to do when out at sea, and to keep in readiness all necessaries of war, such as muskets, pikes and cutlasses. We cleaned the guns on the upper-²orlop, and placed them again, in order to prevent surprises, and be able to defend ourselves if these people should happen to attempt anything against us.

Variation 9° North-East.”

¹ ‘prow’, sometimes also ‘proa’. The name used in Indonesia for a single hull boat used for fishing and carrying goods. Tasman would be familiar with these from Batavia.
² ‘orlop’. The lower decks of a ship.

Tasman's position at anchor on December 18thTasman's position at anchor on December 18thTasman's position at anchor on December 18th

The journal pages recording the events of December 18th. Click on the page to enlarge, or to open the page at its source click these: left page, centre page, right page.

Tasman’s reporting of ‘Variation’ means they saw the sunrise and sunset, but his latitude that day was recorded as ‘estimated’, meaning that the midday sun was obscured. The weather was calm and fair that day, but with some cloud.

His account of the evenings events seems straightforward.

Their two small boats had been out scouting around for the whole afternoon and early evening, looking for a good anchorage, and for somewhere they could get fresh water. At sunset the small boats were about ‘half a myle’  (approximately 3.7 km) from the shore.

By ‘about an hour after sunset’  they noticed fires, and four native boats close inshore. This is an important little detail regarding their position at anchor; they were close enough to the shore to discern individual small boats.

When two of the native boats moved from inshore towards them, the pinnace and cock-boat made their way back.

They rowed back (it was calm weather) to the Zeehaen and Heemskerck, and the two native boats followed. 4 knots is a fair speed estimate for their type of boats, so by the time they had reached the safety of the ships, it was about an hour and a half past sunset.

“When our men had been on board for the space of about one glass the men in the two prows began to call out to us in the rough, hollow voice”

They heard the south-landers calling out about two hours after sunset, by which time it was substantially dark (the moon on that night was slightly less than a half-full).

The canoes came no closer than ‘a stone shot’, which is a difficult term to resolve with any confidence, but this much is apparent; they were within hailing distance of each other. We might assume from this that ‘a stone shot’  is something less than the width of a football field, about 50m at the most.

The men in the canoes were calling out roughly but they couldn’t understand what was being said. Then they heard a noise rather like a trumpet, and Tasman had one of his sailors respond with theirs. The Zeehan then also responded with trumpet play.

After the shouting and trumpet exchanges had gone on for a while, the natives stopped their calling, and “paddled off”  in the darkness.

After that, they prepared themselves for trouble, should it come. They doubled their watches, cleaned and re-positioned their cannons, and brought out “muskets, pikes and cutlasses“.

It all sounds quite innocuous, but Tasman and his men had already committed two actions that were highly insulting and inflammatory. They had turned away and run from the approaching waka instead of facing them, and in response to the horn they had heard, they had responding, mocking, with one, and then two of their own.

As visitors, it was their obligation to explain who they were, and their business there; otherwise they would be chased away, with whatever force was required. The onus was on the visitors to explain themselves satisfactorily; and the appropriate manner was to approach with respect and deference.

The general protocol for two peoples to meet was this.

The chiefs would approach each other and exchange histories. The resident would recite a history of who and where they were from, and the extent of their range. This established their ‘mana whenua’, their right to stand on the land, and so too their lineage. The visitor made a similar recitation, stated their business, and asked to be allowed to stay. The visitors’ lineage would expose if they were kin, or perhaps previous enemies.

The residents had complete authority within their Rohe, and might quite properly kill anyone on there without permission. Until visitors have been given permission to stay, they were considered hostile.

That is how it was done, and still is. This protocol is still observed when visiting a Marae. A visitor ignoring this protocol does so at their peril.

In reference to this, the account of Hendrik Haelbos records one extra detail of that evening which is important. This is his account of the evening of December 18th, 1642.

After leaving Tasmania, they had sailed eastwards; “… and discovered on the eighteenth of December a convenient harbour. The sloop having been sent off, to discover on the shore, came back toward the evening, followed by a vessel from the coast. This approached closer and closer; but Tasman could see no sign on account of darkness: he only heard horrid noise of harsh voices and a shrill sound, not unlike a trumpet. The Dutch sailors called out to them: blew on trumpets: and finally fired off a cannon. Then the South-landers began to rave terribly: blew on a horn: and returned to land. Tasman called up the watch: and placed on the deck sabres, pikes and guns.“

The Barber-surgeon records ‘the sloop’  (being the pinnace) going to explore, and being followed back by a vessel from the coast. The south-landers came closer, but couldn’t be seen in the darkness. Haelbos records the sound made by the Ngati Tumatakokiri calling out as “harsh voices”  and then “a shrill sound, not unlike a trumpet” .

In his account, only one boat from the expedition went out, but on this we might expect Tasman’s account to be more accurate as he named the individuals; which included Gilsemans, who was on the Zeehaen.

A 17th Century ships cannon

A 17th Century ships cannon

Regarding the end of the encounter, Haelbos wrote this;

“The Dutch sailors called out to them: blew on trumpets: and finally fired off a cannon”.

This last, and rather memorable detail, is not mentioned in Tasman’s journal.

They had fired on the canoes with a cannon.

As the Ngati Tumatkokiri were paddling back to shore, Tasman’s men were busy bringing Arms onto the decks, cleaning the cannons and setting them in position, no doubt wondering what the new day would bring.

And well they might.

As visitors to someone else’s territory, they had neither explained themselves adequately, nor behaved respectfully.

Into darkness

Kurahaupo banner

Diary: Taupo Pa.

We stared into the darkness, but couldn’t make anything out. There was some light from the moon, but not enough to see any detail. We knew where they were though, we could see the stars on the ships, but that was all.

All we knew was that our men had gone right up to the Spirit Ships, but beyond that, all detail was lost to the dark.

Looking towards Taupo Point from near Parapara

Looking west from the middle of Golden Bay 30 minutes after sunset

The night was calm and quiet; just a few birds and the faint slop of waves on the rocks below. Occasionally we thought we might have heard the muffled sound of a chant, but we couldn’t really tell. But we could sometimes hear a blast from the Pukaea.

Suddenly there was a flash of lightening from one of the ships, and then a sharp clap of thunder; then… nothing.

Some said they heard the the screams of the men, and a final woeful blast from the Pukaea, but I couldn’t be sure.

Then there was nothing, just the sounds of the night; the birds and the washing of the waves. It was fully dark. The stars were clear and bright… and the brightest two stars were right there, where the ships stood.

We didn’t know what had happened, and we didn’t know what to think.

Had they all been killed by the lightning?

I went with some of the others down to the beach where the boats were assembled, but nobody there knew any more than we did. Soon after we heard shouting; there were boats coming in! and to our great relief we heard the voices of our men returning.

Looking east from near Parapara 30 minutes after sunset

Looking east from the middle of Golden Bay 30 minutes after sunset

Fire on the beach in Golden Bay 2 hours after sunset

Fire on the beach in Golden Bay 2 hours after sunset

We gathered around the Chief, and in the firelight he told us what had happened.

They had rowed out to meet the strangers, but the strangers had turned away and run off before they met.

The chief wasn’t going to take that sort of rudeness, so they made chase, and were closing fast, but the strangers got back to their ships before they could be caught up.

He said they paddled their boats very strangely; with their backs to where they were going, which seemed very stupid, but that was what they’d seen. And their paddles went out sideways, instead of down into the water… even a child knows that’s silly. He also said their boats were too wide and too short and weren’t very fast; but he marvelled at the size of the trees that must have been used to make them.

On the back of each ship, high up, they have a star, captured in a snare. They also had some smaller stars which were somehow carried around the ships. Sometimes they saw the faces of the men lit up by these small stars, and they looked ghost-like, but that you couldn’t be sure about that as we all appear like that sitting under the moon at night.

We all coo-ed at such wonders.

The Chief had called out to the ships in the proper manner. He had said who he was, and who, and where he was from. He had named our river, and our mountain, that we were Ngati Tumatakokiri from the Kurahaupo, and that we had rightful mana whenua here.

The men on the Spirit Ships had called back, but the words could not be understood… but they were definitely men; this was certain. Even though it was dark there was enough light to know that these were men on those boats; not ghosts or monsters.

Contemporary Pukaea

Contemporary Pukaea

The Chief instructed a call on the Pukaea. If they did not understand our words, they would understand our Call: ‘We are here’… ‘We are already here’.

As visitors, at this they should be respectful, come humbly, and seek our permission to stay.

But they did not.

Instead, they mocked us with a call of their own. It was a different sound, a higher pitch, and with many variations, like a lower but very loud bird-song. Then, to insult us further, another joined from the other ship.

Such rudeness! Visitors showing such disrespect was never before known.

Our men were shouting their outrage, and the Pukaea was sounding hard when a bolt of lightning and thunder suddenly burst from one of the ships. It was so loud that it scared a shoal right out of the water; all around they heard the fish splashing.

Our men had roared in defiance. But then, as it was full dark, and seeing they would get no satisfaction this evening, the Chief ordered them back.

When he finished speaking we still sat there, mesmerised.

The Tohunga then spoke about the magic; the ships, the sails, the captured stars, and the lightning and thunder. There were many stories, old stories, of similar magic, though none here had seen anything remotely similar… and none of it really helped.

What we now know is that these are men, not Gods or ghouls, and that they have not come with good purpose.

They have wonderful magic and sorcery, but they are still men; men with slow boats.

This is our rightful place. They have no business here except by our invitation, and we do not extend it.

More men had arrived than last time I was on the beach. Everyone is here. There are now more boats than I had even seen in one place before. They are still working on some of the boats. Those that have been paired in the past and can be fastened together quickly, are being made ready for fighting.

In the morning, we will tell the strangers that they are not welcome here, and must leave. If they do not leave, then we will help them change their minds.

The men were being organised into crews, and a few of the women stepped forward too.

We began to prepare ourselves. If it comes to it, we will fight tomorrow.

I will be in one of the boats.

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.

Smoke and sand

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Steijle Hoek

Gilsemans’s coastal survey of ‘Steijle Hoek’ and the land to its North and South

From their anchorage at Nine Mile Beach, Tasman had moved out to sea at the first opportunity, and then headed North.

They spent the rest of the day and night moving across the Karamea Bight, towards “Steijle Hoek (Sharp Point) where the line of the Coast turns from North-South to Southwest-Northeast.

The weather was calm and they drifted very slowly, but by evening they had rounded the point. Beyond there the prospect changed and at sunset the farthest land they could then see was away to their East and slightly North.

“we found the furthest point of the land that we could see to bear from us east by north, the land falling off so abruptly there that we did not doubt that this was the farthest extremity.”

Steijle Hoek

Tasman’s progress, December 16th to dawn on December 17th

The visible coast extended to Cape Farewell, but beyond that they could see nothing (Cape Farewell is so named because this is where Cook bade New Zealand Farewell).

Of significance here is the comment “we did not doubt that this was the farthest extremity.” Their understanding was that they had come upon an unknown coast, and had then followed that coast to its northern extremity. Their belief was that beyond this point was the open ocean once again.

This understanding, that south of this point was land, and north of this point was ocean, underpinned a key decision that was made three days later.

They were sailing in the night in fickle breezes that moved from South-West to South, but in the early hours of the morning the wind firmed. This gave them another problem. With the wind from the South and South by East they could no longer sail close enough to the wind to stay with the coast, and they were moving away from it to the north.

Finally, in the early hours of the morning the wind firmed from the south-east and they were able to turn back towards land on a South-West course.

“In the second glass of the day-watch we got a breeze from the south-east, upon which we tacked for the shore again.”

Cape Farewell

Gilseman’s drawing of Cape Farewell, Farewell spit, and the hills behind Golden Bay

With the light of day they saw that they were close inshore… and they saw something else.

“In the morning at sunrise we were about one mile from the shore; in various places we saw smoke ascending from fires made by the natives”

With the dawn they saw their first signs of people in New Zealand… smoke.

On board the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen there was no doubt a resurgence of speculation about the nature of the people. The Great South Land was rumoured to be filled with monsters and savages, and their own experience was that the last land they visited had been peopled by Giants.

Tasman’s location at the time he saw smoke is known quite precisely. He was 7.4km (one ‘myle’) off the coast at Cape Farewell, or to the east; it is only 6 km from Cape Farewell to where the land ends and the sand spit begins. He was along that 6 km length, closer to the Cape than further away from it, as Tasman saw smoke rising from land before he recorded seeing the sand dunes of the spit.

Position at anchor at sunset on December 17th

Position at anchor at sunset on December 17th

The cliff tops around Cape Farewell have commanding views of the coast at the northern tip of the South Island, but people did not live there. People lived near fresh water, and in Golden Bay Maori settlement was located at the river mouths.

There was only one reason for someone to be on those coastal cliff tops at dawn, and that was to watch.

The location was strategic for 3 reasons; this location controlled access to the West Coast… the source of valuable Pounamu, attacks coming from Taranaki could be seen from here, and an observer in this position could give good warning of anyone approaching from that direction; any potential attacker still had to negotiate the 25km long sand spit.

Tasman saw smoke ‘in several places’ from his location at dawn, and this meant only one thing. They had been seen.

The signal fires were lit at dawn, and the whole of Mohua was alerted to the presence of danger.

Inside the Bay people began mobilising.

Visscher's map of New Zealand as at 17th December

Visscher’s map of New Zealand as at 17th December

By the end of that day, Tasman’s ships had only advanced the length of the sand spit, and still lay on the ocean side. They sat becalmed, but not idle. The harbour beyond looked attractive. It was wide but sheltered; and it offered the prospect of a secure anchorage where they could take on fresh supplies of water and firewood. It is not mentioned in the journal, but they must have put out one or more of their small boats to sound the depth at the end of the spit.

“to eastward of this narrow sandspit there is a sandbank upwards of a mile in length with 6, 7, 8 and 9 feet of water above it, and projecting east-south-east from the said point.”

At sunset on December 17th, 1642, The Heemskerck and the Zeehaen sat at anchor in 17 fathoms, on the ocean side of Farewell Spit, 4 km from its tip.

Looking along Farewell spit from the hilltop path

Looking along Farewell spit from the hilltop path running between the Spit and Cape Farewell. From this position Tasman’s ships would have been visible from sunrise to sunset.

They had spent the whole day in sight of their watchers.

The complete journal entry for December 16th, 1642:

At six glasses before the day we took soundings in 60 fathom anchoring-ground. The northernmost point we had in sight then bore from us north-east by east, at three myles distance, and the nearest land lay south-east of us at 1 and a half myles distance. We drifted in a calm, with good weather and smooth water; at noon Latitude observed 40° 58′, average Longitude 189° 54′; course kept north-north-east, sailed 11 myles; we drifted in a calm the whole afternoon; in the evening at sunset we had 9° 23′ increasing North-East variation; the wind then went round to south-west with a freshening breeze; we found the furthest point of the land that we could see to bear from us east by north, the land falling off so abruptly there that we did not doubt that this was the farthest extremity. We now convened our council with the second mates, with whom we resolved to run north-east and east-north-east till the end of the first watch, and then to sail near the wind, wind and weather not changing, as may in extenso be seen from this days resolution. During the night in the sixth glass it fell calm again so that we stuck to the east-north-east course; although in the fifth glass of the dog-watch, we had the point we had seen in the evening, south-east of us, we could not sail higher than east-north-east slightly easterly owing to the sharpness of the wind; in the first watch we took soundings once, and a second time in the dog-watch, in 60 fathom, clean, grey sand. In the second glass of the day-watch we got a breeze from the south-east, upon which we tacked for the shore again.

The complete journal entry for December 17th, 1642:

In the morning at sunrise we were about one mile from the shore; in various places we saw smoke ascending from fires made by the natives; the wind then being south and blowing from the land we again tacked to eastward. At noon Latitude estimated 40° 31′, Longitude 190° 47′; course kept north-east by east, sailed 12 myles; in the afternoon the wind being west we held our course east by south along a low-lying shore with dunes in good dry weather; we sounded in 30 fathom, black sand, so that by night one had better approach this land aforesaid, sounding; we then made for this sandy point until we got in 17 fathom, where we cast anchor at sunset owing to a calm, when we had the northern extremity of this dry sandspit west by north of us; also high land extending to east by south; the point of the reef south-east of us; here inside this point or narrow sandspit we saw a large open bay upward of 3 or 4 myles wide; to eastward of this narrow sandspit there is a sandbank upwards of a mile in length with 6, 7, 8 and 9 feet of water above it, and projecting east-south-east from the said point. In the evening we had 9° North-East variation.

Journal, which journal?

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The map of New Zealand in the copy of Tasman's journal held at the National Archive, the Hague.

The map of New Zealand in the copy of Tasman’s journal held at the National Archive, the Hague.Click to open left page at source Click to open right page at source

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.

The last page of the Hague copy of Tasman's journal, signed in person.

The last page of the Hague copy of Tasman’s journal, signed in person. Click to open at source

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.

Visscher's map of New Zealand from the Hudecoper journal

Visscher’s map of New Zealand from the Hudecoper journal. State Library of New South Wales: Ref a287002. Click to open at source

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.

The account of Hendrik Healbos

The account of Hendrik Healbos

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, .

Notes on Journal sources and Copyright.

The Heeres translation of Tasman’s journal is available as a free e-book here:

A high resolution scanned version of the Hague copy is available free of restriction here:

A high resolution scanned version of the Huydecoper journal is available here.
Copyright is reserved by the State Library of New South Wales, but content is reproducible without seeking further permission on the following terms:
“Unless otherwise stated, you may access, download, print, reproduce and distribute content on this website for individual or non-commercial use provided that the copyright ownership is acknowledged.“

The ‘Sailors journal’ can be found here:
It is out of copyright and made available by the Victoria University of Wellington Library under a Creative Commons license. The License details are here:

The account of Hendrik Haelbos is included in this free e-book:
The volume is a Dutch compilation of many sources dealing principally with the America’s, but has a short final chapter describing discoveries in the South. The Haelbos text begins on page 579 of the manuscript.

Clyppige Hoek

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On the morning of December 15th their most urgent task was to get further out to sea.

Tasman's progress Dec 15 to Dec 16

Tasman’s progress from anchor to the south of Clyppige Hoek, to near Steijle Hoek.

Tasman had not called the Cape “Clyppige Hoek” (Rocky Point) because it consisted of rolling dunes. It is a tangle of reefs, shallows, rocks, and pinnacles.

They were in a dangerous position.

From their location at anchor, the rocks on Clyppige Hoek formed an obstacle to their North, and to the South were cliffs right back to Punakaiki. This was a lee shore, with a south-westerly current and a prevailing south-westerly wind. They needed to move further out to sea to give themselves room to manoeuvre and options should the conditions change.

With the first breeze of the day they made their way out to open sea, and then turned north. Level with the Cape, Tasman described a prominent landmark.

“northward from this point extends a large rocky reef; on this reef, projecting from the sea, there are a number of high steep cliffs resembling steeples or sails; one mile west of this point we could sound no bottom.”

These rocks are still called “The Three Steeples”.

His mention of features like the Three Steeples was not at all incidental, it was a duty that was laid out in great detail in his written instructions.

“All the lands, islands, points, turnings, inlets, bays, rivers, shoals, banks, sands, cliffs, rocks etc., which you may meet with and pass, you will duly map out and describe, and also have proper drawings made of their appearance and shape, for which purpose we have ordered an able draughtsman to join your expedition; you will likewise carefully note in what latitude they are situated; how the coasts, islands, capes, headlands or points, bays and rivers bear from each other and by what distances they are separated; what conspicuous landmarks such as mountains, hills, trees or buildings, by which they may be recognised, are visible on them; likewise what depths and shallows, sunken rocks, projecting shoals and reefs are situated about and near the points; how and by what marks these may most conveniently be avoided; item whether the grounds or bottoms are hard, rugged, soft, level, sloping or steep; whether one should come on sounding, or not; by what land- and seamarks the best anchoring-grounds in road-steads and bays may be known; the bearings of the inlets, creeks and rivers, and how these may best be made and entered; what winds blow in these regions; the direction of the currents; whether the tides are regulated by the moon or by the winds; what changes of monsoons, rains and dry weather you observe; furthermore diligently observing and noting whatever requires the careful attention of experienced steersmen, and may in future be helpful to others who shall navigate to the countries discovered.”

Tasman’s journal was not simply a record of his adventure; its main purpose was to be a guide for the safe passage of subsequent voyagers.

Ships and cargoes were extremely valuable, and detailed knowledge of an area could reduce losses. This was the commercial driver; hence such comprehensive instructions on what details should be recorded.
Multiple copies of journals were made, and these were provided to skippers entering unfamiliar areas.

The “able draughtsman” provided by the VOC was the Ships’ merchant and trader, Isaac Gilsemans, who draw the coastal surveys and other illustrations in the journal. The charts of their discoveries were made by the expedition’s Chief Pilot, Frans Jacobszoon Visscher.

A view of the mainland south of the Clypyge hoeck

Part of an illustration drawn by Isaac Gilsemans from the deck of the Zeehaen. The caption reads ‘A view of the mainland south of the Clypyge hoeck as you sail along the coast; below there are views of the Clypige Hoeck’ (click to see the original)

Tasman’s journal comprises three separate records of the voyage; his own written observations, the coastal surveys drawn by Gilsemans, and the charts drawn by Visscher.

As they progressed along the coast, Gilsemans recorded the skyline, and Visscher mapped the coast.

A clip of Visschers chart of New Zealand showing their knowledge of the land at December 16th.

A clip of Visschers chart of New Zealand showing their knowledge of the land at December 16th

Tasman recorded the latitude of Clyppige Hoek as 41° 50’s. Their ability to measure latitude is quite remarkable considering they had only a cross staff or a hoekboog; the latitude given is wrong by just 9km. Visscher located the point on his on his chart of the coast.

With these three pieces of information, anyone in this latitude, and approaching from the west, would be able to identify where they were with complete confidence.

At noon on December 15th they were abreast of the Cape, and Tasman wrote “As we still saw this high land extend to north-north-east of us we from here held our course due north”. He was looking across the Karamea Bight.

The most distant land he could see was the point of Kahurangi, where the line of the coast turns from north-south to south-west to north-east. Tasman called it Steijle Hoek, Steep Point. Clyppige Hoek and Steijle Hoek are only 100 km apart, but the conditions were so calm that it took them over a day to cover the distance

They sailed through the night and at daybreak they were level with the township of Karamea, By midday on December 16th they were abreast the Heaphy River mouth, where Tasman recorded an ‘observed’ latitude of 40° 58′, and an ‘average’ longitude of 189° 54′.

This is the full journal entry for December 15th, 1642.

In the morning with a light breeze blowing from the land we weighed anchor and did our best to run out to sea a little, our course being north-west by north; we then had the northernmost low-lying point of the day before, north-north-east and north-east by north of us. This land consists of a high double mountain-range, not lower than Ilha Formoza. At noon Latitude observed 41° 40′, Longitude 189° 49′; course kept north-north-east, sailed 8 miles; the point we had seen the day before now lay south-east of us, at 2½ miles distance; northward from this point extends a large rocky reef; on this reef, projecting from the sea, there are a number of high steep cliffs resembling steeples or sails; one mile west of this point we could sound no bottom. As we still saw this high land extend to north-north-east of us we from here held our course due north with good, dry weather and smooth water. From the said low point with the cliffs, the land makes a large curve to the north-east, trending first due east, and afterwards due north again. The point aforesaid is in Latitude 41° 50′ south. The wind was blowing from the west. It was easy to see here that in these parts the land must be very desolate; we saw no human beings nor any smoke rising; nor can the people here have any boats, since we did not see any signs of them; in the evening we found 8° North-East variation of the compass.

As they rounded Cape Foulwind, and crossed the Karamea Bight Tasman made the note that: “we saw no human beings nor any smoke rising; nor can the people here have any boats”.

In these observations he was quite wrong. There were people there, and they did have boats.

To Anchor

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Tasmans progress to his arrival in New Zealand

Tasmans progress to his arrival in New Zealand

As Tasman and his ships crossed the sea now named after him, he saw a large high land, and turned to it straight away. He fired a cannon to alert the Zeehaen to his change in course.

It was a momentous occasion.

1628 Map of the World

1628 Map of the World (click to enlarge)

The land they had already discovered, “Anthony van Diemens Landt”, wasn’t unexpected; the Dutch already knew about Australia. The VOC already knew of over half of its coastline; to the North, West and South, only the eastern limits were unknown.

From Van Diemens Landt they sailed directly East, now in completely unknown waters; they were beyond all the extremities marked on their charts.

This English map from 1628 shows “The Southern Unknown Land” as a vague line bearing the inscription “This South part of the World (contayning almost the third part of the Globe) is yet unknowne certayne sea coasts excepted: which rather shew there is a land then discry eyther land, people, or Comodities.”

They were sailing in a huge area that was a blank on the maps. At this latitude, the whole ocean between South America, and Australia was a void, filled only by the imaginings of the cartographers.

There, in that void, Tasman had found land.

In the afternoon Tasman convened the Ships Council, and they had decided to make for the land “as quickly as at all possible”.

Whilst there would have been excitement about this new discovery, it would have been tempered with apprehension. The rumours about the Great South Land spoke of Gold and Silver, but Tasman’s written instructions also noted that “it is well-known that the southern regions are peopled by fierce savages”.

There were also practical matters to consider. The last time they had taken water and firewood on board was in Mauritius. That was 67 days ago, and they had a contingent of 110 to be kept fed and watered; re-supply was important. The other concern was that this was a lee shore.

Their expectation and experience was that south-westerly winds dominated in this latitude, and they were sailing in “huge hollow waves and heavy swells” coming from the South-West.

Tasmans progress to his arrival in New Zealand

Tasmans progress to the New Zealand coast

As they continued south-east and closed on the shore, it became apparent that this was indeed a large land. They were approaching a coast that ran from South-west to North-east. It was not a group of islands with passages between and offering the chance of shelter behind, but a continuous lee shore… and they were approaching it in darkness.

Turning east would slow their progress towards land, but importantly it would also give them an easy tack to run parallel to the coast should a strong south-westerly blew up. They instructed their steersmen to continue on their South-east course unless the wind strengthened.

At 10:00 pm they turned East, and held that course until daylight.

With the dawn they found themselves close to the shore.

Serpentine Beach, Kumara Junction, with Mt Cook and Mt Tasman in the background

Serpentine Beach, Kumara Junction, with Mt Cook and Mt Tasman in the background

Tasman’s expedition first met the coast of New Zealand between Greymouth and Hokitika, near Kumara Junction, on the morning of December 14th, 1642.

“We were about 2 myles off the coast, which showed as a very high double land, but we could not see the summits of the mountains owing to thick clouds. We shaped our course to northward along the coast, so near to it that we could constantly see the surf break on the shore.”

They turned to follow the coast north, and began the first documented exploration of New Zealand.

Tasman's approach to Cape Foulwind

Tasman’s approach to Cape Foulwind

At midday Tasman recorded an ‘observed’ latitude of 42° 10′, placing him between Barrytown, and Punakaiki. Towards evening “we saw a low-lying point north-east by north of us, at about 3 miles distance;”.

He named it Clyppige Hoek, Rocky Point. Later, James Cook called it Cape Foulwind; (he wasn’t having a good time when he sailed past there). The Maori that lived in the area already had a name for it; Omau. It was a favoured place for seals and shellfish.

They sailed towards the Cape until the wind dropped away completely, and then found themselves drifting in a current that carried them closer and closer to the shore.

Tasman's position at anchor

Tasman’s position at anchor

As they drifted, the water was becoming shallower, until they found themselves in 28 fathoms, “where, on account of the calm, and for fear of drifting nearer to the shore, we ran out our kedge-anchor during the day-watch”

Conditions must have been very calm indeed as their “kedge-anchor” was not one of their main anchors, but a small one. It was the light anchor that they used for ‘warping’; pulling themselves into the wind, and out of awkward harbours… like Mauritius.

In the morning he reported “we then had the northernmost low-lying point of the day before, north-north-east and north-east by north of us”. This shows that the direction of their drift had been constant, and towards the Cape, and from this we can calculate his position at anchor.

Tasman’s first anchorage in New Zealand was 5 km off Nine Mile Beach, immediately to the South of Cape Foulwind.

Nine Mile Beach

Nine Mile Beach

This is the complete journal entry for December 14th, 1642.

“At noon Latitude observed 42° 10′, Longitude 189° 3′; course kept east, sailed 12 miles. We were about 2 miles off the coast, which showed as a very high double land, but we could not see the summits of the mountains owing to thick clouds. We shaped our course to northward along the coast, so near to it that we could constantly see the surf break on the shore. In the afternoon we took soundings at about 2 miles distance from the coast in 55 fathom, a sticky sandy soil, after which it fell a calm. Towards evening we saw a low-lying point north-east by north of us, at about 3 miles distance; the greater part of the time we were drifting in a calm towards the said point; in the middle of the afternoon we took soundings in 45 fathom, a sticky sandy bottom. The whole night we drifted in a calm, the sea running from the west-north-west, so that we got near the land in 28 fathom, good anchoring-ground, where, on account of the calm, and for fear of drifting nearer to the shore, we ran out our kedge-anchor during the day-watch, and we are now waiting for the land-wind.”

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.