Tag Archives: Tasmania

Lawful property

Abel Tasman banner

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

Abel Tasman banner

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.

Tasmania

Abel Tasman banner

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.

Signed, ABEL JANSZ TASMAN.

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.

lodestone

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.