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More land

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For two days they sailed North-west, distancing themselves from the trap they’d found themselves in. But on Dec 28th, they turned back towards the coast, to resume their exploration of the land.

“In the morning at daybreak we made sail again, set our course to eastward in order to ascertain whether the land we had previously seen in 40° extends still further northward, or whether it falls away to eastward.“

They didn’t have to wait long, and at mid-day, they sighted land again.

“At noon we saw east by north of us a high mountain which we at first took to be an island; but afterwards we observed that it forms part of the mainland.”

They had seen Mount Karioi, near Raglan, and they marked it on the chart but gave it no name. Tasman did however name a place that he didn’t see.


A detail of Visscher’s chart showing Cape Pieter Boreels and Mount Karioi

As they were struggling to get out of the South Taranaki Bight, they’d seen that the land extended from them to the North West. Now that they were back against the land they realised they were in a similar longitude… so somewhere in between, there had to be a Cape… they just hadn’t seen it.

Tasman named this Cape Pieter Boreels and it was duly added to the chart.

We can know for certain that Tasman never actually saw this land, because it has a particularly striking and distinctive feature that he would have noted as an important navigational landmark. If he had seen it, then Tasman would have recorded this. Moreover, it is such a distinctive feature that it would have been drawn on a coastal survey, and its latitude would have been recorded for future mariners.

Mount Taranaki from Cape Egmont

Mount Taranaki from Cape Egmont

When Cook came past the Cape 127 years later, he wrote this:

“at 5 a.m. saw for a few Minutes the Top of the Peaked Mountain above the Clouds bearing North-East. It is of a prodidgious height and its Top is cover’d with Everlasting Snow; it lies in the Latitude of 39 degrees 16 minutes South, and in the Longitude of 185 degrees 15 minutes West. I have named it Mount Egmont in honour of the Earl of Egmont”

Me, halfway up Mount Karioi

Me, halfway up Mount Karioi

Lord Egmont was a former first Lord of the Admiralty, and an important supporter of Cook’s voyage. These days we also know Mount Egmont as Mount Taranaki. It is 2500m high and in the right weather conditions can be seen from over 200km away.

But it was another mountain that Tasman saw when they came back to the coast; Mount Karioi.

Mount Karioi as drawn in Tasman's journal: 'A view of the Staete Landt in 38° 30′ S. Latitude'

Mount Karioi as drawn in Tasman’s journal: ‘A view of the Staete Landt in 38° 30′ S. Latitude’

Tasman's progress up the West Coast of the North Island

Tasman’s progress up the West Coast of the North Island

For the next few days they had an uneventful passage up the West Coast of the North Island. But now they were rightly cautious about getting too close to shore. “we turned our course to the north-west so as not to come too near the shore and prevent accidents “

On the morning of December 30th they passed the entrance to the Manukau harbour, and two days later they passed the entrance to the Kaipara Harbour. However, Tasman mentioned neither of these; he was too far out to sea for them to be visible. When Cook came past in 1770, he too exercised the same caution, and these harbours weren’t marked on his map of New Zealand either.

On January 4th however, the lie of the land changed and fell away to their East. They had reached the northern extremity of mainland New Zealand.

“In the morning we found ourselves near a cape, and had an island north-west by north of us, upon which we hoisted the white flag for the Officers of the Zeehaan to come on board of us, with whom we resolved to touch at the island aforesaid to see if we could there get fresh water, vegetables, etc. At noon Latitude observed 34° 35′, Longitude 191° 9′; course kept north-east, sailed 15 myles, with the wind south-east. Towards noon we drifted in a calm and found ourselves in the midst of a very heavy current which drove us to the westward. There was besides a heavy sea running from the north-east here, which gave us great hopes of finding a passage here. This cape which we had east-north-east of us is in 34° 30′ South Latitude. The land here falls away to eastward.

They named the cape after Maria van Diemen, wife of the Governor of Batavia, and that name remains in use to this day. To their North West they saw an Island, and resolved to see if they could find water and vegetables there.

They had last filled their water barrels in Mauritius.


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Tasman and his men sat at anchor unable to move due to the storm coming from the North West. They lowered their yards to the decks to sit it out. The storm was so fierce that on the Heemskerck they put down a second anchor and ran out more cable. The Zeehaen followed suit when their first anchor started to slip.

They named where they sat at anchor “Abel Tasman’s Bay”.

Isaac Gilseman’s drawing of the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen at anchor in Abel Tasman Bay

Isaac Gilseman’s drawing of the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen at anchor in Abel Tasman Bay

While they were no longer exposed to the danger of the lee shore, they were by no means out of trouble and now they were even more trapped than before.
Previously, to escape, they needed the wind to come from anywhere except the west. Any wind direction from North East, via East round to the South East would allow them a westerly exit, but now any passage to the west was blocked by D’Urville Island. Now they needed to first go northwards past Stephens Island and then try to go West. Now they didn’t need just a favourable wind direction, they needed one followed by another.

A satellite image from google maps rotated to the same orientation as the Abel Tasman Bay drawing

A satellite image from google maps rotated to the same orientation as the Abel Tasman Bay drawing annotated with key landmarks

As they sat there, they realised that they were not alone. They were sheltering from the storm in the lee of Rangitoto Islands, themselves just off D’Urville Island, and they knew there were people there because they saw smoke.

The Barber Surgeon Hendrik Haelbos wrote that after leaving Golden Bay Tasman “found himself then surrounded by land” (this was the morning they discovered they were against the lee shore) and that he “was tossed at anchor by hard storm before a coast, where he saw much smoke rise”

As they sat there at anchor unable to move, they were being watched. It is most likely that the watchers were Ngati Tumatakokiri too, the same tribe as they had met in Golden Bay, as D’Urville Island was also a part of their range.

In the appalling weather Tasman didn’t attempt to go ashore, and the Ngati Tumatakokiri didn’t go out to them either.

From information given in Tasman’s journal we can estimate the position of this anchorage fairly accurately.

“the said island was north-north-west of us, then dropped our anchor behind a number of cliffs in 33 fathom”

Tasman’s ships lay south-south-east of Stephens Island where the depth was approximately 60m and where they were in the lee of some cliffs.

These three criteria are satisfied in only a very small area, and comparison of Isaac Gilsemans drawing to a modern map allows us to identify some of the features in his drawing.

While Isaac Gilsemans recorded what he could actually see, Pilot Major Visscher, the navigator and chart maker, drew something that he suspected to was there, but didn’t see.

On 23rd December Tasman recorded that;

“since the tide was running from the south-east there was likely to be a passage through, so that perhaps it would be best, as soon as wind and weather should permit, to investigate this point and see whether we could get fresh water there”

Among the three copies of the journal that still exist there are two charts, and they are not quite the same. One is in the completed ‘State Archives’ copy of the journal, and the other is the partially complete ‘Huijdecoper’ copy. These two charts are mostly similar, but differ in an important detail; the ‘Huijdecoper’ chart, which was drawn by Visscher personally, indicates an opening between the North Island and South Island of New Zealand corresponding to what we now know as Cook Strait. The State Archives copy of the chart shows the land there as continuous.

Had they known for certain that there was passage there, and that it opened into the South Sea and not a large inland sea, then they could has used this exit in any westerly wind. But there was uncertainty, and with that came risk. If the tidal flow was not from the ocean, but from a large body of water, an inland sea, then the difficulty of escape would re-double.

A comparison of the South Taranaki Bight area from both the Visscher chart, and the State Archives copy

A comparison of the South Taranaki Bight area in the Visscher chart, and the chart in the State Archives copy

We don’t know for certain why there is this difference in the documents, but equally the men on board the two ships did not know for certain whether or not there was a passage through to the ocean either.

The journal notes that they might investigate it should “wind and weather should permit “. But as events unfolded, that opportunity didn’t arise.

On December 25th 1642, even though they were half the world away from home they still remembered Christmas. The Sailor’s journal records:

“against noon the master came with the merchant of the Zeehaen on board our ship as guests to the commander. There were also two pigs killed for the crew, and the commander ordered, besides the ration, a tankard of wine to be given to every mess, as it was the time of the fair.”

Tasman’s journal for that day notes that the storm had eased, and they prepared to get under sail again, re-raising their years, and taking in some of their anchor line.

“In the morning we reset our tops and sailyards, but out at sea things looked still so gloomy that we did not venture to weigh our anchor. Towards evening it fell a calm so that we took in part of our cable.”

To escape the trap of the lee shore they needed to first round Stephens Island to their NNW, then they could resume their efforts to tack out of the bight. Once clear of Stephens Island, any wind direction except west would permit this.

In the darkness, before dawn on 26th December, the wind gave them an opportunity to escape, and they took it immediately.

“In the morning, two hours before day, we got the wind east-north-east with a light breeze. We weighed anchor and set sail, steered our course to northward, intending to sail northward round this land; at daybreak it began to drizzle, the wind went round to the south-east, and afterwards to the south as far as the south-west, with a stiff breeze. We had soundings in 60 fathom, and set our course by the wind to westward.”

They started moving while it was still dark. The wind from ENE allowed them a NNW path toward Stephens Island, then, having rounded the island the wind turned to a stiff south wester. Sailing hard on the wind they set a North West course, and headed out into the Tasman Sea.

Tasman had escaped.

Tasman's progress on Visscher's chart to December 26th 1642

Visscher’s chart of New Zealand up to December 26th 1642


Unexpected shore

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It had been a big day for Tasman and his men, and no doubt they were pleased to leave “Murderers Bay” behind them, but the day’s excitement was not yet over.

Tasman believed he was sailing into open ocean, that the land extended to the east of where they had come from. “therefore it will be best to sail eastward along the coast, following the trend of the land” He was sorely mistaken.

Tasmans exit path from Golden Bay

Tasman’s course leaving Golden Bay on 19th December 1642”

They sailed East-North-East from Golden Bay, confident that they moving out into the “South Sea”. But they were completely unaware of the existence of the North Island of New Zealand, and in the middle of the night, the alarm was raised.

“During the night we kept sailing as the weather was favourable, but about an hour after midnight we sounded in 25 or 26 fathom, a hard, sandy bottom. Soon after the wind went round to north-west, and we sounded in 15 fathom; we forthwith tacked to await the day, turning our course to westward, exactly contrary to the direction by which we had entered.”

It was a near disaster.

In darkness they had closed on the coast of the North Island, near Whanganui, and in just 15 fathoms of water (25 metres) they did an ‘about turn’. Not knowing what was around them in the darkness they turned exactly back along the path they’d come, and waited for daylight.

Tasmans exit path from Golden Bay

Tasman’s course leaving Golden Bay on 19th December 1642”

“In the morning we saw land lying here on all sides of us, so that we must have sailed at least 30 myles into a bay. We had at first thought that the land off which we had anchored was an island, nothing doubting that we should here find a passage to the open South Sea; but to our grievous disappointment it proved quite otherwise. The wind now being westerly … “

The length of coast they had come upon is known as “the fatal coast”, and is littered with the wrecks of old sailing ships.

Tasman found himself on this piece of water in a Westerly wind, and could see land to his North, East and South. He was trapped unless the wind turned. If the wind increased in strength and he was blown backwards, then they would be wrecked.

This was their great fear, being trapped against a lee shore.

The sea floor on this coast extends shallow for a great distance; a snare for the unwary, and Tasman noted this for later Mainers to be aware of.

“As you are approaching the land you have everywhere an anchoring-ground gradually rising from 50 or 60 fathom to 15 fathom when you are still fully 1½ or 2 myles from shore.”

If a ship’s keel caught the bottom here in a strong westerly, then it would become impossibly stuck. The storm would turn the vessel so that its full sail area caught the wind, and then it would be forced gradually higher up the sand by the wind and lifting action of the waves, until it was held immovably fast.

In 1878, in a single year, six large sailing ships foundered on this piece of coast; the Hydrabad, the Pleione, the City of Auckland, the Felixstowe, and the Weathersfield.

In the early hours of the morning, Dec 20th 1642, the history of New Zealand turned.

New Zealand was settled by the British mostly due to the Journals of James Cook… and the Admiralty had directed him to New Zealand because they had a gained a copy of Tasman’s Journal, and his chart.

If the watch on Tasman’s ship that night had not been diligent, then his expedition would have been lost, and it would have been lost without record. There would have been no journal, no chart for the British to study, and consequently no visit by James Cook. The History of New Zealand, would have been entirely different.

However, the watch on Tasman’s ship was diligent. Even though they thought they were in open ocean, they were still checking the depth as they went. In the darkness they turned around and waited for daylight.

In daylight they saw land on three sides of them, and had the wind coming from the direction of their only known exit (the strait separating the North Island and South Island would not be discovered for another 127 years).

“The wind now being westerly we henceforth did our best by tacking to get out at the same passage through which we had come in. “

Tasman’s ships could not make upwind progress at all, the best they could manage was to sail across the direction of the wind, and they turned south. They continued on that course until they came up to land again, and turned away hoping for a change in wind direction that would allow them to get out to sea.

“At noon we tacked to northward when we saw a round high islet west by south of us, at about 8 myles distance which we had passed the day before”

The “high islet” was Stephens Island, at the northern end of D’Urville Island. They had passed it the previous afternoon. They continued through the day and night to North, but the next morning, they came up to land again, and had to turn away once.

“During the night in the dog-watch we had a westerly wind with a strong breeze; we steered to the north, hoping that the land which we had had north-west of us the day before might fall away to northward, but after the cook had dished we again ran against it and found that it still extended to the north-west. We now tacked, turning from the land again and, as it began to blow fresh, we ran south-west over towards the south shore. “

Tasman's course to their anchorage off D'Urville Island on Dec 21st 1642

“Tasman’s course to their anchorage off D’Urville Island on Dec 21st 1642”

By the afternoon they had crossed the Taranaki Bight once more, and Stephens Island came into sight again. Having made nearly no progress at all to windward in the previous 24 hours, they now decided to find shelter.

“Halfway through the afternoon we again saw the south coast; the island which the day before we had west of us at about 6 myles distance now lay south-west by south of us at about 4 myles distance. We made for it, running on until the said island was north-north-west of us, then dropped our anchor behind a number of cliffs in 33 fathom, sandy ground mixed with shells. There are many islands and cliffs all round here. We struck our sail-yards for it was blowing a storm from the north-west and west-north-west.”

On the evening of December 21st, 1642 Tasman and his men put down their anchors for the 4th time in New Zealand. They were sheltering from a storm in the lee of Rangitoto Islands, off D’Urville Island, and they were stuck there.

Tasmans exit path from Golden Bay

Visscher’s chart of New Zealand up to December 25th 1642”


New Zealand

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Tasman was confident that they had rounded the northernmost tip of this new land and was heading out into the open Pacific Ocean. Accordingly, he named the land that they were leaving behind.

“This is the second Land along which we sailed and which we discovered and we have given to it the name of Staten Landt in honour of the High and Mighty Lords the States [General] since it might well be (though this is not certain) that it is connected with the Staten Landt”

 Visscher’s chart of New Zealand up to the night December 19th, 1642

This is Tasman’s chart of New Zealand contained in the manuscript held at the Dutch National Archive (north on this chart is to the left of the page). The title of this chart reads: “Staete landt: this and was made and discovered by the ships Heemskerck and Zeehaen, the Hon. Abel Tasman commander, A.D. 1642, the 13th of December.”

‘Staten Landt’ was a very important and well-known landmark and used to find the route into the Pacific ocean from the Atlantic. It lay to the south of the mainland of South America, on the Atlantic side. It was discovered in 1616 when Schouten and le Maire traversed the Pacific. In order to avoid the Spanish Vessels patrolling the Magellan Strait they had continued South down the coast of Tierra Del Fuego, and discovered a passage leading to the southernmost part of South America. They named it ‘Cape Horn’, though it was later discovered to be an island.

This passage to Cape Horn lay between Tierra Del Fuego, and the land they named ‘Staten Landt’. It is now known as the Le Maire Strait.

 Le Maire’s chart of Staten Landt

This piece of a chart, from Schoutens book “Novi freti, a parte meridionali freti Magellanici, in magnum mare australe detectio;” 1619, shows Staten Landt as a discrete land mass, not an Island.

To round Cape Horn you followed the coast South, passed through this gap and then followed the coast into the Pacific ocean. It is not connected to mainland South America, and at the time Tasman set sail it was believed to be a part of the Great Southern Continent.

Tasman thought that the land they were now leaving behind was another part of that same piece of land and named the country “Staten Landt”. He also thought it to be a piece of theGreat South Land he’d been sent out to find… “we trust that this is the mainland coast of the unknown South land.”

He was mistaken, but this wouldn’t be known until Cook circumnavigated the land in 1769/1770.

At the same time as Tasman was exploring the Pacific Ocean for the Great Southern continent, another VOC expedition was exploring around the Southern tip of South America.

In 1642-1643 Hendrik Brouwer lead an expedition of 5 ships around Cape Horn. Brouwer was one of the VOC’s most acclaimed commanders and had pioneered the faster route from the Cape of Good Hope to Batavia that had lead to the VOC discovery of the Australian coast. A long term goal of the VOC was to carry gold and silver from Chile to Europe, but to do that they needed a Chilean base from which to operate. Brouwer was to establish a settlement at Valdivia in Southern Chile, an outpost abandoned by the Spanish. Brouwer however encountered great difficulty in passing around Cape Horn. As a result of being blown off course he discovered that what was then known as ‘Staten Landt’ was in fact an island.

In 1643 the journals of both expeditions were returned to the VOC Head Office in Amsterdam, along with the navigators’ notes and charts. It was then realised that the land Tasman had discovered was clearly not “connected with the Staten Landt”. The first European name bestowed on the land Tasman discovered turned out to be a mistake, and a new one was sought.

The VOC was managed by a 17 man Board of Governors known as the “Heeren 17”. Many of the new lands and features discovered in the course of their business were named after the aspects of this company and its governing board. For example, what we now call “Tasmania” was originally named after the VOC governor in Batavia, “Van Diemen’s Land”.

Of the Heeren 17, 6 came from the province of Amsterdam, 4 came from the province of Zeeland, and the remaining seven from various provinces. The new name reflected where the Heeren 17 originated. “New Amsterdam” was already in use in North America (the British would re-name that settlement “New York” in 1664) so they gave Tasman’s new land the name “Nieuw Zeeland” after the Dutch province of that name, and home to four of the Governing members.

News of this newly discovered land, and the name “Nieuw Zeeland” did not remain a VOC secret for very long.

In 1657, Dutch mapmaker Jan Janssonius created a major new world atlas. It comprised 5 sheets, one of which was a polar view of the Earth centered on the South Pole. On this sheet Janssonius included all the southern territories known to that date by the VOC; the Australian mainland, Tasmania, and New Zealand. He also showed what was formerly known as “Staten Landt” as a discrete island; “Staten Eylandt”

 Visscher’s chart of New Zealand up to the night December 19th, 1642

Polus Antarcticus cum regionibus subjacentibus et maribus illum alluentibus (“The Antarctic pole with the adjoining regions and seas flowing near it.”). From Atlantis majoris quinta pars… the fifth part of the 1657 Atlas Major by Jan Janssonius (1588-1664).

The place labels he drew on his map were in Latin, and the name he placed on New Zealand was; “Nova Zeelandia”. In English, the name given to Tasman’s new land was “New Zeeland”.

It was one error that gave the land its first European name, “Staten Landt”, and another which gave it its current name “New Zealand”.

James Cook was an extraordinary navigator, explorer and chronicler. When he sailed into the Pacific he had with him a copy of Alexander Dalrymple’s book “An Historical Collection of the Several Voyages and Discoveries in the South Pacific Ocean”. It was published in April 1769 and included a partial text of Tasman’s journal which was copied from that published by Valentyn in 1726. The Valentyjn text still refered to the country as “Nova Zeelandia”, but by the time Dalrymple related it, the spelling had been corrupted to to “New Zealand”

In his journal of his first Pacific Voyage, Cook consistently referred to the land as “New Zealand” and its occupants “New Zealanders”. Cook’s discoveries became the primary source of information about this new land, and as such the name “New Zealand” became the standard way (in Great Britain) to reference it.

The enduring name “New Zealand” is the result of a spelling mistake.


Abel Tasman’s course up the West Coast of New Zealand

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Interactive Map: click a few things to see how it works.

This reconstruction uses all spatial references in Abel Tasman’s journal to build a complete turn by turn course of their progress up the coast of New Zealand.

Information from the journal used to make this reconstruction includes: observed latitude, bearings to features, distances to features, depth, direction sailed, and distance sailed (since the previous day).

Course reconstruction charts

Some browsers have difficulty with zoom-able images. If the map does not appear, then refresh the page to re-activate it.

There are controls for pan and zoom, but these can also be done directly with click or touch movements.

Zooming in and out on touch devices is by ‘pinch’ and ‘stretch’. If you are using a mouse with a wheel, then the wheel will zoom in and out, and click-hold-release will pan the image.

Click on the thumbnail images below to switch between charts. From left to right the charts are:

  • Abel Tasman’s approach to New Zealand and progress north
  • Abel Tasman’s course into and out of golden Bay
  • Abel Tasman’s progress 19 December to 26 December 1642

Reconstructing Abel Tasman’s course

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At first glance, re-creating the course followed by the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen should be straightforward; Tasman’s journal has an entry for every day, and that entry includes a coordinate comprising a latitude and a longitude.

A typical daily location summary looks like this;

“At noon Latitude estimated 40° 13′, Longitude 192° 7′; course kept north-north-west, sailed 20 miles.”

The longitude given appears unlikely, but is actually just a different way of representing longitude. We are familiar with longitude coordinates in the range 180° to -180°, which we measure from the Meridian at Greenwich. Tasman however measured his longitude east from the peak of Tenerife Island, in the range 0 to 360.

Teide, the peak on Tenerife lies 16° 38′ to the west of Greenwich, so it is easy enough to adjust Tasman’s reported longitudes to derive coordinates that we can use in modern mapping systems. However, when we look at the course this yields, we get a disappointing result. The course lies nowhere near to coast of New Zealand.

This is because Tasman had no means of measuring longitude. His east-west movement each day was estimated by ‘dead reckoning’, and all errors were cumulative.

The latitudes and longitudes recorded in Tasman’s journal provide a very poor representation of the route sailed. It is possible however to reconstruct his course by using other details recorded in his journal. Below is an example.

At noon on 14 December Tasman’s journal recorded that he was in the latitude 42° 10′ S (the sun that day was “observed”) and also that he was “2 miles” off the coast. (Tasman measured distance in Dutch miles. 1 Dutch mile is 7.4km).

We can reliably reconstruct this position using his reported latitude, and that distance (14.8km) offshore.

At noon on 14 December Tasman reported his longitude as Longitude 189° 3′, which is 172° 22′ E relative to the Greenwich meridian. His actual longitude that day (2 Dutch miles off the coast) was 171° 8′, which is 1° 14′ different to his true position.

Tasman’s ‘longitude’ is discussed more fully in the post Tasman’s Navigation, Part 1

While Tasman’s longitude was always estimated, the same is not true of his reported latitude.

As long as Tasman was able to see the midday sun, he could calculate his latitude remarkably well. How he did this is described in the post Tasman’s Navigation, Part 2

When Tasman could sight the noon sun’s altitude he provided us with half of his actual location… the latitude. In the course reconstruction, other details from the journal are used in conjunction with this, to derive his longitude.

Locations derived from component parts

Locations derived from component parts

The noon location on 14 December is an example of this. He was known to be at a certain latitude, and also at a known distance from the shore. From these the full location, 42° 10′ S, 171° 8′ E can be derived.

The course reconstruction is created from all the spatial information sources recorded in the journal: observed latitude, bearings to physical features, distances to physical features, direction sailed, distance sailed, times, and depths. Estimated latitude, and longitude are ignored in favour of these.

It is not a completely precise reconstruction, this is not possible from the information available, but it is accurate within known bounds:

Observed latitude

Testing with contemporary replicas of 17th century navigational instruments, shows that both the cross-staff and back-staff could reliably be used to measure the suns altitude (and thereby determine latitude) to within 2 arc minutes (1 arc minute being 1/60th of a degree). However, this was only achievable on days when the sun’s altitude could be measured.

When the noon sun was visible, the latitude was recorded in the journal as “observed”. When the sun was obscured, the latitude was reported as “estimated”. On these occasions the recorded latitude was estimated by dead reckoning.

Bearings to features

Course bearings and bearings to features were recorded to the closest compass point. Tasman used a 32 point compass, which means that all bearings given have a confidence of +/- 5.6°. The 32 point compass is described in the post Tasman’s Navigation, Part 1

Distances to features

The unit of length used throughout the journal is the Dutch mile. There were fifteen Dutch miles per degree of latitude (or per degree of longitude measured at the equator).

A Dutch mile has the contemporary equivalent of 7.4km (4.6 Imperial miles).

Distances to physical features were judged, not measured, and these can have a high variability. However, analysis of the distances on the occasions that they can be verified, indicates a margin of error of +/- 30%

Distance sailed

 A 30 minute sand glass and a 'traverse board' used to record course sailed and duration through a single watch

A 30 minute sand glass and a ‘traverse board’ used to record course sailed and duration through a single watch

Distance ‘sailed’ recorded in the journal was the sum of the day’s dead reckonings of each watch. The dead reckoning for each watch was derived from the sum of the duration and courses held during that watch.

There is some significant variability in these, but wayward distances can be removed by comparison of the start and end coordinates, and the reported distance sailed. Discrepancies exceeding 1 Standard Deviation were excluded from the reconstruction.

Distance ‘sailed’ was always rounded to the nearest whole Dutch mile and therefore has an additional variability of +/- half a Dutch mile.


Depths were recorded while at sea and at anchor. At anchor, depth was measured while they were stationary using a line with knots at fathom intervals. This was quite accurate, but took no account of the state of the tide. At sea, depth was measured on the move using a longer rope, with knots at 5 fathom intervals. This has a variability of at least +/- 5 fathoms.


Tasman had no clock, and measured the passage of time in 30 minute increments using sand glasses. The day was divided into 6 watches, with each watch lasting four hours, or 8 glasses.

Although Tasman only rarely recorded time as “o’clock”, the time of day can often be derived from watch information in the journal.

The reference “in the middle of the afternoon” for example, means half way through the afternoon watch, or 14:00.

Midday, or noon, was when the sun was at its highest at his current location. At this time they re-started turning the sand glass. But the ‘noon’ time changed as they moved east or west, and cannot be directly compared to the ‘time zone’ based standard we keep today.

If Tasman had carried a clock, then as he travelled up the New Zealand coast, the time on his clock would typically show nearly 1½ hours earlier than on ours.

By combining these component parts, it is possible to deduce or approximate Tasman’s noon position each day and at many additional locations.

These are used to prepare a detailed course reconstruction, which is presented in a series of charts in the following post.


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Following the incident in Golden Bay, and the recovery of the cock-boat, the officers of the Zeehaen returned to their own ship, and soon after both ships weighed anchors and turned to leave the Bay heading ENE. At noon they were 2 Dutch myles south of their noon position on the previous day, and there Tasman convened the Ships’ Council.

“About noon skipper Gerrit Jansz and Mr. Gilsemans again came on board of us; we also sent for their first mate and convened the council, with whom we drew up the resolution following, to wit:
 Visscher’s chart of New Zealand up to the night December 19th, 1642

Visscher’s chart of New Zealand up to the night December 19th, 1642

Seeing that the detestable deed of these natives against four men of the Zeehaan’s crew, perpetrated this morning, must teach us to consider the inhabitants of this country as enemies; that therefore it will be best to sail eastward along the coast, following the trend of the land in order to ascertain whether there are any fitting places where refreshments and water would be obtainable; all of which will be found set forth in extenso in this day’s resolution.

In this murderous spot (to which we have accordingly given the name of Moordenaersbay) we lay at anchor on 40° 50′ South Latitude, 191° 30′ Longitude. “

Unfortunately, Tasman’s recorded position at anchor in Murderers Bay cannot be relied on at all as it was an estimation of both latitude and longitude. His previous ‘observed’ latitude was prior to entering the Bay.

The Sailor’s journal for the day was brief, but included the names of the men from the Heemskerck who had been killed;

“In the morning, before breakfast, nine ships, full of people, came from the land, which we thought came to us to make peace, and treat us with friendship; but, on the contrary, they have, to our deep regret killed three of our people. May our Lord God preserve us from greater misfortune. The first was called Jan Tyssen, from Oue-ven; the second Tobias Pietersz, from Delft; the third Jan Isbrantsz. Soon afterwards we got under sail, steering our course N.E. by E.”

This marks the last mention in the Dutch record of the events in Golden Bay.

No detailed account by the Ngati Tumatakokiri was ever recorded, and as far as we know only 3 men survived their subsequent conquest. These three lived the rest of their lives as slaves of their conquerors.

This pencil sketch of Kehu snaring a Weka, by Charles Heaphy, is the only known depiction of any Ngati Tumatakokiri

This pencil sketch of Kehu snaring a Weka, by Charles Heaphy, is the only known original depiction of any Ngati Tumatakokiri (click to open at source)

Hone Mokehakeha, better known as Kehu, and Pikiwati were slaves to the Ngati Rarua. Eruera Te Whatapakoko, who was originally from Golden Bay was slave to Hohepa Tamaihengia of NgatiToa.

In the 1850’s, Land Agent James Mackay met Ngati Tumatakokiri survivor Eruera Te Whatapakoko. When asked if he’d heard of or seen white men in former days Erueha told him that his ancestors had killed some men who came in a ship to Wharawharangi, near Separation Point. From the hill behind Wainui, Eruera pointed out to Mackay where Tasman’s men had been killed by his ancestors.

This gives us no new detail of what happened there that day, but it is confirmation that it was indeed the Ngati Tumatakokiri that Tasman met.

When James Cook came to New Zealand in 1769-70 he carried with him a copy of Tasman’s journal; he made multiple references to it. His copy of Tasman’s journal clearly included the illustrations, as Joseph Banks recorded in Queen Charlotte Sound that; “The men in these boats were dressd much as they are represented in Tasmans figure”.

On anchoring in Ships Cove, Cook knew that he was quite close to the location of Tasman’s “Murtherers Bay”, and asked the natives if they’d seen ships like his before.

“These people declared to us this morning, that they never either saw or heard of a Ship like ours being upon this Coast before. From this it appears that they have no Tradition among them of Tasman being here, for I believe Murtherers bay, the place where he anchor’d, not to be far from this place; “

Cook stayed for 3 weeks in Queen Charlotte sound, and as he was preparing to leave, a local called Topaa, who they referred to as the ‘old man’, came aboard to say goodbye.

In this last conversation, conducted through Tupaia, Cook again enquired after Tasman’s visit.

His journal entry for Feb 6th 1770 recorded the exchange.

“Amongst other conversation that passed between him and Tupia, he was asked if either he or any of his Ancestors had ever seen or heard of any Ship like this being in these parts; to which question he answer’d in the Negative, but said that his Ancestors had told him that there came once to this place a small Vessel from a distant part, wherein were 4 Men that were all kill’d upon their landing;”

Joseph Banks, Botanist on the Endeavour, recorded a similar exchange with Topaa:

“neither himself his father or his grandfather ever heard of ships as large as this being here before, but that [they] have a tradition of 2 large vessels, much larger than theirs, which some time or other came here and were totaly destroyd by the inhabitants and all the people belonging to them killd’. This Tupia says is a very old tradition, much older than his great grandfather, and relates to two large canoes which came from Olimaroa, one of the Islands he has mentiond to us.”

Although the details conflict, this is clear evidence that Tasman’s visit was still known to the people in Queen Charlotte’s Sound nearly 130 years after the event. Topaa said that it was his ‘ancestors’ that killed Tasman’s men, and this is curious as Queen Charlotte’s Sound was not Ngati Tumatakokiri territory. Perhaps he was related to the Ngati Tumatakokiri (which is not at all unlikely), or in ‘ancestors’ he was referring to the wider ancestry of the Kurahaupo people, which he would have in common.

As Tasman’s party left Golden Bay, they believed they were leaving land behind them, and passing again into open ocean.

On Dec 16th, the evening before they’d seen smoke, Tasman had written that: “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.”

Now, leaving Golden Bay, they saw the lie of the coast continuing to the East, and were sure that they’d rounded the northernmost tip of the land and were entering the Pacific Ocean.

Since they were now leaving this land behind them, they named it.

“This is the second land which we have sailed along and discovered. In honour of their High Mightinesses the States-General we gave Staten Landt, since we deemed it quite possible that this land is part of the great Staten Land, though this is not certain. This land seems to be a very fine country and we trust that this is the mainland coast of the unknown South land. To this course we have given the name of Abel Tasman passagie, because he has been the first to navigate it.”

Tasman named the country “Staten Landt”.

Tasman's course leaving Golden Bay

Tasman’s course leaving Golden Bay

His journal entry for December 19th details their exit from the Bay:

“From here we shaped our course east-north-east. At noon Latitude estimated 40° 57′, Longitude 191° 41′; course kept south, sailed 2 myles. In the afternoon we got the wind from the west-north-west when, on the advice of our steersmen and with our own approval, we turned our course north-east by north.”

It had been a big day for Tasman and his men, and no doubt they were pleased to leave Murderers Bay behind them, but the day’s excitement was not yet over.

Tasman believed he was sailing into open ocean. He was sorely mistaken.


Blood on the water

tasman banner
Kurahaupo banner

The Heemskerck and Zeehaen at anchor in Golden Bay

The Heemskerck and Zeehaen at anchor in Golden Bay

On the morning of December 19th, 1642, Abel Tasman was sat at anchor in Golden Bay, with his two ships, the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen.

At first light a native boat had come out to them, stayed a while and then gone away. They had showed some of their trading goods to the natives, but the south-landers had shown no interest.

From the land, the Chief had gone out with one of the boats to have a closer look at the enemy. So far, they had only been up close in the dark. Now he had looked in their eyes, he and he had measured their strength. He had demanded that they explain themselves, but had received no satisfaction.

The Maori were extremely wary of visitors.

When they saw strangers, they didn’t know if they were friend or foe, and they assumed the latter. They were foe until they accounted for themselves satisfactorily and were given permission to stay.

The residents had all rights, the visitors had none.

There were strict protocols about how to approach when entering someone else’s territory. If they did not observe these protocols, or did not observe them properly, then they were a danger, and the resident Maori would not wait for them to strike first.

The Maori observed the precautionary principal… A dead stranger can’t hurt you.

Anyone who was not up to mischief would have explained who they were, and what their purpose was. These strangers hadn’t done that.

Tasman had not observed the proper protocols.

The strangers had come uninvited, they had not said who they were, they had not asked if they could stay, and they stayed un-bidden.

Now, it was his duty, Chief of the Ngati Tumatakokiri, to protect his people, and teach the strangers some manners.

Early morning, Dec 19th 1642, Golden Bay, New Zealand

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, …
                         … They did not come nearer, however, but at last paddled back to shore.”

“In the meanwhile, at our summons sent the previous evening, the officers of the Zeehaan came on board of us, upon which we convened a council and resolved to go as near the shore as we could, since there was good anchoring-ground here, and these people apparently sought our friendship.”

Diary: Taupo Pa
It was still early when we assembled on the shore. The Tohunga spoke a karakia over us, our weapons, and our boats. Then we took our positions and paddled from the beach.

We went in nine good boats. Of all out boats, these were the best for fighting from; steady and fast. I was in the biggest of them, with 16 paddlers and the steersman. I was as strong a paddler as most of the men, and was proud to be given a place in the crew.

“Shortly after we had drawn up this resolution we saw 7 more boats put off from the shore, one of which (high and pointed in front, manned with 17 natives) paddled round behind the Zeehaan while another, with 13 able-bodied men in her, approached to within half a stone’s throw of our ship; the men in these two boats now and then called out to each other; we held up and showed them as before white linens, etc., but they remained where they were.”

As we got closer to the ships we separated and stood singly. Each of the big ships had one small boat, but when we arrived both were tied to the ship with the higher pointed stern. The Chief said this should be the ship of their chief, and took his position there. We moved our waka to the far side of the ship with the fat stern, and the others placed themselves around evenly.

At some time, the strangers would take a small boat back to the other ship… and when they did, we would be ready.

The strangers on both ships were shouting and waving things at us, but the Chief called out for us to ignore that, and hold our positions.

All the officers of both ships were on the Heemskerck. A Ships Council had been convened to agree and record what to do next. They had decided that they would move closer ashore; it was good anchoring ground in a safe harbour, and they could re-stock their supplies here.

With all the officers of the Zeehaen at the Ship’s Council, the Zeehaen was left without any senior command, so they sent instructions across to the crew on the Zeehaen.

At this stage, Tasman’s party still believed that there was no threat from the Maori. Tasman wrote that “these people apparently sought our friendship”, and the Sailors Journal recorded the same sentiment; “nine ships, full of people, came from the land, we thought came to us to make peace”.

They were gravely mistaken.

“The skipper of the Zeehaan now sent out to them his quartermaster with her Cock-boat with six paddlers in it, with orders for the second mates that, if these people should offer to come alongside the Zeehaan, they should not allow too many of them on board of her, but use great caution and be well on their guard.”

In the Zeehaen’s Cock-boat were the Quartermaster from the Zeehaen, the Gunner from the Heemskerck and five others. There is no indication in the journal texts, or in Gilsemans’ drawing, that they were armed any way, and their is no suggestion anywhere that any of the occupants of this boat were soldiers.

After some time we heard the Chief calling.

One of the small boats was loading,
… he could see no weapons
… just paddles
… there were only seven of them.

Be ready; wait for the signal.

We could barely believe these strangers could be so stupid. While they stayed on their ships we couldn’t get to them, and they were safe. But when they were on the open water they were assailable. And according to the chief, there were only a few of them, and armed only with their clumsy paddles.

We sat quiet in the water, poised for the command.

The small boat moved off coming towards our ship. It moved very slowly. We waited in silence, waiting for the signal.

Then we heard calling from the chiefs boat, and paddles in the air. Now!

Nine boats pivoted in union. Heads and shoulders went forward, and paddles dug hard into the water. We sped, with accelerating strokes, bellowing towards the little boat halfway between the ships. What a ruckus was coming from our boats.

The Ngati Tumatakokiri attacking the Zeehaen's Cock-boat

The Ngati Tumatakokiri attacking the Zeehaen’s Cock-boat

“Just as the Cock-boat of the Zeehaan had put off from board again those in the prow before us, between the two ships, began to paddle so furiously towards it that, when they were about halfway slightly nearer to our ship, they struck the Zeehaan’s Cock-boat so violently alongside with the stem of their prow that it got a violent lurch, upon which the foremost man in this prow of villains with a long, blunt pike thrust the quartermaster Cornelis Joppen in the neck several times with so much force that the poor man fell overboard.”

The Ngati Tumatakokiri attacking the Zeehaen's Cock-boat

The Ngati Tumatakokiri attacking the Zeehaen’s Cock-boat

The Chiefs boats got there first. They were at full speed and hit the strangers boat square across its middle; the strangers seemed shocked and confused by what was happening. But if any of them thought to defend themselves with their paddles, it was too late. One of our men was up immediately, his Pouwhenua flashing in the light. He caught one of the them by surprise and had three or four good strikes before the man even knew what was happening, then made a hit that pitched the stranger right out of the boat. The strangers oars were too heavy to move quickly, and they couldn’t block the blows from our Pouwhenua.

Our men jumped straight in, patus moving like blurs. Two more of the strangers dived over the side, but our men dealt to the others. They dragged one of the strangers into the Chiefs boat, and then we all turned and left as quickly as we came, before the visitors could summon their thunder and lightning on us.

“Upon this the other natives, with short thick clubs which we at first mistook for heavy blunt parangs, and with their paddles, fell upon the men in the Cock-boat and overcame them by main force, in which fray three of our men were killed and a fourth got mortally wounded through the heavy blows.”

[From the Barber-surgeon’s account]
“Half-way between the two ships the boat was attacked from all sides by the Southlanders: who approaching made a fearful noise, and treated the seven sailors in such a way: that they beat four to death with long staffs. The remaining three swam away. After committing this murder, they rowed with incredible skillfulness to the shore: so that before could (we could) use the guns, they were out of range.”

[From the sailors account]
“In the morning, before breakfast, nine ships, full of people, came from the land, which we thought came to us to make peace, and treat us with friendship; but, on the contrary, they have, to our deep regret killed three of our people. May our Lord God preserve us from greater misfortune. The first was called Jan Tyssen, from Oue-ven; the second Tobias Pietersz, from Delft; the third Jan Isbrantsz.

The Cock-boat being brough back by the Heemskerck's pinnace

The Cock-boat being brough back by the Heemskerck’s pinnace

The quartermaster and two sailors swam to our ship, whence we had sent our pinnace to pick them up, which they got into alive. After this outrageous and detestable crime the murderers sent the Cock-boat adrift, having taken one of the dead bodies into their prow and thrown another into the sea.”

Once we had put some distance between ourselves and the ships, we turned to look. Then the thunder and lightning began. It came from both ships. First there was the flash, a cloud of smoke, the boom of the thunder, and then fish would jump to the surface where the lightning bolt landed.

We watched on as their other small boat went out to pick up the survivors.

Tasman’s Journal
“Ourselves and those on board the Zeehaan seeing this, diligently fired our muskets and guns and, although we did not hit any of them, the two prows made haste to the shore, where they were out of the reach of shot.

With our fore upper-deck and bow guns we now fired several shots in the direction of their prows, but none of them took effect.”

When the Cock-boat was nearly halfway to the Zeehaen, the Ngati Tumatakokiri had attacked; suddenly and ferociously. On command they paddled in fast and hard, making a huge noise, confusing and frightening their enemy, and then they struck without hesitation. After only a few moments three of Tasman’s people were in the water, swimming for the Heemskerck, and the other four were either dead or taken.

Tasman’s ships opened fire with musket and cannon, but didn’t hit anything.

Holman, the Skipper of the Heemskerck, took the Pinnace to rescue the swimmers.

After a while the thunder attack stopped, and quiet fell over the water. As we sat in our positions near the shore waiting for the next action, we watched the small boat we had attacked return to its ship. Soon after, to our delight and surprise, we saw sails appear on both ships.

The Chief now called in the remaining men good boats, and we all set off to chase them from the bay.

Tasman leaving Golden Bay being pursued by the Ngati Tumatakokiri

Tasman leaving Golden Bay being pursued by the Ngati Tumatakokiri

“We now weighed anchor and set sail, since we could not hope to enter into any friendly relations with these people, or to be able to get water or refreshments here.

Having weighed anchor and being under sail, we saw 22 prows near the shore, of which eleven, swarming with people, were making for our ships. We kept quiet until some of the foremost were within reach of our guns, and then fired 1 or 2 shots from the gun-room with our pieces, without however doing them any harm; those on board the Zeehaan also fired, and in the largest prow hit a man who held a small white flag in his hand, and who fell down. We also heard the canister-shot strike the prows inside and outside, but could not make out what other damage it had done. As soon as they had got this volley they paddled back to shore with great speed, two of them hoisting a sort of tingang sails.

They remained lying near the shore without visiting us any further.”

The wind was light and their ships were only moving away slowly, so we closed on them quickly and easily. As we got close the thunder attack started again. This time we found that the lightning bolts were accompanied by flying stones. Some of these hit the boats and one of our men was hit and fell.

The Chief, seeing that the ships were still leaving, had us turn back; there was no shelter from the flying rocks, and going on would only mean taking casualties for no gain.

We turned back towards the shore. Those that carried sails used them to preserve their strength should another fight come.

When we were beyond the limit of the flying rocks we stopped, and waited, holding our place between the strangers and the land.

We remained there at the ready. The visitors stopped for the while in the middle of the Bay, but then began moving again, and to our delight finally left in the direction of Rangitoto. Our brothers there should by now have heard of the approaching strangers. Now we can tell them that they are scared of a fight.

Tonight there will be feasting and celebrations, and around the fire the story will be told.

For generations to come people will talk about this day. The day that the Ngati Tumatakokiri chased the Spirit Ships from Mohua.

Written this day, 2nd September, 2014.

Gilsemans' drawing of the events of December 19th

Gilsemans’ drawing of the events of December 19th

The Armouries

tasman banner
Kurahaupo banner

The Dutch Armoury

Tasman’s written instructions explicitly described the danger involved in engaging with natives.

“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, since experience has taught in all parts of the world that barbarian men are nowise to be trusted, because they commonly think that the foreigners who so unexpectedly appear before them, have come only to seize their land “

The VOC wanted Tasman to establish amicable relations with anyone they met, so that they could be engaged in trade, but they did not leave Tasman unprepared for trouble.

Cannon on the VOC replica ship, the Duyfken

Cannon on the VOC replica ship, the Duyfken

Swivel cannon on the VOC replica ship, the Duyfken

Swivel cannon on the VOC replica ship, the Duyfken

17th century Dutch musketeer

17th century Dutch musketeer

VOC cutlass

VOC cutlass

Both ships carried cannons, and the Heemskerck was originally designed as a small warship. It had cannons in fixed positions in the aft, and along its sides. In addition it had swivel guns mounted on the gunwale. They fired single shot, various types of shrapnel and grapeshot, and ‘cannister shot’, where shrapnel was loaded in the gun encapsulated in a tin wrapper.
Following the activity on the night of December 18th, Tasman had ordered the guns be cleaned and readied for use. Hand to hand weapons were also placed on the decks: including pikes, cutlasses, knives and muskets.
In addition to the officers and sailing crew, Tasman had muskets and 19 Soldiers. In the 17th century, muskets were powerful, but only accurate over a limited range; an Infantryman a hundred paces away was relatively safe.

Tasman didn’t record how the Maori responded to meeting firearms, except to say that they backed off when the big guns were fired, but James Cook provided this insight.

“Musquetry they never regarded unless they felt the Effect; but great Guns they did, because they threw stones farther than they could Comprehend.”


The Maori Armoury

To repel the Dutch, the Maori had quite literally “Sticks and Stones”.

The Maori used no projectile weapons (with very limited exceptions); no slingshot, catapult or even bow and arrow. James Cook recorded seeing bows and arrows in Tahiti, but was told that these were not fighting weapons, but boys’ playthings. Similarly, a dart launched from a stick and string existed, but was not used as weapons. The Maori had a larger version of this for throwing spears into Pa’s, but that is the limit of their projectile weapons.

maori warrior

Maori warrior. 1769

Maori fighting was almost exclusively hand to hand.

This engraving is from a sketch made by Sydney Parkinson on Cooks first visit to New Zealand in 1769-70. It is captioned “A New Zealand Warrior in his proper dress & completely Armed, According to their Manner”.

It shows only two weapons.

In the Warriors right hand is a Tewhatewha. This is the style of staff most commonly shown in early illustrations of Maori. One end has a carved blade, and the other is sharpened to a point. It is used like a club or hammer, and the end blade can be thrusted into the enemy, or used as a crook.

Once the enemy was close, the weapon was reversed, and the point used for stabbing.

The Pouwhenua is a similar weapon, but has a broad blade instead of the quarter moon shape. The Taiaha was a similar length, but carved to a spear like point.

The neck area was a primary target with this type of weapon.

stone patu

Stone patu

Tucked into a strap around the warriors waist is a patu. These were made of wood, whalebone or stone. Whalebone was favoured over wood as it didn’t crack or splinter, and it is likely that some of the Ngati Tumatakokiri had these; herd strandings of whales on the inside of the spit in Golden Bay, is relatively common.

In some districts patu are also known as ‘mere’, but in other parts this term is exclusively reserved for a patu made from pounamu.

Patu and mere have the end and sides sharpened, with a hole behind the handle part for a wrist loop.

This video demonstrates use of the Pouwhenua and Patu.


On the morning of December 19th, 1642, while the day was still young, nine boats full of Maori Warriors paddled towards two huge ships intending to engage their foe.

Whilst they were similar in numbers, the Maori were armed only with oars, sticks and clubs.

The two ships they were paddling towards were brimming with gunpowder and steel.