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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.

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