Abel Tasman is famous for being the first European to reach and name ‘Anthoonij van Diemenslandt’ (now Tasmania). The name was later shortened to Van Diemen’s Land by the British. Tasman was also the first to reach New Zealand, the first to sight the Fiji islands and helped to map large areas of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
Abel Tasman: Van Diemen’s Land
Abel Janszoon Tasman was born in 1603 in a small village named Lutjegast (today called Groningen) in Holland (the Netherlands). Very little is known of Tasman’s early life, no official portraits of this man are in existence, only sketches of what it is believed he looked like. It is known though, that ships and sailing were his interest from a very young age. Following the death of his first wife, Tasman married a second time to Jannetjie Tjaers, in Amsterdam in 1631, giving his profession as a ‘sailor’.
In 1633, at the age of 30, Abel Tasman signed up with the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC), from where he was sent to the East on a three-year contract as a merchant. It wasn’t long before he commanded several of the company’s ships, making several trips to the East Indies. Returning to the Netherlands in 1637, Tasman left again the following year for Batavia (now Djakarta, Indonesia). This time he was in command of the ship ‘Engel’, on a 10-year contract, with his wife to accompany him. Batavia was a very rich city, and the East India Company held a powerful position.
Tasman undertook several more trips, sailing to Formosa, Japan, Cambodia and Palembang as merchant captain, after which he began making exploratory voyages to China, Cambodia, Japan, and Sumatra. This brought him to the attention of Antonio van Diemen, the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies, who then gave Tasman a commission to explore the southern oceans.
European Explorers and the Southern Continent
On 13 August 1642 he was instructed to find what was believed to be a ‘very rich but mysterious’ Southern Continent, one which had eluded many European explorers for centuries. Known as ‘Terra australis incognita’, it was said to stretch across the Pacific. Tasman’s instructions were to take possession of all continents and islands ‘discovered’ in the course of his voyage… instructions written in history documentation are as follow:
“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 of the States General of the United Provinces, the which uninhabited regions of 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.”
Mount Zeehan and Mount Heemskirk
Abel Tasman left with two vessels, the ‘Heemskerk’ with 60 men and the ‘Zeehaan’ with 50 men on board, and first stopped at Mauritius, where a month long stay was required to repair the ships, after which they then sailed south east into unchartered waters. Abel Janszoon Tasman noted in his journal on 22 November 1642 that his compasses were not steady and deduced the presence of mines of loadstone (loadstone is a naturally magnetized piece of the mineral magnetite. They are naturally-occurring magnets, which can attract pieces of iron). This was two days before his ‘lookout’ spotted Tasmania for the first time. This was the first prediction of mineral wealth on the west coast of Tasmania. The first recorded sighting of Tasmania was from near Macquarie Harbour on 24 November 1642. Tasman named this island ‘Anthoonij van Diemenslandt’ after the Governor of East Indies, Antonio van Diemen. The first two mountains sighted on the island were named Mount Zeehan and Mount Heemskirk.
Adventure Bay and Storm Bay
Due to strong winds, it was several days before landing could take place, so seeking shelter from a storm, Abel Tasman put into a cove he named Storm Bay. (Today this bay is known as Adventure Bay, a later explorer, Furneaux, misread Tasman’s charts and called Tasman’s Storm Bay Adventure Bay and gave the name Storm Bay to a larger bay nearby). On December 1st, 1642, they anchored in a good harbour of 22 fathoms depth. Eventually the Zeehaan’s pinnace (small boat) was launched, from which the ship’s carpenter, Pieter Jacobszoon, swam ashore and tied a Dutch flag to a stake on the shore. In this way possession of the land was claimed by Europeans on 3 December 1642. A number of plants were returned to the boat and while on land it was reported the men heard sounds of the Aborigines and saw notches made in trees to ‘rob birds’ nests’. One must wonder today whether these notches were used to climb trees to raid bird’s nests, or were merely made so as to use the height of the trees as a lookout, for not one member of the party is recorded as actually seeing an aboriginal!
After claiming possession, Tasman moved his ships on, following the east coast of Tasmania. When the shore fell away to the northwest (Bass Strait) the weather was rough and coming in directly from the north. It was at this point Tasman decided to quit this island and continue east, sailing on to the south island of New Zealand.
Abel Tasman the Namesake
Abel Janszoon Tasman left a lasting legacy on our island state in place names, he was the first European to reach and name our island, he named Mount Heemskirk after one of his ships, he named Storm Bay after a storm encountered there on 29 November 1642 (the actual location is known today as Encounter Bay). Frederick Henry Bay (though it’s original location is where Blackman’s Bay today is, another mapping mix up by Furneaux) was also named by Tasman after Frederick Henrijk, a councillor of the Dutch East India Company.
Matthew Flinders named Mount Zeehan after the other of Abel Tasman’s ships, as was the town of Zeehan itself. Both Tasman Island and Tasman Peninsula were named by Matthew Flinders on 9th December 1798 during his circumnavigation of Tasmania with George Bass to honour Abel Tasman.
While Tasman did not meet any, the native aborigines knew this land prior to his arrival as ‘Trowunna’, ‘Trowenna’ or ‘Loetrouwitter’. Today there is no clear indication of who actually changed the name to Tasmania, although it is clear it was renamed in recognition of Abel Tasman. As early as 1803 the word Tasmania appeared in the naming of one of our native flora, while in 1808 London-based mapmakers Laurie and Whittle’s ‘An Elegant Imperial Sheet Atlas’ included a map with both names, Van Diemen’s Land and Tasmania. This was the first appearance of ‘Tasmania’ discovered in print. The Bishopric of Tasmania was proclaimed in 1842. The new name was gazetted locally in November, 1855, with a ‘Designation of the Colony Act’ in December of that year. The new name became effective on 1 January, 1856, and the next day ‘Tasmania’ celebrated its renaming at a Grand Tasmanian Regatta.
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