Abel Tasman Biography
Abel Janszoon Tasman was a Dutch explorer commissioned by the Dutch East India Company for several voyages during the 17th century. He is mainly noted for his exploration of the South Pacific in the hopes of discovering a new shipping route from Australia to South America to enhance trade possibilities for the company. During this voyage, he became the first European to discover New Zealand and Tasmania; Tasmania was later named in his honor. On a subsequent voyage, he traveled to Australia where he spent time mapping the northern coastline. Although his travels resulted in the discovery of several islands throughout the South Pacific waters, his expedition was viewed as incomplete by the Dutch East India Company. The company was disappointed that Tasman failed to find any useful shipping routes for their trading purposes. They also felt he had failed to adequately explore the islands he came across, resulting in little knowledge about those islands. Later on, Tasman met with further disgrace when he attempted to hang two of his sailors who were accused of insubordination. As a result, Tasman was suspended from his position with the company without salary. Eleven months later, he was reinstated and continued to work for the company until his retirement.
- Abel Tasman was born in the village of Lutjegast in The Netherlands, in 1603, in a family of subsistence farmers.
- The Dutch Republic that was in power during the 17th century promoted progressive education and it is largely assumed that Tasman greatly benefitted from this program. He had good writing skills and had excellent knowledge of Latin.
- Abel Tasman joined the Dutch East India Company and on his first assignment, he was sent to Batavia (modern-day Jakarta) in 1633.
- In 1634, he was promoted to the rank of first mate of the ship, ‘Weesp’, and soon thereafter he became skipper of the ship ‘Mocha’.
- He spent nine years guarding the South Pacific from pirates and smugglers. He also made several trade missions to Asia, including Japan, Cambodia, and Formosa (present-day Taiwan).
- In 1642, he was commissioned to lead an expedition to present-day Australia and South America in search for an ocean passage across the Pacific to Chile. He was provided with two small ships for this voyage, the Zeehaen and the Heemskerck.
- The expedition sailed to Mauritius and then headed east at higher latitude than the Dutch had explored ever before, which caused them to bypass their destination of Australia. A land mass was spotted on November 24, 1642 and Tasman named it ‘Anthoni van Diemens Landt’ (modern-day Tasmania) after Batavia’s Governor General.
- Traveling further eastward he came upon New Zealand and named it Stated Landt, mistaking it to be connected to the land mass, named, Staten Island, at the tip of South America.
- They came ashore at Whariwharangi Bay on the South Island of present-day New Zealand where they made their initial contact with the Maoris. A brutal encounter with Maori native Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri led to the deaths of four Dutch seamen and Tasman went on to name the place Moordenaars Bay, translating to Murderers Bay.
- The voyage continued north along the west coast but failed to take note of Cook Strait that separated the North and South Islands of New Zealand. Consequently, Tasman believed New Zealand to be one complete island.
- In December of 1642, Tasman and his men celebrated the first Christmas in New Zealand while taking shelter from a storm. They continued up the west side of the North Island and discovered a cape on January 4, 1643 which they named Cape Maria Van Diemen after the Governor’s wife.
- On January 21, 1643 they anchored in Tonga to stock up on supplies. The expedition continued on past Fiji but did not stop to explore the land.
- In April of 1643 the expedition reached New Guinea and then began the return journey landing in Batavia on June 15, 1643.
- The Dutch East India Company was unsatisfied with Tasman’s lack of effort in exploring the lands he discovered and failing to discover a passageway that could be used as a shipping route to South America. Despite this, the proposal for a subsequent voyage was rejected, leaving New Zealand and Tasmania untouched by Europeans for a century.
- In 1644, Tasman was sent to the northern coastline of Australia to search for another passage to South America. During this time, they mapped the coast from Torres Strait to Port Hedland.
- The Dutch East India Company promoted him to the rank of skipper commander. He held a position within the Council of Justice at Batavia until 1648.
- In 1648, an intoxicated Tasman attempted to unjustly hang two of his sailors citing insubordination. One of the men almost died and Tasman was tried by the Council of Justice, receiving a suspension without pay for 11 months.
- He retired in 1653 and remained settled in Batavia where he captained a small cargo ship. He was the owner of 288 acres of land and hence a very wealthy man.
- Tasman was the first European explorer to discover New Zealand and Tasmania, both of which were explored during his 1642 voyage.
- He mapped a significant amount of Australia’s northern coast during his 1644 exploration.
- Tasman married to Claesgie Heyndrix in the early 1630. They had one daughter, named, Claesjen, before Claesgie’s death in 1631.
- He married Jannetje (Joanna) Tjaerts in 1632.
- He died on 10 October 1659, from unknown causes, at his home in Batavia.
- The present day island of Tasmania is named in his honor. Places within Tasmania also bear his name. These include: the Tasman Sea, the Tasman Peninsula, the Tasman Highway, the Tasman Bridge, and the Abel Tasman ferry.
- In New Zealand, the Abel Tasman National Park, the Tasman Lake, the Tasman River, the Tasman Glacier, Mount Tasman, and the Tasman Bay have been named in his honor.
- Tasman spent only 23 days exploring the vicinity of New Zealand. Despite this short period, he still holds the distinction as the first European to discover the land and has been honored by having numerous places on the island named for him.
- He was credited with an average death rate of less than 7% during his most significant voyages, a great feat in 17th century seafaring.
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