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Abel Janszoon Tasman

(c. 1603—1659) Dutch navigator


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(c.1603–59),

Dutch navigator. He was born at Lutjegast, Groningen, and was employed in the service of the Dutch East India Company from the early 1630s. His first voyage of exploration by sea was in 1834 when as captain of the Mocha he sailed to Ceram (now Seram). Then in 1639 he took part in an expedition to search for ‘islands of gold and silver’ supposed to exist to the eastward of Japan. But beyond surveying the Bonin Islands, little was found beyond the emptiness of the Pacific Ocean in these northern latitudes.

For the next two years Tasman reverted to his mercantile command, mainly in trading voyages in the Indian Ocean, but in 1642 he was selected by the governor-general of the Dutch East Indies, Antony van Diemen, to command a more ambitious expedition to discover, among other things, if Australia was part of Terra Australis Incognita that was thought to take up much of the southern hemisphere. Already several Dutch navigators had discovered various parts of the northern and western coasts of Australia, and van Diemen wanted to know more about it.

Tasman's two ships, Heemskerk and Zeehaen, sailed from Batavia (now Jakarta) to Mauritius, then sailed south and east, reaching the Roaring Forties. At a latitude of 49° S., he turned north and saw land which he named Antoonij van Diemen's Landt, in honour of the governor-general, the name being later changed to Tasmania, in honour of himself. He sailed on round the south of Tasmania, not realizing that it was an island separated from Australia, and set a course for the Solomon Islands which, if he was successful, would prove that the ‘Great South Land’ was not, in fact, part of the great southern continent.

Eight days later he sighted high land ahead of him, which he named Staten Landt (now New Zealand). He sailed along the west coast, mistaking the strait between the two islands, now Cook Strait, for a deep bay, and after rounding the northern end of North Island, which he named Cape Maria van Diemen, he sailed north-north-east, discovering several islands in the Tonga group and the eastern part of the Fiji archipelago, and finally returned to Batavia via the New Hebrides, Solomon Islands, and New Guinea after a voyage lasting ten months. He was thus the first man to make a circumnavigation of mainland Australia, though he never saw it, and so proved it was an island and not a part of the mythical southern continent.

Despite this epic voyage, the authorities were displeased with Tasman for he had failed either to find a route to Chile, as he had been supposed to do, or to explore the new land he had found, and in 1644 he was dispatched on another expedition. This time his voyage, also planned by van Diemen, was designed to discover whether New Guinea and van Diemen's Land were part of the Australian continent. He was given command of three ships, the Limmen, Zeemeeuw, and Brak. After leaving Batavia, he sailed along the west coast of New Guinea, but either mistaking what is now the Torres Strait for a bay, or being unable to penetrate the mass of small islands or reefs which guard its western entrance, he sheered south into the Gulf of Carpentaria, the southern and western coasts of which he explored and surveyed with some accuracy. He then proceeded westwards along the northern Australian coast, charting the coastline as far south as latitude 22° S., before returning to Batavia. Again, he was not well received on his return, having failed in both the main objectives of his voyage, but was reluctantly confirmed in the rank of commander, a rank which in fact he had already been using for some time.

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Subjects: Maritime History.


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