Abel Janszoon Tasman

Abel Janszoon Tasman.

One of the greatest Dutch navigators.

Abel Janszoon Tasman, discoverer of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), New Zealand, the Tonga and Fiji Islands, and the first to circumnavigate Australia.

Tasman was born at Lutjegast, Groningen in 1603. From an early age ships and sailing had been his interest and career, although not a very successful one. When he married for the second time in Amsterdam in 1631, he gave as his profession 'sailor'. Two years later he was employed by the Dutch East Indie Company and soon commanded several of their ships. During the mid 1630s he made several trips to the East Indies. He returned to Holland in 1637 but was back in the East Indies in 1638. This time he took his wife with him.

On 2 June 1639, he was dispatched by Antonio van Diemen, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies (1636-1645), on a voyage to the north-western Pacific, in search of certain 'Islands of gold and silver', east of Japan. On this voyage Tasman visited the Philippines and improved Dutch knowledge of the east coast of Luzon. He also discovered and mapped various islands to the north. After this voyage he anchored at the Dutch fortress of Zeelandia in Formosa on 24 November 1639.

Tasman was also engaged in several other trips, sailing to Formosa, Japan, Cambodia and Palembang as a merchant captain until 1642. In 1642 he set out on his first great 'South Land' expedition. The expedition left Batavia on 14 August 1642 with two vessels, the Heemskerk with sixty men and the Zeehaan with fifty men on board. They first called at Mauritius, where they stayed for a month long repair to both ships, and sighted Tasmania on 24 November 1642. Tasman named the island after the governor of East Indie, Antonio van Diemen. The first two mountains they sighted on the island were named Mount Zeehan and Mount Heemskirk, after their ships.

From here Tasman sailed further east until they again sighted unknown land on 13 December. It was named Statenland, but later changed to New Zealand. The Dutch were not made very welcome by the locals who killed four crewmembers of the Zeehan. The ships continued to the north along the west coast of New Zealand to its northern most point which Tasman named Cape Maria van Diemen, after the Governor's wife.

On 21 January they sailed into the Tonga Archipelago where the reception was much better and the crew was able to obtain fresh supplies. The two island were named Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Eventually, Tasman and his ships returned to Batavia along a route north of New Guinea on 15 June 1643. In 1644, he was sent out again with three ships, the Limmen, Zeemeeuw and Brak, on a not well documented expedition which took him along Australia's north coast. He explored and named the Gulf of Carpentaria, but failed to find Torres Strait.

Although van Diemen was not really impressed with the results of Tasman, his contract was still extended for another three years with increased salary. In 1648 he left Batavia in charge of eight ships to attack the Spanish. This was Tasman's last trip as commander as the whole affair resulted in one great debacle. Tasman was dismissed from the Company's service in 1649, reinstated in 1850 but resigned from active service a year later. He died in Batavia on 22 October 1659.

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