Abel Janszoon Tasman

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Abel Janszoon Tasman

Abel Janszoon Tasman (ca. 1603-1659) was a Dutch navigator who discovered Tasmania and New Zealand's South Island and charted the northwest Australian coastline.

Abel Tasman was born at Lutjegast near Groningen. After his second marriage, to Joanna Tierex in 1633, he became a ship's captain in the Dutch East India Company and lived in Batavia, capital of the new Dutch commercial empire in the East Indies.

A southern continent had long been thought to exist, but Spanish navigators who crossed the Pacific Ocean from the Americas had failed to locate it. After 1611 Dutch vessels which were blown east by the "roaring forties" after rounding the Cape of Good Hope occasionally touched the coastline of "Terra Australis" en route to Java. The Batavian authorities soon decided to find out whether this "South Land" had any commercial potential, and in 1642, Governor General Anton Van Diemen chose Tasman to command an expedition.

Tasman left Djakarta in August 1642 with two ships, the Heemskerk of 60 tons and the Zeehaen of 100 tons, carrying 110 men and sufficient supplies for 18 months. From Mauritius he sped east on latitude 44°S, discovering Van Diemen's Land (renamed Tasmania after 1856) on November 24. After crossing the Tasman Sea, he reached the west coast of Staeten Landt (New Zealand's South Island) on December 13, and a landing party was attacked by Maoris at Golden Bay on December 18. Tasman then sailed up the west coast of New Zealand's North Island to the Tonga and Fiji islands and returned to Batavia along the northern coast of New Guinea in June 1643 after a voyage lasting 10 months.

Although Tasman circumnavigated a new continent, he seldom sailed close enough to the coastline to chart it accurately on a map. Sent to establish a base in the Tonga Islands in 1644, he failed to find a passage through Torres Strait, and instead he surveyed the northwestern coastline of New Holland (Australia) from Cape York Peninsula to Willem's River on the Tropic of Capricorn.

On his return to Batavia after a 6-months' voyage, Tasman was promoted to commander. But his superiors were disappointed. Although he had discovered more about "the remaining unknown part of the terrestrial globe" than any of his predecessors, his accounts of a barren landscape and primitive natives banished all prospects of trade and settlement. Europeans consequently displayed little interest in the colonization of New Holland for more than a century.

In 1647 Tasman led a mission to the king of Siam. His reputation subsequently suffered owing to the way in which he commanded a fleet against the Spaniards in 1648-1649. Soon afterward he left the service of the East India Company and became a merchant. He died in Batavia, a wealthy man.

Further Reading

The study by Andrew Sharp, The Voyages of Abel Janszoon Tasman (1968), reproduces Tasman's journals together with an excellent commentary and contains a full account of his career. The standard work on the exploration of the whole region, J. C. Beaglehole, The Exploration of the Pacific (1934; 3d ed. 1966), includes a good chapter on Tasman. A copy of Tasman's map of 1644, showing New Guinea, Australia, and Tasmania as one land mass, was published by the Public Library of New South Wales in 1948.

Additional Sources

Allen, Oliver E., The Pacific navigators, Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books; Morristown, N.J.: School and library distribution by Silver Burdett, 1980.

Slot, B., Abel Tasman and the discovery of New Zealand, Amsterdam: O. Cramwinckel, 1992. □

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Abel Janszoon Tasman


Dutch Explorer

Abel Janszoon Tasman was a Dutch navigator and explorer who discovered Tasmania, New Zealand, Tonga, and the Fiji Islands. Tasman made two important voyages (1642 and 1644) through both the Indian and South Pacific Oceans that helped to map the southern hemisphere. With exploration a secondary goal of his voyages, he was primarily interested in establishing trade and finding sources of wealth for his employer, the Dutch East India Company. Because he failed in both respects with the newly discovered lands, his voyages were initially considered to be disappointments. However, with the passage of time, his voyages have been recognized as important contributions to the knowledge of that part of the world.

Little is known about the life of Tasman outside of his service with the Dutch East India Company. While the details of his birth are unknown, it is generally believed that he was born in 1603 at Lutjegast in the Netherlands. In 1632 or 1633 he joined the Dutch East India Company and made his first exploratory voyage to Indonesia as the captain of the Mocha in 1634. Five years later he served on an expedition that futilely searched for the "islands of gold and silver" in the seas surrounding Japan. He later made a series of trading voyages to the coastal areas of Asia. During this time he proved to be an excellent seaman and was subsequently chosen for an ambitious exploration of the Southern Hemisphere.

In 1642 Anthony van Diemen (1593-1645), the governor-general of Dutch East Indies, selected Tasman to command an exploratory voyage to the Southern Hemisphere in an attempt to locate new sources of wealth and commerce. In addition, although stretches of the Australian coast had been previously discovered, it was not known if these were part of a large continent or if they were unconnected masses of land. Relying heavily on the memoir of chief pilot Frans Jacobszoon Visscher, Tasman was instructed to explore the Indian Ocean in an easterly direction and then sail into the Pacific Ocean to search for a passage to Chile.

Tasman sailed from Batavia (present-day Jakarta) to Mauritius on August 14, 1642, with two ships, the Heemskerk and Zeehaen. From there, he sailed southeast until he discovered land on November 24, which he named Van Diemen's Land (present-day Tasmania). He later discovered the coast of South Island, New Zealand. Continuing his voyage, Tasman became convinced that there was a passage to Chile, so he turned in a northeast direction. On January 21 he discovered Tonga and later the Fiji Islands. Tasman then directed the crew northwest and returned to Batavia on June 14, 1643. In his ten-month voyage, Tasman only lost 10 men to illness and had actually circumnavigated the entire continent of Australia without ever sighting land, thus showing that it was not attached to any continent.

Despite this seeming success, the council of the Dutch East India Company was not pleased with the voyage. They ordered Tasman to make another voyage to establish trading relationships with the areas he had discovered. His second voyage took him to the south coast of New Guinea and then to many of the coastal portions of New Holland (present-day Australia). Once again, he failed to provide a significant amount of wealth or commerce for his company, and this voyage was also considered to be a failure from a financial point of view. Despite this, Tasman was rewarded with the rank of commander and was even made a council member. He later commanded trading and war fleets for the company before he left the service of the Dutch East India Company in 1653. Tasman is believed to have died on October 22, 1659.


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Abel Janszoon Tasman (ä´bəl yän´sōn tä´smän), 1603?–1659, Dutch navigator. In the service of the Dutch East India Company from c.1632 to 1653, he made several trading and exploring voyages in the Pacific and Indian oceans. On a voyage (1639–42) in the N Pacific he visited the Philippines and Taiwan, followed the coast of Japan, and discovered several small islands. In 1642 he sailed from Batavia in command of the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen. On that voyage he visited Tasmania (which he named Van Diemen's Land) and New Zealand, touched the Tonga islands, and returned (1643) to Batavia, having circumnavigated Australia and thus demonstrated that no connection exists between it and a polar continent. In 1644 he was dispatched to discover the relationship between New Guinea, Tasmania, and the known part of Australia; he established the continuity of land from the Gulf of Carpentaria to the northwest coast of Australia at the Tropic of Capricorn.

See biography by A. Sharp (1968).

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Tasman, Abel Janszoon (1603–59) Dutch maritime explorer who made many discoveries in the Pacific. On his voyage of 1642–43, he discovered what is now called Tasmania. Tasman reached New Zealand, but was attacked by Maoris in Golden Bay. He landed on Tonga and Fiji, and sailed along the n coast of New Ireland. Although he circumnavigated Australia, he never sighted the mainland coast.

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Tasman, Abel (1603–c.1659), Dutch navigator. Sent in 1642 by the Governor General of the Dutch East Indies, Anthony van Diemen (1593–1645), to explore Australian waters, he reached Tasmania (which he named Van Diemen's Land) and New Zealand, and in 1643 arrived at Tonga and Fiji.