How did Abel Tasman come to Tasmania

Abel Tasman

History - People A-Z

* Lutjegast (Province of Groningen), 1603- † Batavia (Java), October 10, 1659 - Dutch navigator and explorer

Abel Janszoon Tasman (1603-1659) was a Dutch seafarer who was the first European to discover New Zealand and parts of Australia while traveling for the Dutch East India Company. The island of Tasmania, the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand and a New Zealand national park are named after him.

Abel Tasman, born in 1603, grew up in the Dutch village of Lutjegast - a poor region near the city of Groningen. Little is known about his youth. Like many peasant sons from the area, he went to sea at an early age - presumably as a simple cabin boy and sailor. In 1632, at the age of 28, he married Jannetje Tjaers from Amsterdam. As can be seen from his wedding record, Tasman was already widowed and had a daughter at this point. He lived as a shipping journeyman in Amsterdam.

A short time later he joined the Dutch East India Company, where he quickly worked his way up from a simple seaman to a shipping commander. However, his first tasks for the trading company were anything but glorious: As a helmsman, he belonged to a ship's association that was supposed to prevent the spice trade between the Moluccas and the Sultanate of Makassar in the Indonesian archipelago - from the point of view of the East India Company it was smuggling. In addition, the troops were used to combat “hostile elements” who were fighting against Dutch dominance in the region.

In 1636 Abel Tasman sailed back to the Netherlands on the ship "Banda". A year and a half later he returned - this time together with his wife and daughter - to Batavia (today's Jakarta), which was then the capital of the Dutch East Indies colony and the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company's merchant shipping.

In 1639 Tasman took part in his first voyage of discovery: on behalf of the Governor General of the Dutch East Indies, Antonio van Diemen, the expeditionary force was to take two ships in search of the legendary gold and silver islands, where rumor has it that they will find immeasurable wealth should be. The ships crossed the Pacific for 20 weeks without success: neither the islands nor new trade routes were discovered. Almost half of the crew died of disease and starvation.
Despite this failure, Tasman was commissioned with further trade and discovery trips in the following years.

In 1642 he was finally given command of an expedition to explore the unknown “southern land”. For a long time it was assumed that there must be a large mainland in the southern hemisphere, which forms a counterweight to the northern hemisphere. At the beginning of the 17th century, Dutch sailors had already discovered the north coast of a still unknown continent (Australia), which they believed to be part of the great "Terra Australis Incognita". Tasman and his men sailed around large parts of Australia for the first time during their expedition and discovered - rather by chance - an island in the south of the continent, which Tasman baptized after the governor-general and commissioner of the expedition Van Diemens Land - later Tasmania. From there they reached New Zealand in December 1642, where there was an incident with the Maori: 4 sailors died during a confrontation with the indigenous people of the archipelago. The results of Tasman's expedition went unnoticed for a long time; Further explorations did not seem promising to the Dutch. It was not until 100 years later that the Englishman James Cook was to explore Australia and New Zealand more closely.

After his return to Batavia, Tasman was appointed Assessor of the "Raad van Justie", the highest court in the Dutch East Indies. The high point of his career was reached. In April 1648 he took over the leadership of a military expedition against the Spaniards in the Philippines: 8 ships with 900 sailors and 250 soldiers were under his command. The aim was to intercept Spanish "silver ships" and then to support the King of Siam in his war plans. Both tasks fizzled out; Instead, the crew plundered abandoned fortifications and villages on the Philippine coast - presumably on the orders of Tasman. The poor "yield" of this expensive expedition met with little enthusiasm in Batavia.

Upon his return, Tasman fell out of favor: in 1649 he was charged with mistreating a sailor. He was suspended by court order and his rank as commander revoked. However, a short time later Tasman was back in the service of the Dutch East India Company, which he finally left in 1653. Abel Tasman died in Batavia on October 10, 1659.

Author:Christine Kausch
Created: July 2008