Home » Library

Abel Tasman

Abel Janszoon Tasman was a sea captain for the Dutch East India Company, a trading company that owned land in the East Indies (modern day Indonesia). The two pictures below are from a book published in 1611 that celebrates Dutch trading activities. Click on the bird to see the animals that Dutch traders saw in Indonesia. Click on the boat to see ships in the Dutch fleet.

A cassowary from a 1611 book about Dutch exploration and tradeA Dutch ship called the Mauritius from a 1611 book about Dutch exploration and trade

In 1642, the Governor of the East Indies sent Tasman to explore a land that had been spotted by earlier Dutch traders. That land was New Holland (modern day Australia). No one knew whether New Holland was part of the Unknown Southern Continent suggested by Ptolemy, or just a group of islands. Click on the cuttlefish to look at more creatures seen in the sea around New Holland.

A cuttle fish from 'A voyage to New Holland' by William Dampier, published in 1703

Tasman sailed south of the Australian coast and discovered land. He called it Van Diemen’s Land, after the Dutch Governor of the East Indies. Today it is the island of Tasmania, re-named after Tasman himself. Tasman sailed back to the East Indies mapping parts of New Zealand, Tonga, and the Fiji Islands on the way.

Abel Tasman made a second voyage to Australia in 1644. This time he was trying to find out whether the north of New Holland (Australia) was joined to the south of New Guinea. By the end of this trip, he had put the northwestern coast of Australia on the map.

The text below is from a 1694 book of explorers' journeys, including Tasman's. It explains that Tasman's voyage is important because he found "a New World, not yet known to the English". The introduction to the same book says that explorers must keep good records of their travels for "improvements of geography, hydrography, astronomy, natural and moral history, antiquity, merchandise, trade, empire". Explorers like Tasman were looking for knowledge and ways to make money. Click on the text to see the title page of the book.

From 'An account of several late voyages and discoveries' published in London in 1694

Abel Tasman’s journeys made it clear that New Holland (Australia) was quite a large continent. Nobody discovered exactly how big it was until over a hundred years later, when Captain James Cook set out to explore the rest of its coastline.

Map of Australia showing Abel Tasman's route around Van Diemen's LandMap showing Abel Tasman's route around New Zealand and Pacific Islands

These maps are from an atlas made by the French mapmaker, Guillaume De L’Isle in about 1740. De L'Isle marked the route of Abel Tasman's first voyage. He also used the information from Tasman's second voyage to sketch the western side of Australia (Nouvelle Hollande).

On the right hand map Tasman's route goes past New Zealand. Can you find the place that is labelled, in French, Baye des Assassins? Tasman's ships were attacked by Maori warriors there. So he named it the Bay of Murderers.

De L'Isle belonged to a new group of scientific mapmakers who only put information that could be proved on their maps. He left the east coast of Australia blank on his map because no one had explored it yet. De L’Isle thought blank space was more honest than the myths and monsters that filled unexplored areas on older maps. Click on the images to see more.