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Title:      The Discovery of Tasmania (Van Diemen's Land.), New Zealand,
            and Bass' Straits.
Author:     C. T. Burfitt
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
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Edition:    1
Language:   English
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Date first posted:          May 2006
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Title:      The Discovery of Tasmania (Van Diemen's Land.), New Zealand,
            and Bass' Straits.
Author:     C. T. Burfitt

(Read before the Society, April 29, 1913.)

(Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Australian Historical Society
Vol. III. Part III.)


{Page: 113}

The work of preparing the following account of the discovery, by Tasman,
of the sixth state of the Australian Commonwealth has been undertaken not
only with a view to reviving history known to but few of the present
generation, and assist in justifying the Society's title to bear the name
it does, but also to remind our people of a man whose name must ever hold
a high place on the scroll of honour to those men who braved every danger
on sea and land to give to us the great territories we now possess.

Abel Janszoon Tasman was unquestionably one of the greatest, if not the
greatest, of the navigators between Magellan, (who, in the early years of
the 16th century first crossed the Pacific Ocean), and Cook, who in the
latter years of the eighteenth century practically opened Oceania and
Australia to Europe.

Little is known of Tasman's personal history, except that he was born
about the year 1602 at Hoorn on the Zuyder Zee, a seaport which produced
many another hardy

{Page: 114}

navigator. Tasman has made familiar in our seas the
name of one of his fellow townsmen, viz., Corneliszoon Schouten, who in
1616 doubled the Cape, afterwards called the Horn in honour of the
birthplace of its discoverer.

That Tasman's merit has not received due recognition and that his fame
has not been as wide as his achievements deserved, is largely the fault
of his own countrymen. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the
persistent policy of the Dutch was to conceal the discoveries of their
navigators, and suppress their charts for fear other nations should reap
advantage from the knowledge, and rival them in the eastern seas. In
later times, when this motive had lost its force, Tasman's countrymen
were strangely indifferent to the honour which their great sailor had won
for his native land. Of his second voyage (1644), in which he explored
the northern coast of Australia, and laid down with painstaking accuracy
the shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria, we have to this day only meagre
hints and the record contained in a sketch map of his more famous voyage
to the Great South Land, in 1642, during which he discovered Tasmania and
New Zealand, and made a great step towards solving the vexed problem of
the fancied Terra Australis. The journal remained unpublished for more
than two centuries. A short abstract of the voyage was published in
Holland late in the seventeenth century, and was shortly afterwards
translated into English and French. Valentyn, in his work on the Dutch
East Indies, published in 1726, gave a more extended account, illustrated
by copies of Tasman's maps and sketches. But the journal itself remained
practically unknown until a copy of it, with the original sketches and
charts, was discovered in London in 1776 and purchased for half a guinea.
This MS. afterwards came into the possession of Sir Joseph Banks, and he
employed the Rev. C. G. Waide, a Dutch clergyman, living in London, to
make a translation of it The MS. of this is now in the British Museum.
Some years ago a verbatim copy of the part referring to Tasmania was made
by Mr. Bonwick for the Government of that state.

Tasman's expedition was probably the first attempt made by the Dutch to
explore systematically the Great South Land. In the early years of the
seventeenth century the western coast of Australia had been several times
sighted by Dutch captains; ships bound for the Dutch settlements at
Batavia, had been driven to the southward by storms, and the resulting
discoveries had, therefore, been to a

{Page: 115}

large extent involuntary, or accidental. In the year 1642, however, the
Governor-General, Anthony Van Diemen, and the Council of Netherlands,
India, determined to despatch from Batavia a properly equipped expedition,
having for its sole object the discovery of the Great South Continent.

The command of the expedition was entrusted to Tasman, then forty years
old, his ship being the _Heemskirk_ (175 tons) with the little fly-boat
_Zeehan_ (50 tons) as tender. He sailed from Batavia on August 14 and
arrived at Mauritius on September 5. Leaving the latter port, a month
later, a southern course was followed, and on November 24th land was
sighted bearing east by north, distant ten Dutch miles (40 miles
English). Of the discovery Tasman wrote: "This is the furthest land in
the south sea we met with, and as it has not yet been known to any
European we call it Anthony Van Diemen's Land, in honour of the
Governor-General, our master. The islands round about, as many as were
known to us, we named in honour of the Council of India." They skirted
the newly discovered land and on December 1 anchored in a bay on the east
coast. On December 3 they sailed north to St. Patrick's Head, from whence
an east course was shaped. On the eighth day land was seen and Tasman
named it Staten Land, thinking it might be part of the southern continent
and joined to Staten Land, east of Tierra del Fuego. When this
supposition was shown, in 1643, to be an error through Brouwer's voyage
round Cape Horn, the name was changed to that of New Zealand.

After a fatal encounter with the Maoris, Tasman' sailed along the west
coast to Cape Maria Van Diemen. Taking from thence a north-east course he
discovered Amsterdam and other islands, and after sailing north-west and
then skirting the north coast of New Guinea he returned to Batavia.

In 1644 Tasman sailed a second time from Batavia and explored the south
coast of New Guinea, the gulf of Carpentaria and the north and north-West
coasts of Australia. Thus, in the two voyages, though he left the
question of the existence of a southern continent unsolved, he had made
the first complete circumnavigation of Australia and New Guinea.

It is generally stated that the first land sighted by Tasman was near
Point Hibbs, and his little chart of Van Diemen's land appears to favour
this opinion, but an examination of his journal leads to a different
conclusion.

{Page: 116}

From the entries referred to it is evident that his position
on November 24, when he first saw the land, is not laid down on the
chart. The latitude entered for noon of that day is 42 deg. 25 minutes.
As the weather was clear this was probably the observed latitude, and
making allowance for the usual error we may place it some miles more to
the north. From noon he sailed four hours E. by N. before he sighted land
bearing E. by N. 40 English miles distant. Some three hours later this
course would have brought him to a latitude a little to the northward of
Cape Sorell (42 deg 12 min). The position would agree with his description
of the land he saw, viz. "very high." Towards evening he saw three high
mountains, to the E.S.E. and to the N.E. He also saw two mountains N.E.,
but not so high as those to the southward. Flinders in his
circumnavigation of the island identified the two mountains to the N.E.
as those named by him Heemskirk and Zeehan after Tasman's ships.

When the shades of evening fell over the strange shore they had just
discovered, it was deemed prudent to run out to sea during the night.
When morning broke the breeze had died away and it was noon before they
had enough wind to run in again. By five in the evening they were within
12 miles of the land and they kept on their course until within 4 miles
of what was without doubt Point Hibbs. Next day the ships sailed
south-east in thick foggy weather, in which only glimpses of the coast
were obtained. Tasman took some of the high head-lands and mountains
about Point Davey for islands, calling them De Witt and Sweers Islands.
Then he rounded the South West Cape, and named Maatsuyker Islands,
passing close to a small island (about 12 miles from the mainland) which
in appearance resembled a lion and which was afterwards identified by
Flinders as the rock named by Furneaux, The Mewstone. Thence he passed
between the mainland and a rock which he named Pedra Branca (White Rock)
from its resemblance to Pedra Branca off the coast of China, sailed past
the entrance to D'Entrecasteaux Channel, and on November 29 rounded the
Friars, (which he named Boreels Isles); bearing up for a large bay,
intending to anchor there. He had almost reached his intended anchorage
when a heavy storm arose and he was driven out so far to sea that next
morning he could hardly discern the land. It was from this incident that
Storm Bay got its name. (The anchorage Tasman attempted to reach is that
at which Furneaux anchored in 1773 and which he named Adventure Bay.)
When the wind moderated

{Page: 117}

he continued his easterly course, and rounding Tasman's Island (The
Pillar) he turned northward along the east coast of Tasman and
Forestier's peninsulas until on Dec. 1, an hour after sunset,
he anchored in a good port, in 22 fathoms, the bottom fine light-grey
sand. "Wherefore," says Tasman piously, "we ought to lift up thankful
hearts to Almighty God." The position of this anchorage, as shown on
Tasman's chart, is north-west of the rocky islet now called Green Island;
just north of the basaltic cliffs of Cape Frederick Henry.

On December 2, early in the morning, the boat was sent to explore a bay
some four miles to the north-west (Blackman's Bay). The boat returned in
the evening. The crew reported that they had rowed some miles after
passing through the entrance to the bay (now known as the Narrows). They
had heard human voices but had not seen anyone.

The next day, December 3, the boats went to the south-east corner of the
bay in which the ships were anchored, in order to get fresh water, but,
though they found a lagoon, the shore was so low that the waves had
broken through and the water was too brackish to use. In the afternoon
when an attempt was made to land, the sea ran so high that one boat was
obliged to return to the ship. The other, a larger one, under the command
of Tasman, made for a little bay W.S.W. of the ships but the sea was too
rough to allow of landing. The carpenter, Peter Jacobsen, volunteered to
swim ashore with a pole on which was the Prince's flag, which he planted
on the shore of the bay. Thus Tasman took possession of the island for
the Dutch.

On December 4 they weighed anchor and stood to the northward passing
Maria and Schouten Islands, the latter being so named, by Tasman, after
his fellow-townsman of the Port of Hoorn. On the following morning he
sailed from opposite a high round hill (St. Patrick's Head) and stood
away eastward to make further discoveries.

Of the localities associated with the discovery of Tasmania, the chief
interest attaches to Frederick Henry Bay, and its neighbourhood. The name
has been dislocated from its rightful position on the map, and has been
transferred to another part of the coast, where it is now fixed by long
usage. Tasman never saw what is now known as Frederick Henry Bay. The bay
to which he gave the name of the Stadtholder of Holland was in the
immediate vicinity of his anchorage on the north-east

{Page: 118}

coast of Forestier's Peninsula. Its exact locality the records of the voyage
leave a little doubtful. The journal contains no names of places, but the
account of the planting of the Flag would lead to the inference that the
Prince's name was given to the bay in which the ships lay at anchor, and
which is now known as Marion Bay. The charts, however, lead rather to the
conclusion that it is the inner port, or arm of the sea, now Blackman's
Bay. The copy of the map in Burney leaves the point doubtful, the name
being written on the land between the two ports. But in the chart as
reproduced by Vallentyn, and stated to have been copied by him from the
original journal, the name is distinctly written in Blackman's Bay.

For more than a century after Tasman anchored off Green Island no
navigator ventured to follow him into the stormy seas that wash the dark
cliffs of the Great South Land.

The first of the moderns who sighted the coast of Van Diemen's Land was
the French Captain Marion du Fresne in 1772. Marion made the west coast a
little to the south of Tasman's land-fall, and, following almost the same
course as the earlier navigator, his ships, the _Mascarin_ and _Marquis
de Castries_, anchored on March 5, 1772, at a spot somewhat to the north
west of the _Hemskerk's_ anchorage in 1642. Marion took this to be the
Frederick Henry Bay of Tasman, but, as has already been shown, this was
almost certainly an error, and since the visit of the _Mascarin_ the
outer bay, as distinguished from the inner, has borne on the charts the
more appropriate designation of Marion Bay. The description in the
narrative of the voyage is not sufficiently exact to enable one to
determine the precise spot where the French landed, but it appears to
have been on the Two-mile Beach (North Bay of our present maps). On this
beach it was that the aborigines of Tasmania first came into contact with
Europeans. The meeting was an ill-omened one; the blacks resisted the
landing, and attacked Marion's party with stones and spears. The French,
in retaliation, fired upon them, killing one man and wounding others. The
ships lay in the bay for six days, during which time the French explored
the country for a considerable distance, searching for fresh water, and
timber for spars, but they saw nothing more of the natives after the
first fatal encounter. Being unable to find either good water or timber
suitable for his needs, Marion sailed on March 10 for New Zealand, where
he met his death in a treacherous attack on his people by the Maoris.

{Page: 119}

The next navigator who visited Tasmania was Captain Tobias
Furneaux--Cook's second in command on his second voyage of discovery. It
is to Furneaux's blunders that the confusion respecting Frederick Henry
Bay is due. The two ships (the _Resolution_, 462 tons, and the
_Adventure_, 336 tons) were separated by a storm in latitude 50 degrees
south, between the Cape and Australia. Cook, in the _Resolution_ kept on
his course for New Zealand; Furneaux in the _Adventure_, being short of
water, bore up for the land laid down by Tasman as Van Diemen's Land. On
March 9, 1773, Furneaux sighted the land at a point which he took to be
Tasman's South Cape. The point was, in fact, South West Cape, and from
this initial error the whole course of subsequent blunders arose.

From South West Cape he sailed eastward, intending to make Tasman's
anchorage in Frederick Henry Bay. Reaching the South Cape, he mistook it
for the Boreel Islands, south of Bruny, and mistook the entrance of
D'Entrecasteaux Channel for Tasman's Storm Bay. The south point of Bruny
he mistook for Tasman's Island (the Pillar) and called it Tasman's Head.
Rounding Bruny Island he stood north, under the impression that he was
sailing along the east coast of Van Diemen's Land, and in the evening
anchored in a bay of which he says:--

"We at first took this bay to be that which Tasman called Frederick Henry
Bay, but afterwards found that it is laid down five leagues to the
northward of this." Furneaux named his anchorage Adventure Bay, the point
to the north be called Cape Frederick Henry--believing that Tasman's
Frederick Henry Bay lay to the north of this cape--and the opposite
shore, of Tasman's Peninsula, he laid down on his chart as Maria's Isles.
After five days' stay in Adventure Bay, he sailed out and rounded the
Pillar, under the impression that he was rounding the south point of
Maria Island. Then he proceeded north as far as the Furneaux Group, and
bore away for New Zealand to rejoin Cook.

Cook, on his third voyage, cast anchor in Adventure Bay on January 24,
1777, without detecting Furneaux's mistake or correcting his charts.

In 1789, Captain J. H. Cox, in the brig _Mercury_ anchored in the strait
between Maria Island and the mainland, but, misled by the charts of
Furneaux and Cook, never suspected that he was within a few miles of
Tasman's Frederick Henry Bay.

In April, 1792, Admiral D'Entrecasteaux with the ships _Recherche_ and
_Esperance_, sighted the Mewstone, and bore

{Page: 120}

up for the mainland, intending to make Cook's anchorage in Adventure
Bay. Through an error of his pilot, instead of rounding Bruny Island,
he stood to the west of it, and found he was not in Adventure Bay,
but in the entrance of the Channel, which he (like Cook) believed to be
the Storm Bay of Tasman. D'Entrecasteaux explored the channel which bears
his name, ascended the river, which he named _Riviere du Nord_, and
explored the wide bay to the north-east, which he named _Baie du Nord_.
This bay he thought communicated with Tasman's Frederick Henry Bay on
the east coast, and under this impression the land which Cook had
erroneously laid down as Maria Island he named _Ile d'Abel Tasman_.

In 1794, Captain John Hayes in the ships _Duke of Clarence_ and
_Duchess_, visited Storm Bay--although the name does not appear on his
charts. He evidently had only Cook's chart since he placed Adventure Bay,
Tasman's Head and Maria's Isles as they are laid down by Cook. Captain
Hayes renamed all the other localities in Storm Bay, and it is to him we
owe the name of the River Derwent. The Baie du Nord of D'Entrecasteaux he
called Henshaw's Bay.

In December, 1798, Flinders and Bass, in their first circumnavigation of
the island in the _Norfolk_, sailed up Storm Bay, explored and surveyed
the Baie du Nord. Flinders says he was at the time quite ignorant that
this bay had ever been entered before, and, misled by the errors of
Furneaux and Cook, he laid it down on his first sketch chart as Frederick
Henry Bay.

In January, 1802, the French discovery expedition under Admiral Baudin,
in the ships _Geographe_ and _Naturaliste_, arrived in D'Entrecasteaux
Channel. During a stay of some weeks they completed the surveys of
Admiral D'Entrecasteaux and explored and surveyed the Baie Nord. They
then sailed for the east coast and anchored in the passage between Maria
Island and the mainland. From this point Freycinet (Baudin's lieutenant)
made the first thorough examination of Tasman's Frederik Hendrik Bay. He
explored it as far as East Bay Neck, and was thus enabled to correct the
mistakes of former navigators. He found that D'Entrecasteaux had been
mistaken in supposing that there was a channel between Frederick Henry
Bay, and the Baie du Nord, and that the supposed Ile d'Abel Tasman was a
double peninsula, to which he gave the names of Forrestier's and Tasman's
Peninsula. He also proved that Flinders had been in error in applying the

{Page: 121}

name Frederick Henry to the Baie du Nord. The charts of Baudin's
expedition, constructed by Faure, were the first to show the coast
accurately; in them, for the first time, the outer port was laid down as
Baie Marion, and the inner one as Baie Frederik Hendrik. Many years later
(after his release from his long captivity in Mauritius) Flinders came to
write his _Voyage to Terra Australis_ [and] he had the opportunity to
compare his surveys (of 15 years before) with the French charts and
correct his errors. In his Atlas, therefore, the Bale du Nord is
correctly named North Bay, and the name of Frederick Henry Bay is
restored to its proper place on the east coast; though he applies it to
the outer port and not the inner, which bears the name in Tasman's map.


The original error of Furneaux (perpetuated as it was by Cook and
Flinders' first chart) had obtained too firm a hold to be displaced.

After the publication of Flinders' Atlas some of the early map-makers
endeavoured to restore the names to their proper localities. Thus in a
chart compiled by G. W. Evans (Surveyor-General), and published in London
in 1821, and also in a chart published in London by Cross in 1826, North
Bay is correctly placed and the name Frederick Henry is in the first map
applied to the outer bay, and in the second more correctly to the inner
one. In Assistant-Surveyor Scott's map, published in Hobart by Ross in
1830, the name Frederick Henry appears in Storm Bay, but in Arrowsmith's
map published in London in 1842, the alternative names are given, viz.,
Frederick Henry Bay, or North Bay; while the name Frederick Henry also
appears, correctly, in the inner bay.

There still remains another memorable voyage of discovery to record,
undertaken by Bass and Flinders conjointly in the year 1798. The object
of this expedition was to demonstrate the existence of the probable
strait and the consequent insularity of Van Diemen's Land. The way it was
proposed to accomplish this double object was to sail through the channel
and circumnavigate the island. Bent on this adventure, Bass and Flinders
left Sydney Cove on the 7th October 1798, in the _Norfolk_, 25 tons.
Their cruise in the channel disclosed a large number of islands. The
circumnavigation of Van Diemen's Land commenced at the northern point,
known as Cape Portland; nothing specially remarkable occurred till a
point was reached which they named Low Head, immediately after which the
_Norfolk_ entered an arm of the sea more than a mile in

{Page: 122}

width. This appeared to be a discovery of sufficient importance to devote
sixteen days to its exploration. It proved to be the embouchure of what is
now known as the River Tamar, on which Launceston, the second town of the
island, is built. After a short sail to the westward they found
themselves rounding the north-west cape and could perceive the shore
trending to the south. The problem was already virtually solved. "Mr Bass
and myself," says Flinders, "hailed it with joy and mutual
congratulations, as announcing the completion of our long-wished for
discovery of a passage into the Southern Indian Ocean." This fortunate
issue of their hours marked an epoch both in the history of discovery and
the progress of international commerce. By January 6 they had brought
their work to an end. The heroic navigators (as they were then and are
still termed) returned to Sydney bringing the welcome intelligence that
there was no longer doubt as to the insularity of Tasmania. The merit of
the latter discovery is almost equally due to both navigators, but with a
generosity which reflects credit, (and is as noble as it is rare)
Flinders prevailed on Governor Hunter to name it Bass' Straits.

Previous navigators had treated the territory as portion of the Great
South Land. It was left to Flinders and Bass to prove otherwise.

Lives of great men oft remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And departing leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.



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