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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 *
eBook No.:  0600541h.html
Edition:    1

Language:   English
Character set encoding:     HTML--Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit
Date first posted:          May 2006
Date most recently updated: May 2006

This eBook was produced by: Col Choat and Bob Forsyth

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The Discovery of Tasmania (Van Diemen's Land.), New Zealand, and Bass' Straits.



(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 navigator.

{Page: 114}

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


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 he

{Page: 117}

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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