The Discovery of New Zealand
2 — Abel Janszoon Tasman
Abel Janszoon Tasman
Not till the seventeenth century, so far as we know, was New Zealand again discovered. Dutch business-men in that century knew what they wanted; and their empire was a business-man's empire. How else than by strict attention to business could the Dutch have won their unassailable position in the East Indies, the position that they acquired with such speed and maintained with such firmness? They had come to the East inevitably, as a major step in their struggle for independence against Spain; and one of the important consequences of the acquisition of Portugal by Spain in 1580 was the loss by Spain of the Portuguese empire in the next three decades. The Dutch were practical men, with, at times, an expansive logic which was of great practical service. To win their independence they had also to win an empire; and their triumph was marked in the East by energy, thoroughness, and a comprehensive lack of scruple. For the trade with the East Indies was one of the foundations of Dutch prosperity, even of continued national existence; it was a trade that, once won, must be jealously preserved. Nor were the Dutch often tempted to outstep their limitations; the seventeen Masters of the United East India Company were not, once their position was assured, prone to indulge in vast schemes of territorial aggrandisement, and their sense of the possible was buttressed by the realization of present profits. Their future was not the gambler's. Occasionally the eloquence of a governor-general might persuade them to sanction some extraordinary expenditure on exploration; but the exploration was not, for them, simply geographical but one of trade. Their speculations must be gilt-edged. In due course such enterprise brought a Dutch captain to New Zealand. This second discovery, that is, was not due to a voyage of 'curiosity', of page 11scientific investigation; it was an incident in commerce. It did not lead to settlement because it did not lead to trade. New Zealand might have been a commercial appendage to the Dutch East Indies; it remained merely a line upon the map.
The seaman whom history has honoured for the discovery was Abel Janszoon Tasman; and Tasman merits all the honour that should fall to a thoroughly skilful commander, performing a considerable task with very inadequate material, and doing it as part of his day's work. As a seaman, in the first half of the seventeenth century he can have had few equals. His competence indeed was of a rare and satisfying sort. But he was not a great man; his character, weighed in a moral balance, was as unsatisfying as that of a large number of his seafaring contemporaries; he could be drunken, brutal and overbearing; and though, to quote from the ample page of Admiral Burney, he was 'both a great and a fortunate discoverer', his mind nevertheless was unvisited by those flashes of geographical insight that have marked the greatest feats of discovery in the Pacific. He was born in 1603 of a poor family in the village of Luytegast in the province of Groningen, and in 1633 shipped to the East Indies before the mast. He became skipper of a yacht, trading and fighting smugglers and natives, and doing odd jobs of charting; and in 1636 he returned to the Netherlands. But two years later he sailed for the East again, and there spent the rest of his life. His most signal service was as second in command of an unsuccessful voyage of 1639 to discover some rumoured islands, rich in gold and silver, east of Japan; he also took part in peaceful trade and commanded a successful kidnapping expedition. He was in fact an East India skipper on general service, and his service deserved well not only of his masters—who were singularly grudging in their acknowledgement—but of geography. The men who planned his voyage deserve as much. They were Anthony van Diemen, the great and ambitious governor-general, and Frans Jacobszoon Visscher, a pilot and hydrographer who wrote on navigation and was, it appears, interested in discovery for its own sake. We know less of Visscher than of Tasman or van Diemen—he was, to the Council at Batavia of the East India Company, 'renowned and highly-experienced'—but we do know that page 12geographically he thought more deeply and with more fertility than either.
Anthony van Diemen was anxious to complete the discovery of Australia—Nova Hollandia—so much of the northern, western and southern coastlines of which Dutch skippers had already mapped in general terms. He would have liked to bring to knowledge again, and to trade with, the Solomon Islands, fit to furnish a king's treasury, which no man had seen since the Spaniard Mendaña in 1568; and he was prepared for even greater schemes. Thus, when Visscher in January 1642 produced a Memoir concerning the Discovery of the Southland, the governor-general read with sympathy.
What was this Southland concerning which Visscher wrote with such persuasiveness? The answer involves the whole conception of the Pacific, and indeed of world-geography, current in Europe before the last quarter of the eighteenth century; and the discovery of New Zealand was but a step in the revision of that view. By the seventeenth century men knew pretty well the outlines of the northern hemisphere, and in the southern hemisphere they knew the extent of Africa and South America. But what lay between Africa and South America? New Holland certainly—but how far did New Holland extend? Did it, beyond the limits of discovered coastline, plunge to the south? Was there a sea passage southward from the Gulf of Carpentaria? Did the land stretch far to the east, or was there another great continent, Terra australis nondum cognita—the Southland not yet known—filling up the undiscovered globe, running north-west from a point near Tierra del Fuego? This last supposition seemed most probable, for the balance of the earth in the cosmos required it; and if so, this immense continent must be a fabulously rich—perhaps even a civilized—one, proffering through the centuries indeed the wealth of a larger trade than the world had ever seen. Spanish expeditions had failed to lay it bare, though the great and tragic Quiros confidently described it, and Drake's voyage in search of it had found treasure more certainly in the Spanish towns of the Peruvian seaboard. But it must exist; it had its name Beach, corrupted from the text of Marco Polo—Beach provincia aurifera, the golden province of Beach. It could hardly fail to attract the man of commerce in his more imaginative moments, and it was a constant challenge page 13to the discoverer. Willem Schouten and Jacob le Maire, Dutchmen both, even thought that possibly they had seen it as they passed through the strait of Le Maire in 1616, at the southern extremity of America, and they had called it Staten Landt. We know this now as Staten Island.
Visscher, then, proposed a voyage from Batavia by way of Mauritius, sailing south to 52° or 54°, and then east till land was sighted or till the longitude of eastern New Guinea was reached, when the voyage might be continued north and round that land home. Or one might sail further east in high latitudes to the longitude of the Solomon Islands and then north to discover them; and this might be the best way of going to work, 'since we do not in the least doubt that divers strange things will be revealed to us in the Salomonis Islands'. Or a ship might start from the Netherlands and 'come to a perfect knowledge' of Staten Landt, sailing eastward along its imagined coast, and then continue east; 'in which way one would become acquainted with all the utterly unknown provinces of Beach'. For Beach was said to cover the Atlantic in the far south as well as the Pacific. Or if the Dutch had a station on the coast of Chile they could sail west with the trade-wind to the Solomons, and then south till either western winds or land were encountered, and then east again; 'by which method one will be enabled to discover the southern portion of the world all round the globe, and find out what it consists of—whether land, sea, or icebergs, all that God has ordained there.' These were large ambitions, on which a commercial company might well hesitate to embark; but the governor-general was ready for a modification of them, his masters in the Netherlands were not disinclined for a great voyage, they had in 1642 two ships to spare, and they were not short of men or of supplies.
1 The two vessels, from Batavia to New Zealand, averaged 125 miles a day.
General instructions for Tasman and his council were drafted, with vast formality and formidable eloquence, by the Hon. Justus Schouten, Councillor Extraordinary of India. They were issued on 13 August 1642. The 'remaining unknown part of the terrestrial globe' must needs, they laid down, 'comprise well-populated districts in favourable climates and under propitious skies', with rich mines and other treasures; 'so that it may be confidently expected that the expense and trouble that must be bestowed in the eventual discovery of so large a portion of the world will be rewarded with certain fruits of material profit and immortal fame'. Accordingly the ships were to sail first to Mauritius, following Visscher's plan, and then make south to the Southland, or to 52 or 54 degrees if there was no land; then east to the longitude of the 'Salomonis' islands, or if the land was encountered, eastward along its coast, making of such a coast the most exhaustive observations. Alternatively, page 15an attempt might be made to sail up to the Gulf of Carpentaria, but that was a second best. If, in the first case, no land was found, Tasman might with the consent of his council sail as much as eight hundred miles east of the estimated longitude of the Solomons, 'in order to become the better assured of a passage from the Indian Ocean into the South Sea, and to prepare the way for afterwards conveniently finding a short route to Chile'. From that position the course should be north and westward to New Guinea and through the East Indies into the Gulf of Carpentaria, to search for a channel into the South Sea from that neighbourhood. Then at last (it might be May or July 1643) the ships could return to Java. Savages encountered should be treated with caution but with kindness, that thereby all chance of profit might be made known.
'If, unlikely as it may be,' (this was a change in tone from the beginning of the instructions) 'you should happen to come to any country peopled by civilized men, you will give to them greater attention than to wild barbarians, endeavouring to come into contact and parley with its magistrates and subjects, letting them know that you have landed there for the sake of commerce, showing them specimens of the commodities which you have taken on board for the purpose . . . closely observing what things they set store by and are most inclined to; especially trying to find out what commodities their country yields, likewise inquiring after gold and silver, whether the latter are by them held in high esteem; making them believe that you are by no means eager for precious metals, so as to leave them ignorant of the value of the same; and if they should offer you gold or silver in exchange for your articles, you will pretend to hold the same in slight regard, showing them copper, pewter, or lead, and giving them an impression as if the minerals last mentioned were by us set greater value on.' Apart from this legitimate revaluing of the valuable, no injury was to be done to nations discovered. If profitable regions were found, the Company would not be ungrateful to all well-behaved men taking part in the expedition. There was a suitable peroration: 'Concluding these instructions, we cordially wish you the blessing of the Ruler of all things, praying that He may in His mercy endow you with manly courage in the execution of the intended discovery, and may grant you a safe return, to the page 16increase of His glory, the greater reputation of our country, the benefit of the company's service, and your own immortal honour'. An afterthought directed Tasman to take possession of all continents or islands which he should discover, touch at, and set foot on. In this regard his voyage was not highly successful.
But that voyage did make known the existence of New Zealand, and it resulted at least in a name. Tasman sailed from Batavia on 14 August, called at Mauritius, carried out repairs; thence on 8 October made south. By 6 November the ships were in 49° S., but the weather was stormy and intensely cold, and it was resolved on Visscher's advice to go back to 44° and turn east. This course brought them towards the end of the month to Tasmania—Anthony van Diemens Landt—where there were signs of both men and giants, and where a post with a flag on it was planted 'as a memorial to those who shall come after us'. On 4 December Tasman left his anchorage to look for a better watering-place farther north. But the coast fell off to the north-west, the wind was dead against him, and next day the council resolved to sail east again as far as the longitude of the 'Salomonis islands'. For five days the weather varied from calm to squalls, though with the wind generally favourable; two days of good weather followed; then, on 13 December, while Tasman sailed a course east by north, towards noon land was seen—'a large land, uplifted high'—about sixty miles away. Tasman's position he reckoned as latitude 42° 10', longitude 188° 28' east of Teneriffe; the land was the west coast of our South Island between Hokitika and Okarito, or rather the mountains that lay so close to the coast. Tasman changed his course to the south-east and made straight for the land, and a council held in the afternoon decided to touch on it as quickly as possible, for there was a great sea running and the swell, if the weather freshened, might be dangerous. Next day, from eight miles away, the height of the land was very apparent, though thick clouds hid the summits of the mountains. The ships coasted along northwards, so close that the line of surf could be seen breaking on the shore. As evening came on, a low point appeared—Cape Foulwind—towards which they drifted in a calm, till, early next morning, a stream anchor was run out. By noon on the 15th they had weathered the cape, called on Tasman's chart Clyppygen hoeck—Rocky corner—and the page 17land trending north-north-east, sailed due north out from the Karamea Bight. No human beings were seen, no boats, nor even smoke; the country seemed completely desolate. For most of the 16th they drifted in a calm near Cape Farewell; at sunset a south-west breeze sprang up, the land fell away abruptly, and the council was convened to decide what course to follow. They kept close to the coast; and at sunrise next morning smoke at last was seen, about four miles away, blowing off the land. The shore here was of low-lying sand-dunes; at midnight of the 17th they anchored in a calm, outside a sandspit beyond which there was a large open bay. Next morning it was resolved to try to find a harbour and land, and as the ships sailed on, the shallop and cockboat were sent ahead with Visscher and other officers to choose an anchorage. At sunset it fell calm again, and Tasman anchored in fifteen fathoms. A number of lights were seen, and four canoes close inshore; two of these came towards the ships, at which the boats returned on board without landing. The two canoes approaching nearer, the men in them began to call out in a 'rough, loud voice', but in no language known to the Dutch; nor would they come nearer than a stone's throw in answer to Dutch cries, but blew on an instrument which sounded like a Moorish trumpet. In reply a sailor on board the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen's second mate rendered a few tunes on the Dutch trumpet; and this joint concert was kept up till at darkness the visitors departed. The Dutch were cautious; double watches were kept, muskets, pikes and cutlasses were in readiness, and the guns on the top deck were fired and re-loaded.
Next day, 19 December, was one decisive for Tasman's expedition. Early in the morning a canoe with thirteen natives in it paddled out to the ships, again to within a stone's throw. These seventeenth-century Maoris were of ordinary height, strongly-built, in colour 'between brown and yellow', their hair black, tied in a thick tuft on top of the head and stuck with a large white feather. They had a double canoe—'two long narrow praus joined together, over which a number of planks or seating of a kind had been laid, in such a way that above the water one can see underneath the boat. Their paddles were a little over a fathom in length, narrow and pointed at the end.' Some wore mats, others a 'cotton' stuff, most were naked page 18to the waist. They shouted loudly as on the night before, but in spite of signs, and the display of white linen and knives, they refused to come nearer and finally returned to the beach. Meanwhile, the officers of the Zeehaen came on board the Heemskerck to a council, which decided to go as near inshore as possible, since the anchorage was good, and the savages seemed friendly. Shortly after this decision, before anything else had been done, seven canoes moved out from the shore, one of which paddled round behind the Zeehaen while another came quite near to the flagship, the occupants now and then exchanging shouts. A further display of trade goods had no effect. Gerrit Janszoon, the skipper of the Zeehaen, now sent his quartermaster with six men back to his ship, in her cockboat, with orders that if the savages offered to come on board, not too many should be allowed up at once, and that great caution should be used. Tasman's own journal may now speak:
'Just as the cockboat from the Zeehaen put off again, those who were lying in front of us, between the two ships, began to paddle towards it so furiously that when they were about halfway, slightly more on the side of our ship, they struck the Zeehaen's cockboat alongside with their stem, so that it lurched tremendously. Thereupon the foremost one in the villains' boat, with a long blunt pike, thrust the quartermaster Cornelis Joppen in the neck several times, so violently that he could not but fall overboard. Upon this the others attacked with short, thick, wooden clubs (which we at first thought to be heavy blunt parangs1) and their paddles, overwhelming the cockboat, in which fray three of the Zeehaen's men were left dead and a fourth, owing to the heavy blows, was mortally wounded. The quartermaster and two sailors swam towards our ship and we sent our shallop to meet them, into which they got alive. After this monstrous happening and detestable affair the murderers let the cockboat drift, having taken one of the dead in their canoe and drowned another.' So died Jan Tyssen, far from his native Oue-ven; Tobias Pietersz, of Delft; Jan Isbrantsz; and the fourth man nameless, like other common sailors dead on great voyages.
1 Malay: a kind of heavy chopping-knife. They were the Maori patu-patu.
1 i.e. the Staten Landt of Schouten and Le Maire.
But Tasman was not to sail east to 220°. The wind pushed him north-east, to discover the Tongan islands in the last ten days of January, whence, changing course, early in February he discovered also Fiji, and then sailed right round the north of the 'Salomonis Islands' without sighting them, and so to the roadstead at Batavia on 14 June 1643. From the point of view of seamanship his voyage had been an extremely skilful one. He had had long periods of very bad weather, a little good as well as much bad luck: to return with both ships and the loss of only ten men through sickness, added to the four killed in New Zealand, was in itself, for his day, a feat remarkable enough. The officers were granted two months' pay, the seamen one month's, in cash; so it is to be presumed that the Council at Batavia recognized that something worthy of note had been done. But it was far from satisfied. Tasman and Visscher in their journals had given a good many details. 'We have, however,' wrote the Council to the Company at home, 'observed that the said commander has been somewhat remiss in investigating the page 22situation, conformation, and nature of the lands discovered and of the natives inhabiting the same, and as regards the main point [i.e. the discovery of the South Land] has left everything to be more closely inquired into by more industrious successors. . . . Now, that . . . there really is a passage to Chili and Peru, as the discoverers stoutly affirm, we are not prepared to take for granted, since, if they had run a few more degrees to the south they might not unlikely have come upon land again, perhaps even upon the Staten Land (thus named by them) which they had left south of them, and which may possibly extend as far as Le Maire Strait, or may be even many more miles to eastward. All this is mere guesswork, and nothing positive can be laid down respecting unknown matters.' No treasures or matters of profit had been found; the voyage in fact had been disappointing. It was proposed to arrange another expedition over the same course, to Chile, to despoil the Spaniards and 'obtain some good booty in the South Sea'. The fighting in the East Indies against the Portuguese forbade that. Tasman and Visscher coasted the northern seaboard of Australia in 1644; but their East India Company sent out no further great voyages of exploration; such voyages did not pay; gold-mines were best found in the trade of the eastern seas; Terra australis incognita could wait. Tasman returned to general service; had a bout of drinking and fell into disgrace; was restored to honour; became a landholder in Batavia; and there died in 1659, leaving a sum of money to the poor of his native village. Of Visscher after 1644 we know nothing.
New Zealand played but a small part in Tasman's life, as he played but a small part in its history. It was much less pleasing to him than the warm and amiable Tonga. We could wish that he had actually landed in the country and spent there as many weeks as he spent days on its coasts—a bare twenty-three. He certainly learned little of the people, and that little was bad. The reason for the attack is not beyond conjecture, but we can conjecture only. The Maori did not commonly welcome strangers, and these strangers, coming with great vessels in summer, the time of war-parties, might well by him have been reckoned hostile. It was the Ngati Tumatakokiri tribe that afflicted Tasman—a tribe conquered, slaughtered or reduced to slavery in the eighteenth century—and only a remnant page 23survived to the following century to pass on the tradition of that ancient affray. It is difficult also to understand, though it is not unpleasant to record, the forbearance of the Dutch in Murderers' Bay; such an assault by a savage people would normally in the seventeenth century have provoked a massacre in return, and the Dutch were not gentler than others in their handling of native peoples. But it is to be doubted whether the Maoris, even if more peaceable, would have much interested Tasman; they were not civilized, they had no gold, they had nothing to offer the East India Company in trade. Geographically, one may regret that Cook Strait defeated him; yet, while his chart showed a bay, it was not a bay dogmatically. When in doubt, Tasman drew bays. Visscher's chart left an eastern opening. The possibility of a passage there to Chile and the despoiling of the Spaniard was not ruled out. Staten Landt the country certainly was not; Hendrik Brouwer in 1643 proved that the original Staten Landt was an island, and within a very few years the name of Nova zeelandia had been given to this land on the opposite side of the ocean. By whom, we do not know. Why, again we can only conjecture. There was already a Nova Hollandia: would it not be logical, and fair, and allay certain jealousies, to call the later discovery after Holland's rival, the island province fronting on the unquiet waters of the North Sea? Nieuw Zeeland it was to be. A ragged line, Willem Blaeu put it on to the large terrestrial globe he published about 1648; and thereafter, though irregularly, it figured in the more comprehensive atlases that taught geography to Europe. The name is Dutch; the Three Kings is Dutch; Cape Maria van Diemen, that northern point, preserves the memory of Anthony van Diemen's wife less than that of Tasman himself; and it is the Tasman Sea that now beats remorselessly in great billows on the western coast first sighted by European eyes three centuries ago. Tasman is not inadequately remembered. One may remember also Frans Jacobszoon Visscher and other men, who received as crown of their service the sum of two months', or one month's, pay, in cash, and put to sea again.