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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 4, May 1970



The first white visitor to D'Urville Island was, as far as we know, the explorer Abel Tasman. He has left an account of his visit in his Journal, and another source of information is the log kept by a sailor on "Heemskerck".

On December 19th, 1642, Tasman's men had had an encounter with Maoris in Golden Bay, and had accordingly made haste to leave "this murderous spot". The two ships, "Heemskerck" and "Zeehaen", sailed to the north-east, and by daylight on the twentieth found themselves in the great curve which Tasman named "Zeehaen's Bocht", bounded on the north by the sweep of land from Mount Egmont to Cook Strait, and in the south by the hilly coast of the South Island. During the night the vessels had passed Stephens Island and land was visible on all sides. In an endeavour to leave this enclosed water (for Tasman missed the entrance to Cook Strait, though suspecting its presence) the ships tacked to the north, and sailed on, until, on the morning of December 21st, he again saw the coastline near the Patea river. His next southern tack brought him in sight of "a round, high islet", later to be named Stephen's Island, lying just to the north of D'Urville Island.

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On the 21st December Tasman ran under the island shore, as the wind freshened, and with Stephen's Island to the N.N.W., Tasman cast anchor. The ships remained in this anchorage until December 26th, and as the weather was very unsettled, everyone had an uncomfortable time.

Tasman was not the sole master of the expedition, but had to abide by the decision of a council composed of the officers of both ships. When he wished to spend more time in seeking another outlet to "Zeehaen's Bocht", it was necessary for him to call this council together and place his views before it. On December 24th he hoisted a white flag, signalling the officers of "Zeehaen" to come aboard "Heemskerck". He then endeavoured to persuade the Council to search in the south-east for the passage which he felt sure existed. He writes:

"We then represented to them (the officers of "Zeehaen") that since the tide was running from the south-east there was likely to be a passage through, so that it would be best, as soon as wind and weather would permit, to investigate this point, and see if we could find fresh water there."

It is worth noting here that during his first expedition to New Zealand, Captain Cook anchored only a mile or so from Tasman's anchorage, and took on board both wood and water.

December 25th, 1642, is specially worthy of note because it was the first Christmas Day ever celebrated in New Zealand. Tasman's Journal does not record any particular celebration, but the sailor's Journal gives a more detailed entry. According to this log the day was grey, with some drizzling rain. At noon the master of "Zeehaen" came on board "Heemskerck", the Commander's guest for Christmas dinner. The crew was not forgotten; Tasman ordered two pigs killed for their dinner, and besides the ordinary ration an extra tankard of wine was ordered for each mess, "as it was the time of the fair". A different hand noted alongside the sailor's entry, "Have the merchant from "Zeehaen" on board as a guest. Made merry". So these sailors, far from home, tossing in an unsatisfactory anchorage, on a grey drizzly day, still had a merry Christmas.

On the 26th December, at dawn, the wind being favourable, the two ships sailed away to the north, and the Island saw no more of Abel Tasman.