Abel Tasman (1603-1659) was the commander of the two ships Zeehaen and Heemskerck. He was sent out to chart the unknown Southland, to discover its natural resources and establish new trade connections with the inhabitants. His expedition was supposed to rival that of Christopher Columbus 150 years earlier. But while Columbus discovered a continent where he thought there was only water, Abel Tasman found mainly water where his masters had hoped he would find land.
Tasman joined the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1633. Like many of the people employed by the VOC, he came from a simple farming background. His hometown was Lutjegast, a small village in the north of the Netherlands. In this region it was not uncommon for farmers to work at sea in summer, when times were slow. Tasman took his vocation seriously and studied navigation in his spare time. Once he joined the VOC he moved quickly up the ranks and made it to skipper. In 1636, he decided to move with his wife and daughter to Batavia (Indonesia). In 1639 he would join an expedition searching for the mythical gold and silver islands east of Japan.
Find out more about Tasman's explorations on this website or visit the exhibition 'Welcome Aboard' that will be touring New Zealand starting in December. The interactive map below shows Tasman's journey in combination with the pages in his journal (text and maps). It was created by Tasman expert Dave Horry.