On land

A Deadly Misunderstanding

This illustration depicts the violent encounter between the Dutch and the Māori. It was a classical example of intercultural miscommunication. A step by step report.


A Deadly Misunderstanding

Illustration of the encounter with the Maori based on the drawings on board


The Dutch were trying to 'mirror' the behaviour of the Maori warriors. They were, in Tasman’s words, blowing an 'instrument that sounded like a Moors’ trumpet'. The Dutch interpreted it as a greeting and blew their own trumpets in response. However, in Maori custom when another party trumpets back it means they are answering a challenge to fight. Ngati Tumatakokiri were used to other tribes trying to take their land and thought Abel Tasman and his ships had come to do the same. After the ritual, the Southlanders thought it fair game to attack at first opportunity. 

 A putatara, the instrument the Maori likely used to challenge the Tasman expedition 

A putatara, the instrument the Maori likely used to challenge the Tasman expedition 

19 December

From Tasman's Journal:

"Early in the morning a boat manned with 13 natives approached to about a stone's cast from our ships; they called out several times but we did not understand them, their speech not bearing any resemblance to the vocabulary given us by the Honourable Governor-General and Councillors (...) As far as we could observe these people were of ordinary height; they had rough voices and strong bones, the colour of their skin being brown and yellow; they wore tufts of black hair right upon the top of their heads, tied fast in the manner of the Japanese at the back of their heads, but somewhat longer and thicker, and surmounted by a large, thick white feather. "​

Their boats

From Tasman's Journal: "Their boats consisted of two long narrow prows side by side, over which a number of planks or other seats were placed in such a way that those above can look through the water underneath the vessel: their paddles are upwards of a fathom in length, narrow and pointed at the end; with these vessels they could make considerable speed. For clothing, as it seemed to us, some of them wore mats, others cotton stuffs; almost all of them were naked from the shoulders to the waist. We repeatedly made signs for them to come on board of us, showing them white linen and some knives that formed part of our cargo. They did not come nearer, however, but at last paddled back to shore."

 "B. The prows which came alongside of us"

"B. The prows which came alongside of us"

Tasman describes how, after they held council on board of the Heemskerck, quartermaster Cornelis Joppen was sent back to the Zeehaen on a small cock-boat (a 'prauwtje'. Meanwhile another seven waka have approached the Dutch, but remain at half a stones throw distance.

"While the cock-boat of the Zeehaan was paddling on its way to her those in the prow nearest to us called out to those who were lying behind the Zeehaan and waved their paddles to them, but we could not make out what they meant. Just as the cock-boat of the Zeehaan had put off from board again those in the prow before us, between the two ships, began to paddle so furiously towards it that, when they were about halfway slightly nearer to our ship, they struck the Zeehaan's cock-boat so violently alongside with the stem of their prow that it got a violent lurch."


Prow of Villains

From Tasman's Journal: "The foremost man in this prow of villains thrust the quartermaster Cornelis Joppen in the neck several times with a long, blunt pike. With so much force that he fell overboard. Upon this the other natives, with short thick clubs which we at first mistook for heavy blunt knives, and with their paddles, fell upon the men in the cock-boat and overcame them by main force, in which fray three of our men were killed and a fourth got mortally wounded through the heavy blows. The quartermaster and two sailors swam to our ship, whence we had sent our pinnace to pick them up, which they got into alive. After this outrageous and detestable crime the murderers sent the cock-boat adrift, having taken one of the dead bodies into their prow and thrown another into the sea.​ Ourselves and those on board the Zeehaan seeing this, diligently fired our muskets and guns and, although we did not hit any of them, the two prows made haste to the shore, where they were out of the reach of shot. With our fore upper-deck and bow guns we now fired several shots in the direction of their prows, but none of them took effect. "​

Tasman notes how as a result of the shooting, the South Landers withdraw, back to the shore, to be out of reach for the cannons. Skipper Ide Tjerksz Holman rows with a pinnace (and a well-armed crew) to the cock-boat of the Zeehaen, and "forthwith returned with it to our ships, having found in it one of the men killed and one mortally wounded. We now weighed anchor and set sail, since we could not hope to enter into any friendly relations with these people, or to be able to get water or refreshments here." 

Tasman describes how when they weighed their anchors, they saw 22 prows near the shore, of which 11 were 'swarming with people' were heading for the ships. "Having weighed anchor and being under sail, we saw 22 prows near the shore, of which eleven, swarming with people, were making for our ships. We kept quiet until some of the foremost were within reach of our guns, and then fired 1 or 2 shots from the gun-room with our pieces, without however doing them any harm; those on board the Zeehaan also fired, and in the largest prow hit a man who held a small white flag in his hand, and who fell down. We also heard the canister-shot strike the prows inside and outside, but could not make out what other damage it had done. As soon as they had got this volley they paddled back to shore with great speed, two of them hoisting a sort of tingang sails. They remained lying near the shore without visiting us any further." 


On a safe distance, Tasman calls back together the Ship's Council. He writes that they have learned to 'consider the inhabitants of this country as enemies' and they decide to follow the coast in an easterly direction, to see if they can find refreshments and drinking water. They baptize the place (which was called Mohua in Maori) 'Moordenaarsbaai' (Murderer's Bay). Tasman writes: 

"This is the second land which we have sailed along and discovered. In honour of their High Mightinesses the States-General we gave Staten Landt[3], since we deemed it quite possible that this land is part of the great Staten Land [discovered by Schouten and Le Maire], though this is not certain. This land seems to be a very fine country and we trust that this is the mainland coast of the unknown South land."

Tasman nor his crew would get a chance to discover the shores of the Statenland, but they will search for a passage to the Pacific Ocean (great South Sea) and later on follow the coast heading north.

 Continuing their journey, the Tasman expedition will see Maori warriors on the look out. They will not set foot on land in New Zealand. Illustration from the Tasman Journal, collection Dutch National Archives.

Continuing their journey, the Tasman expedition will see Maori warriors on the look out. They will not set foot on land in New Zealand. Illustration from the Tasman Journal, collection Dutch National Archives.