On land , Journaal

Do giants live here?

On 2 December 1642 a small group of Dutchmen were the first Europeans to set foot on land in Tasmania. Read their report below.

Do giants live here?

Tasmanian woman with child by Nicolas-Martin Petit, 1802 - Collection Muséum d'histoire naturelle, Le Havre

On the 1st of December 1642, over a week since they had first seen the coast of 'Van Diemens Land', they found a safe place to anchor in what is now called Blackman's Bay.

In the morning navigator Frans Visscher would go ashore to search for provisions (fresh water, refreshments, timber and the like). They would hear music, see traces of people, but didn't meet a living soul. From Visscher's report: 


That they had rowed more than a mile around, said Visscher, where they found high but level land with vegetation (not cultivated, but growing by God and nature), abundance of excellent timber and a small stream. (…) That they had heard certain human sounds, also music — resembling that of a trumpet or a small gong — not far away it seemed, but they had seen nobody.

That they have seen two trees (…) in which steps were cut with flint axes (…) in order to climb up and rob the birds’ nests. Each step measured 5 feet from the other, so that they presumed that the people here must be very tall or that they must by some device know how to climb the said trees.

 This engraving from 1881 demonstrates the climbing technique with rope and hatchet that puzzled the Dutch so.

This engraving from 1881 demonstrates the climbing technique with rope and hatchet that puzzled the Dutch so.

Tasman writes: 
A little before our boats returned, we saw on the land occasionally a thick smoke rising up (…) so that we presumed that our men did this as a signal, because they were so long coming back.
But the reconnaissance group had not lit any fires. They said that they as well, 
at various times and places in the wood had also seen some smoke, so that there are here without any doubt men who must be of extraordinary stature.


It would take until 1772 before the next Europeans would come to Tasmania. This was a French expedition, lead by Nicolas Thomas Marion-Dufresne, but they would quickly head to New Zealand. Other British and French explorers followed. The first known British contact with the Aboriginal Tasmanians was on Bruny Island by Captain Cook in 1777.  During the French Baudin expedition in 1800 the explorers took more time to get to know the inhabitants of Tasmania (see illustrations on this page).

The arrival of European settlers would have dramatic consequences for the original inhabitants of Tasmania, the Palawa. Within a century a population of an estimated 5000 people would be nearly annihilated, by a combination of disease and a war (see Black War/Tasmanian War) that several historians see as one of the earliest recorded modern genocides. In 1876 the last full-blooded Tasmanian died.

However, some thousands of people living in Tasmania describe themselves as Aboriginal Tasmanians.  Many of these modern day Palawa trace their descent from the 19th century sealer communities of Bass Strait (in the 19th century Tasmanian Aboriginal women and children were in many reported cases abducted or sold to sealers, while some also were living together out of free will).

The TMAG museum in Hobart is home to an impressive permanent exhibition on the Palawa. Please watch this video for a virtual tour.

Meer weten over de oorspronkelijke bewoners van Tasmanië: