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  Go to the name "New Zealand"
The discovery of New Zealand
Abel Janszoon Tasman - Holland
1603 - 1659
The first European to discover New Zealand
Often, for pastime, mariners will ensnare
The albatross, that vast sea-bird who sweeps
On high companionable pinion where
Their vessel glides upon the bitter deeps.

      "The Albatross" - Charles Baudelaire
"Towards noon we saw a large high lying land, bearing south-east of us"
Abel Janszoon Tasman

Abel Janszoon Tasman was born in the village of Lutjegast, in today's province of Groningen in the Netherlands, in 1603. Little is known of Tasman's early life, and no portraits of him exist.

In 1632 he married Jannetje Tjaerts. He was already a widower at the time, and was recorded as being an ordinary sailor - "vaerentgesel" - and that he lived in a street in Amsterdam called Teerketelsteeg.

In 1633 Tasman signed up with the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC). The East India Company was managed by a board of seventeen - "de Heeren XVII" - the Lords Seventeen - and was appointed by Chambers in the principal trading towns. Eight Chambers were situated in Amsterdam, and four Chambers were in Zealand, a maritime province of the Netherlands.

On signing up with the Company, Tasman left for the East to fulfil a three year contract.

In 1638, he left the Netherlands for Batavia, (today's Djakarta, Indonesia) in command of the ship "Engel", this time on a ten year contract. His wife accompanied him. Batavia had grown to be a rich city, and here, from this good vantage point in the East Indies, the East India Company was successful and powerful - not lacking in wealth, men or ships.

On 13th August 1642 Tasman received instructions to find the mysterious and supposedly rich Southern Continent, which had been eluding and tempting explorers for centuries. This unknown land, Terra Australis Incognita, was said to stretch across the Pacific. Tasman's instructions were to take possession of all continents and islands discovered and set foot on in the course of his voyage "on behalf of their High Mightinesses the States-General of the United Provinces".

Two ships were prepared for the voyage : the "Zeehaen", a flute, (a long, narrow ship - like a flute - with a rounded stern and three masts) of 100 tons carrying 50 men, and the "Heemskerck", the flagship, a small warship of around 60 tons and carrying 60 men. The celebrated pilot, hydrographer and surveyor, Frans (Franchoys) Jacobszoon Visscher accompanied Tasman.

On 13th December 1642, the coast of New Zealand came into view, and Tasman noted in his journal "groot hooch verheven landt" (a large land, uplifted high). Tasman named this land "Staten Landt", which refers to the "Land of the (Dutch) States-General." The area of New Zealand which Tasman sighted was in the vicinity of the coast between modern Hokitika and Okarito, on the west coast of the South Island.

Tasman thought, but was not sure, that he may have discovered the western edge of the land discovered in the South Atlantic Ocean in 1616 by his fellow countrymen, Willem Schouten and Isaac Le Maire. (Le Maire Strait, or Estrecho de la Maire, is situated to the south of Chile, between Terra des Fuego and Estados.) At the time, this was believed to have been part of the northern tip of the Southern Continent.

Tasman noted this in his journal : "To this land we have given the name of Staten Landt, in honour of Their High Mightinesses the States-General, since it could be quite possible that this land was connected with State Landt, although this is not certain. This land looks like being a very beautiful land and we trust that this is the mainland coast of the unknown south land".

(Only a matter of months afterwards, it was proven by Hendrik Brouwer that Tasman's Staten Landt was not connected in any way to State Landt)


At sunset on the 18th December, the Dutch anchored off the coast of Taitapu Bay (now Golden Bay) . Here they decided to try to locate a good harbour, and then to make an attempt to go ashore. It was necessary to find fresh drinking water. A cockboat and a pinnace (a small, fast sailing Schooner) were sent to survey the area.

(click here for a map (25k) showing the position of Golden Bay)

The two boats returned with their report, and shortly after, as night fell, lights were seen onshore. Two canoes appeared, and the inhabitants began blowing what appeared to the Dutch as a "Moorish" instrument. The canoe people called out to the Dutch, but communication was impossible as neither the Dutch nor the canoe people could understand each other. After a while, the two canoes paddled away.

The following morning, another canoe appeared, and once again the natives called out to the Dutch. Communication remained impossible. Tasman noted that the men in the canoes "had black hair tied together right on top of their heads, in the way and fashion the Japanese have it at the back of the head, but their hair was longer and thicker. On the tuft, they had a large, thick, white feather. They were naked from shoulder to waist".

The Dutch tried to tempt the Māori to come on board, without success. As the group of Māori appeared to be friendly, and after a council on board the Heemskerck with the officers of the Zeehaen, the Dutch decided to sail further in, and anchor as close to the shore as possible. In the meantime seven more native canoes appeared, some approaching to within a stone's throw of the ships.

In order to avoid the possibility of too many natives attempting to board the ships, the skipper of the Zeehaen, who had been convening on board the Hemmskerck, sent a cockboat back to the Zeehaen with a message warning his junior officers to be on their guard.

However, on returning to the Hemmskerck after delivering the message, one of the native canoes suddenly paddled swiftly and directly at the Dutch cockboat and rammed it, killing three sailors and mortally wounding a fourth. Three other sailors were able to swim towards the Hemmskerck, to be plucked from the sea and to safety. The natives made off with one dead body, threw another into the sea, and set the cockboat adrift, which was recuperated by the Dutch.

The Dutch fired on the swiftly retreating Māori, but the canoes were already near the shore and out of firing range. The Dutch ships immediately weighed anchor and set sail. By this time, twenty-two native canoes were massed on the shoreline, and 11 more, "crowded with people", were swiftly paddling towards the Dutch ships. Tasman waited until the canoes were close, before firing only one or two shots at relatively close range. One Māori, standing in a canoe, was hit. This immediately caused the canoes to turn and return rapidly to the shore.

Because of this incident, Tasman named the bay "Moordenaers Baij" - Murderer's Bay.

After this unhappy first encounter, the Dutch ships continued in a northerly direction, passing by and naming the Three Kings Islands, (in honour of the biblical Three Wise Men, as Tasman anchored here on Twelfth Night Eve) at the northern tip of the North Island, where the South Pacific Sea and the Tasman sea meet.

Tasman named the northwest tip of the North Island of New Zealand Cape Marie van Diemen, after Antony van Diemen's wife, Governor General of Batavia, before heading away, not ever having had the chance to set foot onshore in New Zealand. He returned to Batavia on 14th June 1643.

A further voyage was planned for October 1643, but had to be cancelled owing to a renewed outbreak of hostilities with the Portugese.

Tasman died in 1659, apparently leaving 25 guilders to the poor of his village. His property was divided between his wife Jannetje and Claesgen, his daughter by his first marriage.

From the end of the 1600's onwards the Dutch began to lose their supremacy at sea. France and England became the new sea powers. However Dutch charters were still consulted by other European explorers, as the Dutch were reputed to have established the best maritime charters in the world at that time.

The name "New Zealand"

There were actually two New Zealand's at first.

The very first time the name "New Zealand" appeared in history was in 1606, when the Dutch ship "Duyfken" set off on a search for gold and riches, rumoured to be somewhere in the Spice Islands region. During the excursion, the Captain of the Duyfken, Captain Willem Jansz, discovered an island off the coast of New Guinea, which he named "Nieu Zelandt."

The name "Nieu Zelandt" remained on maps until at least 1792.


The second New Zealand

Once it was discovered that the "Staten Landt" of Tasman was not part of State Landt, the name Nova Zeelandia, or Nieuw Zeeland became attributed to this country within the decade. The name Zelandia, or Zeeland, appeared on maps for the first time around 1645.

There appear to be no records which explain precisely how New Zealand received its name. One theory is the possible link between New Zealand and Hollandia Nova, the original name given to Australia. The two Dutch provinces of Holland and Zeelandt were separated by sea, the same as Hollandia Nova (Australia) and Zelandia Nova (New Zealand).

* 1st May 2002 : It would appear that New Zealand was named after the second most important chamber of the Dutch East India Company. Amsterdam had 8 representatives, and Midland 4 - of which Zeeland. Thanks to Brian Hooker for this information.

The province of Zeeland is located in the south-west of Holland. It consists of a number of islands, hence the name of "Sea-land". It includes a strip which borders Belgium. The capital of Zeeland is Middelburg.

Denmark's largest island is also called Zealand (in Danish: Sjælland)

Main source of research :
"Abel Janszoon Tasman & the discovery of New Zealand" - Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington (NZ)
"The Exploration of the Pacific" - J. C. Beaglehole

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Related Links
Organisation and history of the Dutch East India Company (V.O.C.)
A note on the two New Zealands from
Australia on the Map



 Please be aware that this website is a personal homepage. It would therefore be wise to cross check information which I have presented here. A list of many official New Zealand history sites may be found within my Links section.