Identifying Abel Tasman's discoveries in Three Kings Islands
© This article was originally published in Archifacts April 2002 pp. 43-49. Copyright is held by the publisher of Archifacts - Archives and Records Association of New Zealand. Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of
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The purpose of this note is to discuss Abel Tasman's investigation of Three Kings Islands in 1643, and identify his discoveries with the aid of sketches and entries in the journal of his 1642-43 voyage, together with a modern map.
(Left-detail from Tasman's SAJ chart - click on the thumbnail - caption is included. )Tasman's
final fruitless attempt to obtain water in New Zealand occurred at Three Kings Islands and his observations provide the second description by Europeans of Maori.
Dutchman Abel Janszoon Tasman, European discoverer of part of the western littoral of New Zealand, reached the northernmost point of the west coast on 4 January 1643. The same day, Tasman sighted Three Kings Islands.
Tasman's journal for 3 January to 6 January records (in part):[ fn.1.
Tasman reckoned longitude from the Peak of Tenerife in the Canary Islands.]
[3 Jan.] In the morning we saw the land east by north from us about six miles distance
At noon we calculated our position as 35o 20' S, 190o
At noon the wind went round to the south-south-east and we then steered our course to the east-northeast in order to run alongside the coast again. In the evening we had the land to the north and east south-east of us.
[4 Jan.] In the morning we found ourselves near a point and had an island northwest by north from us
At our meeting [of the council] it was resolved between us to touch at the island to see if one cannot get there some fresh water, greens, etc. This point which we had east-north-east from us lies in latitude of 34O
30'S, and here the land falls off in the east
I decided with our friends of the Zeehaen to steer our course to the island before mentioned. About noon we sent our pinnace with the pilot-major together with the cockboat of the Zeehaen with the merchant Gilsemans to same island to investigate whether water is not to be got there. Towards the evening they came back
to the ship and reported
That having come close to the land they had taken good note of everything
They had entered a safe but small bay where they found good fresh water, which fell from a steep mountain in great abundance. But, that owing to the heavy surf on the shore it was dangerous;
They rowed further round the island seeking whether somewhere they could find some other appropriate places. On the island there appeared in various places on the highest mountains, about thirty to thirty-five persons. These people of tall stature as far as one could see from a distance were armed with staffs or clubs. They called out
in rough, very loud voices certain words, which our men could not understand. When walking they made mighty great steps or strides.
During the rowing round the island these people showed themselves; sometimes they appeared on top of the mountains from which our men concluded and so it may be inferred that they thus commonly as is their custom duly keep ready their spears, boats and small arms. A number of people the same or a few more than those who showed
themselves might inhabit the island since in rowing round our people saw nowhere any dwellings, cultivated or planted land except in the vicinity of the fresh water previously mentioned.
There, above on both sides of the flowing water, following the fashion of our fatherland, are everywhere square plots, green and pleasant looking. But as for the kind of vegetables planted this remained unknown to them
It is quite possible they have all their dwelling places about the said fresh water in this aforementioned bay. Our men had also seen two canoes lying and drawn up upon the shore; one was seaworthy, and the other broken. They noticed nowhere any other watercraft.
Our people and the pinnace having returned on board, we immediately did our best to come close to the shore, where in the evening we anchored a small swivel gunshot's from the land in forty fathoms, with a good bottom. We immediately made preparations to fetch water the next day from the same island.
[6 Jan.] Early in the morning I sent both boats, to wit, the Zeehaen's, and ours each provided with two stone pieces, six musketeers, and rowers armed with pikes and side arms. Our sloop with the pilot-major Francoys Jacobszoon and the skipper Gerrit Janszoon proceeded to the water-place with casks to fetch water.
While rowing towards the shore they saw in various places and heights, a tall man standing with a long staff like a pike, as it seemed keeping watch on our men. When they went past he called out very loudly to our people.
Having reached about half-way from the water place, between a certain point and another large, high rock or small island, they found the current going so strong against the wind that with the empty boats they had enough to do to hold their own. Therefore the pilot-major and Gerrit Janszoon skipper of the Zeehaen, consulted with the
others in order not to endanger thus the small craft and the men.
Observing that there was still a lengthy voyage ahead and neither people nor small craft could be risked by the expedition they therefore rowed back to the ships. Caution was doubly necessary because the huge sea was beating straight at the land towards the water place. Since the breeze began to freshen and I could indeed suppose they
could not have got to the island I had a signal given from our ship with the furled flag. As well we fired a cannon shot in token that they might return
Having come alongside our ship with the boats, the pilot-major reported that because of the dangerous wind, and because round the island it was full of hard rocks without a sand bottom, there was great danger of imperilling the men and getting the water casks broken to pieces. I immediately summoned the officers of the Zeehaen and the
under-mates to appear on the Heemskerck where I convened the council, which has resolved to weigh anchor immediately, ... [fn. 2. The extracts are a fresh rendition made by the present author.]
The views reproduced here (Click on the thumbnail - caption is included.), and other views in Tasman's Journal are
copies of original works now lost. It is reasonable to attribute the sketches done on the voyage to Isaac Gilsemans who sailed on the Zeehaen as supercargo; Gilsemans had been directed to sketch all the coasts which the expedition
(Figure 1.) encountered. [fn.3. See Gόnter Schilder, Australia unveiled (Amsterdam: TOT, 1976), p.160 citing documents held in the Algemeen Rijksarchief.]
And it is known that he had some knowledge of drawing.
[fn. 4. See Andrew Sharp, The voyages of Abel Janszoon Tasman (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968), p. 29 citing J. E. Heeres "Abel Janszoon Tasman His Life and Labours" in, Abel Janszoon Tasman's Journal (Amsterdam,
1898), pp. 106-7.] Gilsemans was a member of the Breede Raad (large council) of the expedition, of which Tasman was chairman. [fn. 5. See Schilder Australia unveiled, p. 160.]
Another clue that favours Gilsemans as the author is the fact that the extract above for 5 January in Tasman's journal mentions he was a member of the expedition that approached the island seeking water and thus had a close up view of
the people on the island.
Translations of the Dutch legends are provided in Appendix A below.
A comparison of the views illustrated in figure 1 with modern maps of the Three Kings area, as illustrated in figures 2 and 3 (to follow), and reference to the ships' track in the detail of the State Archives Journal manuscript chart in figure 4 (click on the thumbnail), indicates that the upper view was sketched as the Heemskerck
approached the islands before steering west to anchor in North West Bay. Probably the upper view includes West Island, Princes Islands, South West Island, Great Island (Manawa Tawhi), Farmer Rocks, North East Island and other unnamed islets. The lower view was sketched either on 5 or 6 January 1643 while the Heemskerck was anchored off
North West Bay, Great Island. This view, too, seems to include all of the islands mentioned above, if we accept that the islands in the foreground have been brought forward from the right-hand side of the sketch, possibly by the copyist. The large figures with clubs are referred to in Tasman's Journal (extract above): "
of tall stature
[they] made mighty large great steps
The waterfall mentioned is part of Tasman Stream and still flows into Tasman Bay on the eastern side of Great Island.
The views illustrated in figure 1 or variants are found as engravings in a number of early published works. [fn. 6. Some details of various engravings are given in E. H. McCormick Tasman and New Zealand, Wellington: Govt. Printer, 1959.]
Titles and legends in figure 1 with translations:
[upper:] Aldus Verthoont het drie Coningen Eijlandt als ghij het Noord West 4 Mijlen Van u hebt.
(Thus Appears the three Kings Island when you have it North West 4 Miles From you.)
[lower:] Aldus Verthoont hem t'drie Coningen Eijlandt als ghijder ande Noort West Zijnde op 40 vademen ten anckert legcht dit Eylandthebben bij de naem / gegeven Van drie Coninghen Eijlandt op dat Wij al daer op drie Coningen auont ten ancker gecomen Zijn end op drie coningen dach Weder Van daen t zeijlt zijn gegaen.
(Thus Appears the three Kings Island when you Being to the North West lie at anchor in 40 Fathoms to this Island [we] have given the name of three Kings Island because We came to anchor there on three Kings eve and on three kings day Sailed Again From it.)
Manuscript details (Figure 1).
Unsigned, undated, manuscript; ink and some colour on paper; extends over a double-page. Approximately 355 x 440 mm. Bound in with the State Archives copy of Abel Tasman's journal. Location: Algemeen Rijksarchief, The Hague, The Netherlands. (Aanwinst.en 1867-A III, nr.129A).
Manuscript details (Figure 4).
(detail from) Staete Landt dit is Beseijlt ende Ondeckt met de Scheepen Heemskerck ende Zeehaen onder het Commando vanden E Abel Tasman Inden Jaere 1642 Den 13 Dexember.
Unsigned ink and colour; 455 x 350 mm. Bound in with the State Archives copy of Abel Tasman's journal. Location: Algemeen Rijksarchief, The Hague, The Netherlands.
References and footnotes - repeated from above
1. Tasman reckoned longitude from the Peak of Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
2. The extracts are a fresh rendition made by the present author.
3. See Gόnter Schilder, Australia unveiled (Amsterdam: TOT, 1976), p.160 citing documents held in the Algemeen Rijksarchief.
4. See Andrew Sharp, The voyages of Abel Janszoon Tasman (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968), p. 29 citing J. E. Heeres "Abel Janszoon Tasman His Life and Labours" in, Abel Janszoon Tasman's Journal (Amsterdam, 1898), pp. 106-7.
5. See Schilder Australia unveiled, p. 160.
6. Some details of various engravings are given in E. H. McCormick Tasman and New Zealand (Wellington: Govt. Printer, 1959).
[Captions for illustrations]
Figure 1. Sketches of Three Kings Islands attributed to Isaac Gilsemans, January 1643; bound in with the State Archives Journal of Abel Janszoon Tasman's voyage of 1642-43. Translations of the legends are given in Appendix A.
- Courtesy Algemeen Rijksarchief, The Hague.
Figure 2. Detail from a modern chart of Three Kings Islands.
- Courtesy Land Information New Zealand.
Figure 3. Detail from a modern chart showing Manawa Tawhi. Tasman Bay identifies the area of the waterfall mentioned in Tasman's journal entry for 5 January 1643.
- Courtesy Land Information New Zealand.
Figure 4. Detail from the chart of part of New Zealand bound in with the State Archives Journal of Abel Janszoon Tasman's voyage of 1642-43. The track of Tasman's ships and the anchorage off Three Kings Islands are shown.
- Courtesy Algemeen Rijksarchief, The Hague.
NB. Three Kings Islands are now a Nature Reserve managed by the New Zealand Department of Conservation. Entry is by permit only.
The author is indebted to Nicky Syddall, Kaitaia for valued comments. Nicky is familiar with the islands.