This ornate map is one of the most significant in the history of world exploration. It is one of the few original records of the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman’s (1603-59) voyages of discovery around the Pacific and Indian oceans during which Tasmania, New Zealand, Tonga and the Fiji Islands were discovered. This map remains the fullest first-hand account of Tasman’s route in 1642-4 and is based upon his writings and observations.
On the 14th August, 1642 Tasman set off from the Dutch colony of Batavia with the aim of searching for the legendary Terra Australis Incognita, “The Unknown South Land” that supposedly lay to the east of Australia and west of Cape Horn. The Dutch East India Company (founded in 1602) had previously explored parts of the west coast of Australia but no one knew whether this connected to the fabled southern continent that supposedly lay south of the Pacific Ocean. Tasman was charged with looking for this southern land with the hope of turning myth into fact and finding profitable trading opportunities for the Company.
Over a period of ten months Tasman reached about 49˚S before turning north to discover Tasmania, and subsequently New Zealand. By the time he sailed away from New Zealand in early January 1643, he had mapped only a ‘ragged line’ and was unable to confirm whether this was the coast of the ‘great southern continent’. He returned to Batavia via Tonga and the Fiji Islands, arriving on 15th June 1643. As far as Tasman’s employers were concerned the voyage had been a disappointment as it resulted in no commercial profit. In 1644, Tasman was sent out once more on a shorter voyage to see if there was a quicker route to the Pacific from New Holland, mapping the north coast of Australia on the way. Unfortunately, he failed to find the passage that separates Papua New Guinea from Australia: the Torres Strait.
Tasman had greatly extended the knowledge of the south-west Pacific yet the Dutch East India Company remained unimpressed. Tasman had failed to discover either profitable new trading areas or faster sailing routes. For geographers though Tasman’s trip was of great value, proving that there was no connection between Australia and an Antarctic continent. The legendary southern land lay further south than anyone had expected.
Currently held by the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Online images available via the State Library of NSW at: