Born in 1603 in the Dutch province of Groningen, Abel Tasman entered the service of the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (Dutch East India Company). By the mid-1630s Tasman was serving as a mate on a trading ship out of Batavia (modern day Jakarta). In 1634 he became master of the Mocha, a small trading ship, and served as second in command on a mission of exploration of the North Pacific.

After a series of journeys to various locations on the Pacific coast of Asia, Tasman commanded a fleet sent to search for the “Unknown Southland and Eastland” believed to be in the South Atlantic. In August 1642 he set sail for Mauritius where he turned south-east for then little known Australia. In November he sighted the island that now bears his name, which he claimed for the Netherlands on 3rd December.

Tasman intended to turn north to explore the east coast of Australia, but strong winds took the fleet on an easterly heading. On 13th December the explorers sighted land: the north-west coast of the Southern Island of what is now known as New Zealand. While exploring the coast, the fleet had a number of encounters with the Maori including an attack on one of the Dutch ships, which goes some way to explaining why the fleet only made a brief landing on the 18th December.

The fleet continued to explore the islands before returning to Batavia via the Tongan and the Fiji islands. Tasman made another voyage of discovery in 1644 before becoming a senior official in Batavia. He continued to serve there until his death in October 1659, apart from a period of suspension as a result of him passing a death sentence on a man without trial.

Abel Janszoon Tasman’s Journal of his Discovery of Van Diemen’s Land and New Zealand in 1642 is available on the Project Gutenberg Australia site.