It was on this day in 1642 that Abel Tasman discovered the island that bears his name. Tasman is an explorer that I feel sorry for. He is not remembered as a ‘great’ explorer like Captain Cook. In his own lifetime his employers, the Dutch East India Company, expressed their disappointment with his findings. They thought that a more diligent explorer might have made a better fist of mapping and exploring the territories that he found.
On his first voyage of discovery he sailed right around Australia, and managed to miss it! Quite a feat.
When you see his track in 1642 it does seem very much like a sail by and not a discovery trip. And when he did hit Tasmania, was he not curious to see how far north he could map the land? But bear in mind the sailing technology of the time! He was doing his best with what he had. It was a huge task for them to land at all in Tasmania. One of his crew had to swim to shore in a storm to plant a flag. He tried to sail north but was blown away by the weather. Even today the Bass Strait has a bit of a reputation with sailors.
He found New Zealand and he did not discover the Cook Straight which divides the islands, he thought it was a long inlet. But then he thought that he was on the west coast of South America. Remember that the charts were not very accurate in those days. Also, they were under constant attack by the Maori on the coast of New Zealand, and had to use their cannon more than once to defend themselves.
The East India Company were not interested in maps. They were looking for trade goods to bring back to Europe or areas to exploit and colonize. They were disappointed because he found neither. Had the weather been more favourable Tasman might have stumbled upon Botany Bay 100 years before Cook.
It is easy to criticize the failings of past explorers when we have the complete map in front of us. But given the Charts and directions that were available to Tasman would we do any better? He had no way to calculate longitude, only dead reckoning. And yet he rounded the Australian continent on his first voyage and found his way safely home. On his second voyage he confirmed the existence of the fabled ‘Terra incognita australis’ and mapped most of its north coastline. He filled in a lot of knowledge gaps and gave subsequent explorers a far better idea of where to look.
Discovery of the New World: By Carter Revard
The creatures that we met this morning
marveled at our green skins
and scarlet eyes.
They lack antennae
and can’t be made to grasp
your proclamation that they are
our lawful food and prey and slaves,
nor can they seem to learn
their body-space is needed to materialize
our oxygen absorbers –
which they conceive are breathing
and thinking creatures whom they implore
at first as angels or (later) as devils
when they are being snuffed out
by an absorber swelling
into their space.
Their history bled from one this morning
while we were tasting his brain
in holographic rainbows
which we assembled into quite an interesting
set of legends –
that’s all it came to, though
the colors were quite lovely before we
poured them into our time;
the blue shift bleached away
meaningless circumstance and they would not fit
any of our truth-matrices –
there was, however,
a curious visual echo in their history
of our own coming to their earth;
a certain General Sherman
had said concerning a group of them
exactly what we were saying to you
about these creatures:
it is our destiny to asterize this planet,
and they will not be asterized,
so they must be wiped out.
We need their space and oxygen
which they do not know how to use,
yet they will not give up their gas unforced,
and we feel sure,
whatever our “agreements” made this morning,
we’ll have to kill them all:
the more we cook this orbit,
the fewer next time around.
We’ve finished burning all their crops
and killed their cattle.
They’ll have to come into our pens
and then we’ll get to study
the way our heart attacks and cancers spread among them,
since they seem not immune to these.
If we didn’t have this mission it might be sad
to see such helpless creatures die,
but never fear,
the riches of this place are ours
and worth whatever pain others may have to feel.
We’ll soon have it cleared
as in fact it is already, at the poles.
Then we will be safe, and rich, and happy here forever.