Abel Tasman & the first written record of Australian vegetation
First voyage to New Holland
Finally, in 1642, the Dutch East India Company decided to assess the commercial potential of the land to its south and, by sailing below latitude 50oS, solve once-and-for-all the riddle of the Great Southern Land while at the same time locating a Pacific route to South America. The commander they chose for the task was the experienced Abel Tasman who made two voyages, one in 1642-3 followed immediately by another in 1644.
On his first voyage he commanded the jacht Heemskerck and fluyt (cargo vessel) Zeehaen the cargo including metals, spices and trinkets to barter with the natives: sailing from Holland to Mauritius they set a course south of Cape Leeuwin until eventually, on 24 November 1642, his crew were the first recorded Europeans to sight the west coast of present-day Tasmania which he claimed for the Netherlands, naming it Van Diemen’s Land in commemoration of the commissioner of his voyage Anthonie van Diemen, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies based in Batavia. A single landing was made in the south-east at Blackmans Bay.
Tasman’s journal notes the presence of tall trees on the land and samples of gum were brought back to his ship, this probably being the first physical European record of vegetation (presumably eucalypts) on present-day Australia. However it seems that no plants were collected.
On the way back to Batavia Tasman sailed north, stumbling across the South Island of New Zealand (claiming legal ownership of the island for Holland and naming it Staten Landt), also Fiji and New Guinea.
Most significantly, he had shown that New Holland was not part of a vast Antarctic southern continent.
Second voyage to New Holland
Remarkable though this voyage was for its circumnavigation of New Holland and the pushing of Terra Australis further south, it had left several questions unanswered and so he was immediately dispatched again in 1644 to determine what land connections existed between the major places he had visited on the first trip: New Guinea, New Holland, Van Diemen’s Land and Staten Landt (which he thought might be a promontory of Terra Australia): he was also to map the north coast of New Holland to the west of Cape York.
Now In the Limmen, Zeemeeuw and Bracq he sailed to the Banda and Aru islands, around the south coast of New Guinea, through Torres Strait and around the whole of the Gulf of Carpentaria almost to North West Cape thus surveying most of the coast of the north and north-west of the continent. It is possible that plants were collected on these and other Dutch voyages but charts and journals of the second voyage were lost. It was on this second expedition that Tasman named New Holland (Nova Hollandia) a name that would remain in use for over 180 years until the publication of Flinders’s maps in 1814 and the formal naming of Australia in 1827. No records or log books remain from this second voyage although charts remain to indicate where he went.
Overall Abel Tasman assessed New Holland as of little interest or economic potential and on his recommendation the council of the Dutch East India Company decided to look elsewhere for their future enterprises.