Abel Janszoon Tasman (1603 - 1659) was a Dutch seafarer and explorer, born in Lutjegast, a village in the province of Groningen, best known for his voyages of 1642 and 1644, in the service of the VOC (Dutch East India Company), during which he 'discovered' (from a European perspective) the islands of Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) and New Zealand. He also mapped substantial portions of Australia.

His task was to investigate the country then known as New Holland, now known as Australia, of which the Dutch had already discovered the west coast, and to determine whether it was part of Terra Australis. It was hoped by the VOC that he would thus locate a new unexploited continent for trade. To do so, on his first voyage (1642 to 1643) he sailed from Jakarta (then known as Batavia) with two small ships, the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen, first to Mauritius, and from there sailed east at a higher latitude than the Dutch had done before. This way, he completely missed Australia, but did finally find land at the island of Tasmania on November 24 . He named it Van Diemen's Land, but the English later renamed it after its discoverer. After some investigation, he sailed further east, and discovered New Zealand, which he named Staten Landt on the theory that it was connected to a piece of land south of the tip of South America. He sailed north along its west coast. At the northern end of the South Island he anchored the ships in a bay, where in his only encounter with the Maori four of his sailors were killed. He named it Murderers' Bay and sailed north, but missed Cook Strait separating the north and south islands, believing New Zealand to be a single land, and part of Terra Australis. En route back to Batavia, he discovered the Tonga archipelago on January 21, 1643.

On his second voyage, in 1644, he followed the south coast of New Guinea eastward. He missed Strait Torres between New Guinea and Australia, and continued his voyage along the Australian coast. He mapped the north coast of Australia.

From the point of view of the VOC, Tasman's explorations were a disappointment: He had neither found a promising area for trade nor a useful new shipping route. For over a century (until the era of James Cook), Tasmania and New Zealand were not again visited by Europeans. Australia was visited, but usually only by accident.

As with many explorers, Tasman's name has been honoured in many places. These include:

  • around Tasmania - as well as the state itself, the Tasman Sea, the Tasman Peninsula, the Tasman Bridge, the Tasman Highway and the Abel Tasman ferry.
  • in New Zealand, the Tasman Glacier and the Abel Tasman National Park

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