A Dutch explorer and merchant, Abel Tasman was born in Lutjegast, the Dutch Republic (today the Netherlands), some time in 1603. Little is known of his childhood in what is now known as the Netherlands' province of Groningen. We do know that it is likely that Tasman must have received some good education early on and must have belonged to a middle class Dutch family based on the skills he exhibited from early on in his career. Examples of this were the fact that he was a good navigator and wrote with clear and concise journals. Many knew him as a colorful and controversial character. Tasman was employed by the Dutch East India Company to assist in their spice trade, and learned to fight during those years. At one time or another, he was a first mate and a skipper for the company.
Tasman was a budding sailor and navigator when he entered into the service of the Dutch East India Company. He was tasked in the purchase of spices in Seram Island, in what is now Indonesia. One of his other major duties was to also patrol the Indonesian coast in order to guard it against rebels and smugglers. Tasman rose up through the company's leadership ranks as he continued to exhibit success in his voyages. However, he was met with difficulties early on with epidemic sickness breaking out on his ships. Some of the ships were even purposely sunk in order to avoid the contagions from reaching the shores. As a well-known skipper by now, the governor of the East India Company sent him with two ships to find a sea route to Chile.
Tasman's first voyage of exploration began as he sailed for the lands down under into the Southern Oceans. In August of 1642, he sailed with two ships, accompanied by Franz Jacobszoon, a hydrographer. The goal was to discover new lands in the south and east. Eventually, after some repair and resupply stops in Batavia and Mauritius, respectively, they discovered what are now Tasmania (in Australia) and New Zealand. They were also the first to make a sighting of the Fiji Islands. Tasman was promoted as a skipper commander after the voyage. The expedition was also declared a success by the Dutch East India Company. Tasman was then sent on another expedition to map the northern coastline of Australia.
Tasman faced many challenges at sea. Among them was a prolonged, massive storm at sea that delayed their return to Batavia on his first expedition. On the same voyage, they were also hit by an earthquake at sea. Two of his men refused to explore the Babuyan Islands in the Philippines. As a result, he ordered one of the men to be hanged for insubordinance. This resulted in his suspension without pay. Although the sailor survived, Tasman was also ordered to pay a compensation to the family. Many of Tasman's problems occurred at sea, but this one took him 11 months to resolve, after which he was reinstated to his previous post in the East India Company.
Death and Legacy
As a successful skipper, explorer, and merchant, Tasman weathered his trials well. At the end of his career, he settled down in Batavia. There, he owned a large tract of land. However, at the age of 56, Tasman couldn't weather life itself any longer, and passed away on October 10th, 1659. He left part of his inheritance to his daughter by his first wife, and part to his second wife by marriage. Many places and structures in Australia and New Zealand were named after him and, at he end of his life, he was a member of the Reformed Church. Many honored him as a humane commander and cautious explorer, although he was also seen as a colorful and controversial character.