Tracing Tasman's fatal encounter

17:55, Jan 27 2013
Abel Tasman
HISTORIC TIES: Netherlands ambassador Arie van der Wiel speaks at the opening of the Nelson Provincial Museum's exhibition marking the 370th anniversary of Abel Tasman's voyage to New Zealand.

A 12-kilogram atlas containing all of Abel Tasman's maps of his 1642 voyage to New Zealand illustrates the keen interest of Dutch ambassador Arie van der Wiel in the first recorded encounter between Europeans and Maori.

Mr van der Wiel has given the lavish atlas to the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington, after tracking it down in a private collection in New York.

He had been asked to help New Zealand researchers by providing reference material about the fatal encounter in Golden Bay 370 years ago.

Arie van der Wiel
HISTORIC INTRIGUE: Arie van der Wiel with a 12kg atlas containing all of Abel Tasman's maps.

Historians are still divided on why Tasman's ships drew such a hostile response on December 19, 1642, after they anchored in what Tasman later called Murderers Bay.

As they came into the bay, the crews saw fires and other activity ashore and shouts were exchanged as a waka came out to investigate.

A member of Tasman's crew responded to a musical instrument by blowing a trumpet, and a cannon was fired at nightfall.


The following morning seven waka came out towards the two ships, the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen.

As the Dutch rowed a small boat between the two ships, a waka raced in, rammed the boat and bludgeoned its crew. Three of Tasman's men were killed and a fourth was mortally wounded. The Dutch retaliated with muskets and cannon, but the waka were quickly out of range.

Questions about how the fatal misunderstandings arose have been largely unanswered ever since.

Also unexplained is why there were so many waka and warriors on a small Golden Bay beach at the time.

There were 22 waka and more than 200 paddlers, according to Tasman's account. "Was there a war going on, or were they worried about their kumara harvest?" Mr van der Wiel said.

The questions were posed at a seminar in Nelson last year at which a group of Dutch and New Zealand scholars discussed the encounter.

Dame Anne Salmond suggested Tasman's decision to test his cannon may have provoked the attack, while Maori historian John Mitchell believed Maori may have felt the Dutch ships would invoke the spirit of a taniwha.

Historian Ian Barber suggested the ships may have violated a tapu by approaching local cultivations.

As Mr van der Wiel continued his own inquiries, he found the volume of maps, charts and illustrations and bought them from the American collector to give to New Zealand.

Contact Hank Schouten
Property reporter

The Dominion Post