Schouten Island – Van Diemens Land – A Tragic Story

Abel Tasman and his ships Heemskerck and de Zeehaen encountered what he named as Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) on 24 November 1642. As the Governor-General of the Dutch East India Company based in Batavia (Jakarta) it was Anthony van Diemen who had commissioned their voyage of exploration.

First place in the South

As his ships rounded the southern part of Van Diemans Land they named the islands they encountered after the various members of the Council of the East Indies who along with Van Diemen had approved their expedition and formally signed the following resolution:

Since our predecessors the Lords Governor-General Jan Pieterszoon Coen (deceased), Pieter de Carpentier, Henrick Brouwer and ourselves, pending their administration and ours, have been greatly inclined to forward the navigation to the partly known and still unexplored South and East land, in order to the direct discovery of the same, and to the consequent opening up of important countries or leastwise of convenient routes to well-known opulent markets, in such fashion that the same might in due time be used for the improvement and increase of the Company’s general prosperity.

Nevertheless up to this time no Christian kings, princes or commonwealth have seriously endeavoured to make timely discovery of the remaining unknown part of the terrestrial globe, although there are good reasons to suppose that it contains many excellent and fertile regions, seeing that it lies in the frigid, temperate and torrid zones, so that it must needs compromise well-populated districts in favourable climates and under propitious skies … there must be similar fertile and rich regions south of the Equator, of which matter we have conspicuous examples and clear proofs in the gold and silver bearing provinces of Peru, Chile, Monomtapa or Sofala … so that it may be confidently expected that the expense and trouble that must be bestowed in the eventual discovery of so large a portion of the world, will be rewarded with certain fruits of material profit and immortal fame.

Map of Tasman’s passage around Van Diemens Land, 1642, Francois Visscher (Algemeen Rijksarchief)

As the expedition rounded the southern part of Van Diemens Land they named the islands they encountered after the Councillors of the Indies who had approved their expedition. Thus we have De Witt Island, Sweers Island, Maatsukyer Island, Borels Island, Maria Island (after Tasman’s wife) and Schouten Island. Names which still exist on the current maps of Tasmania.

Detail from the Tasman passage showing Shoutens Island

It was on researching material for the book The Tasman Map that I saw a reference to ‘the unfortunate Joost Schouten’. A statement like this demands further investigation and after a quick search Wikipedia provided the answer:

In July 1644, Joost Schouten was accused of sodomy, a crime punishable by water or fire. He confessed to the crimes and offered no defence. After being tried and convicted, his sentence was mitigated in light of his distinguished record. The colony’s Governor-General, Anthony van Diemen ordered him strangled before being burnt at the stake. At least three of his sexual partners were subsequently tied in sacks and drowned.

After reaching what Tasman named Vanderlins Island and what is now the southern part of the Freycinet Peninsula, the expedition turned east to cross the Tasman Sea and reach the west coast of New Zealand. There is more information about the Tasman voyage in the book The Tasman Map.

About ianburnet

Author of the book, Spice Islands. Which tells the History, Romance and Adventure of the spice trade from the Moluccas in Eastern Indonesia over a period of 2000 years. Author of the book, East Indies.Which tells the history of the struggle between the Portuguese Crown, the Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company for supremacy in the Eastern Seas. Author of the book 'Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia'. Author of the book 'Where Australia Collides with Asia' Author of the book 'The Tasman Map'. Author of the book 'Eastern Voyages'.
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2 Responses to Schouten Island – Van Diemens Land – A Tragic Story

  1. Denis O'Hara says:

    Harsh times! Thanks Ian

  2. ianburnet says:

    Harsh times and severe punishments! Thanks Denis.

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