The Kitchen Table – Spice – an ABC Radio National podcast

When we think of the history of spice we often start with the protection rackets, piracy, and massacres of the East India companies. But the world trade in spices is not something that begins with the European age of sail in the sixteenth century. It’s far more ancient. The search for spice has led to travel, exploration and cross-cultural influences for millennia. The Indonesian maritime spice routes helped define the extent and culture of Nusantara, or what we now call Indonesia. Focussing on nutmeg and clove, this program explores the history of these ingredients from 3,500 years ago to today, with interviews, poetry, natural sound and music of the Spice Islands.

Petrus Plancius 1594


Ian Burnet

Kumoratih Kushardjanto

Barbara Santich

Danielle Clode


Michael BaldwinDuration: 33min 25secBroadcast: Tue 27 Apr 2021, 11:05am

More Information

Presenter: Hetty McKinnon

Sound engineer: Tom Henry

Writer, producer: Mike Ladd

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Marvellous map in marble is one of NSW’s great treasures

Mike Scanlon – Newcastle Herald

MANY people pass by it today without a second glance.

I was going to write that people walk over it, but that’s wrong, as it’s usually roped off.

What I’m referring to is a rather marvellous curiosity of cartography underfoot as you enter the solemn State Library of NSW (aka the Mitchell Library) in Sydney.

North facade of the Mitchell Library, drawn by Simon Fieldhouse

For the past 81 years, this object has graced the library’s grand vestibule drawing attention (if you pause long enough) to a golden age of exploration in the vast, and then largely unknown, southern seas

After walking among imposing classic sandstone pillars into the cool interior of the entrance hall, you suddenly stumble across one of the library’s great treasures. It’s not hidden, but frozen in marble.

Image of the Tasman Map mosaic courtesy of the Mitchell Library

Here, you come face-to-face with the huge marble and terrazzo reproduction of a 17th century Dutch map. Made from yellowish marble to resemble an old map, it shows what was known then about the mystery continent (Australia) inset in brass. Also depicted are small sailing ships, a spouting whale and Latin inscriptions. It is bordered by wavy “ocean” lines of mosaic tiles.

Called the Bonaparte Tasman map, it ostensibly shows the two voyages of Dutch explorer Abel Tasman (1642 and 1644). It depicts an incredible, but incomplete, chart of Australia, revealing his results of mapping western Cape York, the Gulf of Carpentaria, much of the WA coast and the southern part of Tasmania.

Evidence of these voyages largely depends on this map, as no original journals or ship logs have survived.

Particularly interesting is that the Dutch knew much about the shape of Australia well before English explorer James Cook came along 125 years later. That was in 1769-70 to chart the totally missing east coast of Terra Australis Incognita for European eyes.

The original, priceless Bonaparte Tasman chart was acquired by the Mitchell Library in 1933, six years before master craftsmen created Sydney’s marble floor map as a feature for the ‘new’ building, opened in 1942. The full story of getting the map involved a tip-off in 1926 from legendary anthropologist Daisy Bates, then living at the edge of the Nullarbor Plain, and the grandnephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. That, however, is a tale for another day.

But does the marble map tell the whole story? While no one doubts the authenticity of the marble floor from the map it was copied from, no one knows the date of the original chart. Was it compiled before 1647, or drawn even as late as the 1690s?

It was in the earlier period that explorer Abel Tasman ‘found’ Tasmania, New Zealand and north-west WA. But should he get all the glory?

Author Ian Burnet, who considers the marble piece to be Sydney’s greatest public artwork, thinks the map is the result of the accumulated wisdom of 16 separate voyages. These were undertaken by ships from Holland’s giant East India Company (or VOC) over 38 years, from 1606 to 1644 when Dutch traders dominated the East Indies (present Indonesia).

More information can be found in his book The Tasman Map

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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.

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Jan Pieterszoon Coen and the township of Coen (N.Qld)

Your Honours should know by experience that trade in Asia must be driven and maintained under the protection and favour of your Honour’s own weapons, and that the weapons must be paid for by the profits from the trade; so that we cannot carry on trade without war, nor war without trade.

— Jan Pieterszoon Coen, in a letter to the directors of the Dutch East India Company.

Jan Pieterszoon Coen, Rijksmuseum Collection

It was Jan Pieterszoon Coen who founded the port city of Batavia (Jakarta) in 1619 as a regional trading base, to build and repair ships, warehouse spices and to be the military and administrative headquarters of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in the East Indies. ‘King Coen’ or the ‘Butcher of Banda’ ruled his realm ruthlessly from 1618-1623 and from 1627-1634 delivering the VOC vast quantities of Asian commodities at low prices.

Asian and Dutch ships at anchor off Batavia, 1649 (Netherlands Maritime Museum)

It was Jan Pieterszoon Coen who successfully developed the Intra-Asian trade which generated huge profits for the VOC and its shareholders, and it was these profits that drove the ‘Golden Age’ of Dutch Art. He wrote of his business plan to the Directors of the VOC and the key message was ‘all without money from the Netherlands’:

Gujurati textiles must be traded for pepper and gold on the shores of Sumatra: Pepper from Banten for reales and textiles from the coast of Coromandel, Chinese goods and gold for sandalwood, pepper and reales, silver can be got from Japan for Chinese goods, the textiles from the Coromandel coast for spices, pieces of eight from Arabia for spices and other small goods, making sure that one compensates the other, and that all is done in ships without money from the Netherlands.

— Jan Pieterszoon Coen, in a letter to the directors of the Dutch East India Company.

Jan Pieterszoon Coen was a member of the Dutch fleet commanded by Admiral Verhoeven that sailed to the Banda Islands in 1609 with orders to build a fort and consolidate Dutch control over the nutmeg trade. As the walls of the fort rose, opposition from the Bandanese increased until the admiral was forced to arrange a peace meeting with the local chiefs. Jan Pieterszoon Coen narrowly escaped death when the Bandanese surrounded and killed Admiral Verhoeven, along with 42 Dutch soldiers and senior officials.

Jan Pieterszoon Coen was always going to take his revenge against the Bandanese and in 1621 he assembled a fleet of thirteen vessels and an army of over 1500 soldiers to sail from Batavia. After provocations from both sides he unleashed the Banda Massacre which is said to have killed as many as 15,000 islands and sent the remaining population into exile.

The execution of the 42 Bandanese headmen in revenge for the death of Admiral Verhoeven and his men. (Banda Historical Museum)

Coen’s lasting legacy was the Dutch monopoly over the growth of nutmeg and cloves in the Spice Islands, which he established by force of arms and the deaths, exile or enslavement of thousands of islanders. A statue stands in the town square of his hometown Hoorn in honour of its most famous son, but whatever honours and reputation as an empire builder Jan Pieterszoon Coen enjoyed during his lifetime, these were always accompanied by charges of barbarity and inhumanity.

The statue of Jan Pieterszoon Coen standing in the town square in Hoorn

In 1623 the Dutch East India Company sent an expedition of two ships, the Pera and the Arnhem, commanded by Jan Carstensz to explore what they later called the Gulf of Carpenteria. He named a river on Cape York Peninsula after Jan Pieterszoon Coen, as shown on the map below. Today that river is known as the Archer River and the name Coen River is given to one of its tributaries.

The west coast of Cape York as mapped by Jan Carstensz in 1623

The township of Coen lies is on the eastern side of Cape York Peninsula with the Coral Sea forming its eastern boundary. and the Gulf of Carpentaria forming its western boundary. The Peninsula Developmental Road 81 runs roughly north to south through the locality. and the township is located where this road crosses the Coen River. The township is 2,200 km northwest of Brisbane and in the 2016 census it had a population of only 364 people. I am not sure how many of the good people of Coen know the full history of the infamous Jan Pieterszoon Coen.

Coen township located where Development Road 81 crosses the Coen River

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‘The Tasman Map’ – Interview

Follow this link to watch the ‘Tasman Map’ interview with Ian Burnet

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The Duyfken replica vessel docks at the Australian National Maritime Museum

The Australian National Maritime Museum has announced that following negotiations with the Duyfken 1606 Replica Foundation in Western Australia, the museum will take over the ownership and management of the replica Duyfken.

‘We are pleased and honoured that the Duyfken Foundation approached us to take over the custodianship of this wonderful Fremantle built vessel, and we are thankful that we are able to provide a safe home for it,’ said Kevin Sumption, Director and CEO of the Australian National Maritime Museum. 

The Duyfken  replica ship was built by the Duyfken 1606 Replica Foundation, jointly with the Maritime Museum of Western Australia, and launched on 24 January 1999 in Fremantle. Construction of the vessel was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Kailis family. Chief executive Peter Bowman said while it was emotional for the Duyfken Foundation to see it go, the transfer was the best option to preserve the ship and continue public access.

The Duyfken at its new home in Sydney Harbour

After its launching in Fremantle, the Duyfken replica sailed to the Banda Islands in Eastern Indonesia in June 2000 to re-enact the original voyage of exploration made in 1606 by Willem Janszoon and the Duyfken towards New Guinea and Australia.

Unlike the voyage of 1606, the replica’s captain, Peter Manthorpe, and his crew came ashore on Cape York with the permission of the Aboriginal people. This time, message sticks and handshakes were exchanged – not musket balls and spears.

Local communities were invited to participate in the arrival in any way they saw fit. Queensland Premier Peter Beattie joined the traditional owners of the Pennefather River mouth, Aboriginal singers, dancers and more than 200 people from local communities came to welcome the vessel.

The Duyfken leaving Banda Island in Eastern Indonesia before its re-enactment voyage to the Cape York Peninsula in Australia. (Robert Garvey)

The next voyage was in 2002 and would take almost a year and cover 15,000 kilometres across the Indian Ocean and up the eastern board of the Atlantic Ocean to Holland, where the Duyfken story began almost 400 years previously.

The journey was instigated by an invitation from The Netherlands to be a major participant in celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Dutch East India Company, otherwise known as the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie).

The replica’s journey was to retrace the return voyages of VOC fleets in the 17th century to the Netherlands, picking up the same trade winds the Dutch knew so well and braving the same challenges of the stormy southern cape of Africa, equatorial doldrums and the stormy north Atlantic.

The Duyfken rounding the Cape of Good Hope

Spring gales made the last week of the voyage the toughest for the replica’s crew before she was welcomed ‘home’ to Texel, the Netherlands, on April 28, 2002.

Crown Prince Willem Alexander joined an estimated 40,000 people to welcome the replica to the place where the original Duyfken was built. The little ship had made its the long journey, visiting 10 countries across four continents.

During the spring and summer of 2002, the Duyfken replica visited many of the original VOC ports in the Netherlands and took part in a host of maritime events. By the end of the stay, over 300,000 people had come aboard the ship. 

Duyfken at Zaanse Schans in Holland

The Duyfken voyage undertaken in 2006, marked the 400th anniversary of the first documented European contact with Australia. 

It was a partnership between the Australian Government, the Duyfken 1606 Replica Foundation and the history and heritage division of the Australasian Hydrographic Society, called ‘Australia on the Map: 1606-2006’.

To help commemorate this defining period in our history, the Duyfken replica visited 25 ports around Australia to highlight the importance of the country’s rich coastal and maritime heritage.

This included Indigenous sites, Macassan (early Indonesian) sites, early European settlements as well as modern structures, such as wharves and jetties, lighthouses, coastal defence installations and shipwrecks.

Thousands of visitors to the ship were given a deep appreciation of Australia’s earliest European history as well as the courage and skills of 17th century seafaring explorers.

There is a lot more about Willem Janszoon and the 1606 voyage of the Duyfken in Ian Burnet’s book The Tasman Map. Just go to the website below for more details.

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The First Appearance of Australia on a World Map

The Pacific Ocean was first sighted on September 25, 1513 by the explorer Vasco Balboa when he reached the summit of the Isthmus of Panama and viewed its huge expanse.

In 1520 Ferdinand Magellan and his Armada de Moluccas, on a planned voyage west towards the Spice Islands, discovered the Straits of Magellan and entered the Pacific Ocean.

This map by Batista Agnese is really interesting because it shows how much and how little is known about the Pacific Ocean at the time of its first crossing by Magellan in 1521. During the Pacific crossing the expedition only found two unpopulated islands where they could replenish supplies. The great patch of green is of course the clove trees they were looking for in the Spice Islands.

This map by Abraham Ortelius shows the Victoria crossing the Pacific. The expedition was now down to three ships and had to face a long Pacific crossing with all the crew suffering from scurvy until they finally arrived in the Philippines. It is interesting that the map shows New Guinea as an island some fifteen years before Torres sailed through the Strait which bares his name in 1606.

In March 1606 the Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon in the yacht Duyfken reached the Cape York Peninsula which he considered as part of New Guinea, and it was in October of that same year that Luis Vas de Torres found his way through the Torres Strait.

This 1622 map of the Pacific Ocean by Hessel Gerritsz, the chief mapmaker for the Dutch East India Company, shows the first appearance of part of Australia on a world map, even if it is named as New Guinea.

Detail from that map shows Cape York as discovered by Willem Janzoon and named Nueva Guinea. The text to the left reads – These parts were sailed into with the yacht of De Quiros about Nueva Guinea on 10 degrees westward through many islands and dry banks and over 2, 3, 4 fathoms for full 40 days. Presuming Nueva Guinea not to stretch over the 10 degrees south – if this were the case – then the land from 9 to 14 degrees must be separate and different from the other Nueva Guinea.

In other words – Australia! 

Many of these maps are referred to in detail in the book The Tasman Map. Please go to the website below for more information.

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A World Divided 1494 – The Portuguese and the Spanish race to reach the Spice Islands

In the 15th century the aromatic spices of cloves and nutmeg, grown only in the remote Spice Islands of present day Indonesia were said to be worth their weight in gold and were some of the most valuable of traded commodities.

After the discovery of the America’s, the 1494 of Treaty of Tordesillas between Spain and Portugal divided the world in half, along a line of demarcation in the Atlantic Ocean halfway between the Portuguese claimed island of Azores and the island of Hispaniola discovered by Columbus. The Treaty then allowed Spain to claim any territory discovered to the west of this line and Portugal any territory discovered to the east.

The two Iberian powers were now in a race to reach the source of these valuable spices and claim it for themselves, by sailing in opposite directions around the world and across the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean respectively. Although neither of them could accurately measure longitude and know in whose supposed half of the world the Spice Islands were actually located. The results changed the map of the world and even the first map of Australia.

Follow this link to view the 30 minute presentation on ‘A World Divided ‘made by Ian Burnet at the ANZ Map Conference in October 2020 at the National Library of Australia.

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Book Collectors – do you want a first edition of ‘Spice Islands’?

You could buy a First Edition hardback copy of ‘Spice Islands’ from Amazon for just US $902 or a Second Edition paper back from them for US$60.

Or if you are in Australia or elsewhere you can buy a paperback direct from me for A$30 plus postage. Just order through my website

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Yes – Miracles can happen!

Miracles don’t often happen but a miracle happened when I first made contact with David Rosenberg and Rosenberg Publishing, as he shared my vision of publishing my book Spice Islands with the maps and images embedded in the text. So that when you were reading about a map or image, there it was in front of you.

This is usually only seen in expensive coffee table books. But David was able to achieve this in a 200 page book with 70 colour images printed on quality paper for the same price as you would pay for a regular paperback and over the years I have seen no other publisher achieve the same result.

David and I shared a special relationship because over a period of ten years we have published five books in this special format – Spice Islands, East Indies, Archipelago, Where Australia Collides with Asia and The Tasman Map – all to critical acclaim. Unfortunately this relationship will come to end because due to medical reasons David will no longer publish any new books – although Rosenberg Publishing will continue to market and distribute their existing books.

I would like to recognise and thank David and Scilla Rosenberg for their remarkable achievements and our cooperation over the last ten years.

Don’t stop dreaming because, Yes – miracles can happen!

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