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People of New Ireland seen by Abel Tasman


People of New Ireland seen by Abel Tasman

Gilsemans, Isaac

In late March 1643 the expedition of Abel Tasman approached the island of New Ireland, part today of Papua New Guinea. Due to a misunderstanding Tasman believed that he had already reached the mainland of New Guinea, while he was in fact sailing along the eastern coast of this separate island. On 1 April they approached New Ireland at a cape which they identified as the Cape of Saint Mary based on their interpretation of Spanish descriptions. They sailed north along the coast, observing a number of offshore islands along the way. After passing the Tabar group, which they named the Visscher’s Islands. (Fisher Islands), they continued along the New Ireland coast, occasionally making contact with the local people who came alongside the Dutch ships in their own boats.

On the 6th of April a number of boats neared the Dutch ships, but little bartering was achieved. Tasman describes these people as black-skinned, having a variety of hair colours and wearing no clothing at all. Their faces were painted and some had wore bones through their noses. Their boats looked new and were decorated. On 7th April about 20 boats with local people approached the Dutch to barter. The Dutch obtained a coconut, a shark and a dolphin or dorado and a few of the locals were let on board the ship, which apparently made them quite seasick. After this brief encounter the Dutch continued their journey.-Isaac Gilsemans, supercargo on board the Zeehaen, is commonly identified as the artist who drew this depiction of the people encountered at the New Ireland coast, mistaken for New Guinea, in Abel Tasman’s journal. It shows the people and their richly decorated boat, as well as their face-paint, hair styles and lack of clothing, making it most likely the people depicted here were those encountered on the 6th of April. The man at the front appears to be carrying a large seashell and their paddles are decorated with snakes.

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Sources and literature

Posthumus Meyjes, De Reizen van Abel Janszoon Tasman en Franchoys Jacobszoon Visscher, ter nadere ontdekking van het Zuidland (Australië) in 1642 - 1644. (1919)