Exploration by Sea

Claude-Francois Fortier et al, 'Terre de Diemen', 1807 (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

The first European contact was made in 1642 by Abel Janszoon Tasman, who sailed around the south and east coasts of Tasmania. His first sight of land was the west coast mountains, subsequently designated by Matthew Flinders as Mounts Heemskirk and Zeehan.

The next sighting was by the French expedition of Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne (second in command, Julien-Marie Crozet), which worked a passage down the west coast, around the southern end of Tasmania in March 1772, and anchored for six days in Marion Bay. Contact between Europeans and Tasmanians was achieved, but ended in tragedy when an Aboriginal man was shot dead during a skirmish on 7 March. Apart from some refinement in Crozet's chart of the south-east coastline, no significant discoveries stemmed from the expedition.

The first English navigator to retrace Tasman's course was Tobias Furneaux in HMS Adventure during James Cook's second expedition. Separated from Resolution, Furneaux touched on the Van Diemen's Land coast en route to a New Zealand rendezvous. Sighting South West Cape on 9 March 1773, Furneaux wooded and watered ship at Adventure Bay. In this region he named the Mewstone, the Friars, Fluted Cape and Penguin Island. Sailing north up the east coast, Furneaux named St Patrick's Head, St Helen's Point, Bay of Fires and Eddystone Point, all on 17 March, and, after sighting the entrance to Banks Strait and naming Cape Barren, he 'haul'd up for New Zealand'. Furneaux's Adventure Bay anchorage was exploited by James Cook (Resolution, 1777) and William Bligh (Bounty, 1788 and Providence and Assistant, 1791) but these visits were of a transient nature.

Bruny d'Entrecasteaux's French expedition in Recherche and Espérance called twice at southern Tasmania. In April–May 1792, from Recherche Bay, surveying boats commanded by de Crétin and then Saint-Aignan, with hydrographer Beautemps-Beaupré, traced a passage for the ships through D'Entrecasteaux Channel to the open sea. Returning in January 1793, the French probed the inlets of Storm Bay and travelled four leagues up the Huon River (named for Huon de Kermadac of Espérance), while Lt Willaumez discovered the River Derwent.

In 1798, George Bass examined Western Port, opening the way for the passage of Bass Strait. The Strait's existence was confirmed by Matthew Flinders, in company with Bass, in the Norfolk. Port Dalrymple was reached on 3 December 1798, and Flinders progressively named Table Cape, Circular Head, Three Hummock and Hunter's Islands. Near Cape Grim Flinders concluded 'the direction of the coast, the set of the tides, and the great swell from the S.W. did now completely satisfy us that a very wide strait did really exist betwixt Van Diemen's Land and New South Wales'. Flinders completed the first coastal circumnavigation of Tasmania, examining the Derwent estuary and Furneaux Islands en route, and reached Sydney Cove on 11 January 1799.

Charting of other Bass Strait features followed. The sealer Martha (William Reed) is credited with the discovery of King Island in December 1799. In December 1800 Lady Nelson (Lt John Grant) made the first west-east passage of Bass Strait. Lady Nelson (commanded by John Murray) discovered the Kent Group and surveyed King Island before, in January 1801, making the first entrance of Port Phillip.

The French expedition under Nicolas Baudin, in Géographe and Naturaliste, from anchorages in D'Entrecasteaux Channel between 19 January and 16 February 1802, surveyed parts of southern Tasmania not seen by earlier voyagers. When David Collins abandoned his Port Phillip settlement, Lady Nelson was despatched to examine Port Dalrymple as an alternative site. Arriving at Low Head on 1 January 1804, Murray sailed the vessel upriver to the present site of Launceston, returning by the river's western shore. In the event Collins relocated to the River Derwent.

James Kelly circumnavigated the island by whaleboat (December 1815–January 1816), en route examining Port Davey and Macquarie Harbour. Two naval surveys followed. In 1819 Phillip Parker King (HMS Mermaid) surveyed the entrance to Macquarie Harbour, and his results were later published as an Admiralty chart. Even so Commissioner Bigge instructed John Oxley in Governor Macquarie to report on west coast harbours. In March–April 1820 Oxley surveyed Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour but was prevented by storms from entering Macquarie Harbour so abandoned the project. James Hobbs also completed a whaleboat circumnavigation (February to July 1824), making landings at Port Davey, Macquarie Harbour, Cape Grim and around the Piper/Ringarooma Rivers.

Further reading: H Taylor, The discovery of Tasmania, Hobart, 1973; J Heeres, Abel Janszoon Tasman's journal, Amsterdam, 1898; E Duyker, The discovery of Tasmania …, Hobart, 1992; J Beaglehole, The journals of Captain James Cook, Cambridge, 1955–74; N Plomley & J Piard-Bernier, The General, Launceston, 1993; C Cornell (ed), The journal of Post Captain Nicolas Baudin, Adelaide, 1974; M Flinders, A voyage to Terra Australis, London, 1814; J Kelly, The log of the circumnavigation of Van Diemen's Land, Hobart, 1986.

Dan Sprod