Witsen’s other images

In the Bulletin of the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology (2014), 38, A possible pre-Tasman canoe landing site, or tauranga waka, in Golden Bay, South Island, New Zealand (2014), Mack and Hawarden state that “Witsen (1705: 172) includes four images of the Tongan and New Guinea coast lines from Abel Tasman’s 1642–43 expedition, all of which differ from the illustrations of the same areas in the official Abel Tasman journal (Sharp 1968: 160–161, 166–167, 217, 245). An investigation comparing the Witsen illustrations of Tonga and New Guinea with the illustrations in the official journal may prove useful. If these other Witsen images of Tonga and New Guinea can be accurately correlated to the landscape, historians and archaeologists will gain an improved understanding of the conditions prevailing in this important contact period.”

We are unable to compare the coastlines of the first and last Witsen images with their originals, because the SAC originals of those have no coastlines to compare. Neither Tongatapu nor the adjoining island of Nomuka have any ranges of hills worth speaking of; Nomuka in particular is virtually flat. Others with Google Earth may duplicate this ‘research’ for themselves. Can “other Witsen images of Tonga and New Guinea … be accurately correlated to the landscape”? probably not.

In the following four comparisons the Tasman’s Journal 1643 originals appear above their 1705 Witsen adaptations. The four Tongan illustrations have been condensed into two by Witsen’s artist, and in every adaptation the horizon is flattened, requiring the addition of presumably invented background hills, while in the Tongan views the Dutch explorers themselves have been edited out.

Witsen 1

None of the adaptations we see here inspire any confidence that Witsen’s etcher’s inventive coastlines and skies, his ‘improved’ anatomies or his more dramatic use of light add  greater accuracy to Tasman’s Journal’s  illustrations. Quite to the contrary, by removing all trace of the Tasman’s expedition itself, essential cultural and narrative elements such as the long row of canoes facing Tasman’s ships in the illustrations below have, as historical evidence, been actually falsified.

Witsen 3

Tongatapu/Amsterdam. Above left, N: ‘The natives of the land …’ M: ‘Are their vessels as they lie at anchors’; Above right, B: ‘are small paddling canoes which with great triumph come with presents from the King’ C: ‘is a sail vessel of two canoes covered together with a platform’ D: ‘is a canoe with which they go out fishing’ F: is the point where the King dwells’ Below: ‘ Het Eÿ Amsterdam inde Suÿt zee. A. De gedaente der Inwoonders en Kledinge benefffens het Dorp na het leren afgemaelt. C. Het Koning huis. B. De Waterplaets Daerde Koning sig dagelijk met syn gesin gaet wasschen.’


Witsen 4

Nomuka/Rotterdam. Above left, G: ‘Are the inhabitants of the land’; F: are where our boats lie and get water’; Above right, A: ‘Are our ships lying at anchor’; C: ‘The bay where we got water’; E: ‘Their sail craft’’ Below: ‘ Het Eylant Rotterdam inde Zuyt-zee met syn Inwoonders na het leven afgemaelt beneffens een vaertuig aldaer. De Man heeft een parlemoere schulp om dehals en eenstuk geweren Matten of Riet inde hant By. A. iseen ronde water poel daer Eenden swemmen


Nomuka Island as it is:. Compare with SAC and Witsen views above; is Witsen’s added distant hill at all in evidence?


Witsen 5

Above: ‘Thus appears the vessel of Noua Guinea and people dwelling therein …’ Below: Vaertuÿg van Nova gunea byde voor Eylanden Iamna en Medemo naet leven afgemaelt Op een plaets by. A. Iasma int iaer 1643. genaemt. Cornelis Wetsens Beede, na de naem des Vaders van den Schryvers deses werks. Dit Vaartuig heeft een Vlerk.


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15 Responses to Witsen’s other images

  1. Penny Griffith says:

    Fascinating material Robert, thank you. It would definitely be interesting to get Witsen’s comments if he were alive!

    Maybe the removal of the Dutch ships is purely to allow a focus on the local people in what I understand is a sort of encyclopaedia of discovery?

  2. No doubt you’re right, Penny, that the Dutch ships were taken out ‘to allow a focus on the local people’. And maybe Noord en Oost Tartarije was “a sort of encyclopaedia of discovery”. I haven’t been able to find a translation into English yet, (please help me, anyone who can) but I have read about it online. I first learned about Witsen from Ab Hoving, who is a great admirer. He writes of “Nicholaes Witsen, the Amsterdam diplomat and burgomaster, writer of the standard maritime work, beyond praise: ‘Aloude en Hedendaegse Scheeps Bouw en Bestier’ (1671)” (‘The Ships of Abel Tasman, 2000, p.29’).
    I don’t think Witsen would intentionally have falsified history, but I think in this case he was prepared to borrow from Tasman’s illustrated account of his discoveries in the South Seas to illustrate a new work which was more about geography and anthropology.

  3. Grahame Anderson says:

    Appreciate your support for my location of Abel’s D’Urville Island anchorage, Robert, but your title here is misleading.
    ‘My book was about Isaac, and told something of the voyages led by Abel in order to set out a context for my story of his Merchant’s involvement in them.

  4. Grahame Anderson says:

    But neither you and Penny have any evidence for believing that ‘the Dutch ships were taken out’ of the journal of the voyage – indeed their expedition would have had more credence in Batavia had it been possible for it to record their going ashore in New Zealand, just as it had while they were in Tasmania earlier in December.

  5. Okay Grahame. I think I only referred to your 1991 article ‘Tasman revalued’ in that other post, but anyway, I’ve changed its title to ‘Confirming Anderson’s location of Tasman’s D’Urville anchorage’.

  6. And on your second point, I don’t think anything was taken out of the 1643 Journal, but changes were made when it was copied in 1705. In the four 1705 Witsen images, which are the black and white ones, there are no Dutch ships, boats or men to be seen, while in the Journal originals above them everything is in its proper place. And that’s my point: when Witsen’s artist borrowed Tasman’s artist/s’ work to illustrate a later work he evidently took out everything historical and Dutch. Meaning the ‘history’ in Witsen’s plates is actually falsified, as when “small paddling canoes which with great triumph come with presents from the King” to the Dutch are shown instead approaching other Tongan vessels that originally lay at anchor by themselves in the adjoining illustration. The Witsen plates aren’t meant to be historical, but geographical. They weren’t made by Tasman’s artist/s so cannot be cited as new evidence of what took place in 1642.

    Thanks for your comments, Grahame, Penny and I would like to see this site become a forum for discussion. However, she is only responsible for posts and comments that appear under her name, as I am responsible for those appearing under mine.

  7. Diederick Wildeman says:

    The section of the text with the Tasman illustrations in ‘Noord en Oost Tartaryen’ deals with the spread of humanity across the globe and possible relations between ethnicities in Asia, America and the Pacific. Witsen speculates about the similarities in the appearance of the people, (use of) objects, as for example their boats. This text is therefore not about European or Dutch voyages of exploration at all. The history the Tasman voyage itself is of little interest to him. Witsen did have ‘a written report of one of the ship’s mates’ at his disposal (p. 178, see also Sharp, p. 171 note 2). If the ‘report’ is in fact the same text as the Tasman Journal and contains the drawings, is not stated. This copy is now lost.

    The Dutch ships, boats and crew are in my view deliberately left out by Witsen for the printed images in ‘Noord en Oost Tartaryen’ because they have no relevance for the points he is making in his book. A Dutch elements in the illustrations would be a distraction from this arguments.

  8. Thats how it looks to me as well. So it seems a bit ironic that Mack and Hawarden rely so heavily on what they see as a Dutch boat in Witsen’s 1705 New Zealand plate when everything Dutch was so clearly removed from the four Tongan SAC illustrations when they were modified into the two new Witsen plates. And this unlikely supposition is the sole foundation of their argument that Dutch small boats explored Wainui Bay in 1642. They write” The historical significance of Wainui Bay as a site of national importance where the first contact between Māori and Europeans took place in 1642 is not fully appreciated by the New Zealand public.” Thankfully not, as there is no convincing evidence supporting such a view, as set out in the final paragraphs of my related post: ‘Historical illustrations as a source of written history’.
    They add “Wainui Bay is also important as it features in the Witsen illustration, which is the first printed image of New Zealand.” I don’t see that it does, as shown in ‘Mack’s labelling of Witsen’. Is Witsen’s artist’s added coast a more accurate view of Wainui Bay than its apparent SAC original? Does Nomuka Island in Tonga have the largish hill that Witsen’s artist gave it when he wanted an 18th century style of horizon, or is Nomuka fairly flat, as SAC views suggest?

  9. Michael Ross says:

    There is an important matter here that I think is misdirecting research, and this discussion.

    We should remember that the VOC was the largest company in the world at that time, and in size equates to the Apples. Googles, etc. of this time.

    There is an assumption that the records we are using to form our views are the actual logs created during the voyage. I believe evidence shows that the SAC is in fact Tasman’s formal report to the VOC on his voyage. In fact internal evidence clearly states that there is another set of documents that were recording daily discussions and decisions. They are the key source of Tasman’s report, we call the SAC. This approach is evidenced in many other voyage records from the VOC.

    In fact it is possible the original material is still in the documents in the Indonesian Archive VOC material that has not yet been examined.

    As for Witsen? Using his minor references (in the context of the scope of his work) to Tasman as a serious evidence source is, in my view, similar to using youtube to provide a definitive history.

    Should we be using our time and knowledge at that level?



  10. Diederick Wildeman says:

    To make my previous post a bit more clear, it is not my intention to dismiss the findings by Rudi Mack. I think they are very interesting. What I would like to argue is that to understand the Witsen print of Golden Bay it should not be studied in isolation. It is already interesting to see the comments on the other images. However all the Tasman illustrations are just in a small part of a quite voluminous book (with many other prints as well).

    The point I was trying to make is that it is important to understand the content of the book as a whole. Most importantly, in this and previous discussions the text is not taken in consideration. I know this possess a problem for many as this section of Noord en Oost Tartaryen has never been translated into English.

  11. Diederick Wildeman says:

    In response to Michael Ross,

    You are right. But among people who study the Tasman voyage it is known the so-called Journal is in fact a report (in the form of journal) made in Batavia after the voyage. It is authenticated by Tasman with his original signature. The frequent resolutions of the ship’s council during the voyage, mentioned in the Journal have all been lost. In fact we don’t have any document that was written during the voyage!

    There are two excellent scholarly studies on the voyage (by J.E. Heeres in 1898 and R. Posthumus Meyjes in 1919, the last one in Dutch) who made extensive use of the former colonial archives in Batavia, now in the National Archives of Indonesia. I think it is rather unlikely there will be important undiscovered documents on the 1642-43 voyage in Indonesia.

  12. In response to Diederick Wildeman

    So Diederick is fairly confident that Heeres in 1898 and Meyjes in 1919 found all that matters that was still in Indonesia to be found? But its an exciting thought that something new might yet turn up. I’ve never heard this possibility mentioned before, so thanks Michael, for mentioning it. Is it an archive that is currently accesible to researchers?

    Returning to your comment Diederick, that “in this and previous discussions the text is not taken in consideration”, you are correct that I and many others here can’t read the text. However Sharp, among others, has assessed various sources including Witsen as they relate to Tasman. Sharp’s work, The Voyages of Abel Janszoon Tasman, confirms that Witsen had access to a journal, probably Visscher’s, containing some details not in those now extant (p.346), and elsewhere notes where Tasman is mentioned by name (Sharp, p.322) in relation to an attack in which “very bad and barbarous naked black Men, who have curly hair; having as weaponry Arrow, Bow, javelins and Spears … intended to attack the Hollanders who to the number of five and twenty had stepped on the land, but letting off of firearms astonished them so that they fled.” Sharp sees this “to have come from a now lost journal of the 1644 voyage”, that is Tasman’s exploration of northern Australia.

    Mack doesn’t give much textual detail from Witsen, though he does tell us in ‘The Source of the First Printed Illustration of NZ’ that Witsen gives three, not four men killed in Golden Bay, and that the twenty-two canoes seen near the shore of which eleven closely pursued Heemskerck and Zeehaen on the 19th each contained thirty men (Mack, TLR, 2006, p.77).

    He also mentions other textual evidence: e.g. in ‘Did Dutch Sailors Land in Wainui Bay’ he writes about: “a reference relating to ‘la terre australe’ in Thevenot’s Relations de divers voyages curieux (1663): ‘Besides, it is known that troops sent to settle in the country encountered people of great determination who gathered before the Dutch on the shore where they were to disembark and, coming to meet them even in the water, attacked them in their boats, despite the inferiority of their own weapons’ (McCormick 12). It is speculative but possible that this refers to events in Wainui Bay” (p. 22). As Anderson already pointed out (TLR, 2005) this speculation contradicts existing evidence: the sailor and the Journal tell us that the expedition thought Maori on the 19th were approaching in friendship, and they would hardly have thought that if there had been a fight or violent encounter on the previous day.

    I see the larger of the tiny boats at right in the etching as oriental looking, not Dutch. Wouldn’t this be a likely slant to give the etching if Witsen was arguing New Zealaders were orientals, a sort of additional and subliminal argument? A speculative explanation, of course, especially as I have not read Witsen’s text so don’t know if it actually does present that argument.

    I also speculate that Thevenot’s reference might have been to the same presumably 1644 encounter later mentioned by Witsen and noted above, in which “very bad and barbarous naked black Men” with “Arrow, Bow, javelins and Spears … intended to attack the Hollanders” but were repulsed. This assumes Thevenot had earlier access to the same account that Witsen later used, or to another version of it.

    Speculation is just speculation. Until this latest article Mack’s speculations were at least to some extent acknowleged as such. But Mack and Hawarden are now presenting them as established fact: the Witsen etching shows conclusively (to them) that Tasman’s men came into Wainui Bay and sketched canoes at Taupo. On that basis (as they suppose) they can conclusively date Maori habitation and waka-borne activity at Taupo as far back as 1642. It’s a sort of academic Trojan horse – if we accept it in this form we leave ourselves no room for further argument. Would that mean the more widely known version of events on the 18th, the one Tasman himself signed, has to go up in flames?

  13. Diederick Wildeman says:

    There are quite a few VOC documents still in Jakarta, in the National Archives of Indonesia, see: http://www.anri.go.id In 2007 a new extensive printed inventory was published of this collection as:

    Balk, G. L., F. van Dijk, and D. J. Kortlang. Archives of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the local instiutions in Batavia (Jakarta) Arsip = arsip Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) dan lembaga-lembaga pemerintahan kota Batavia (Jakarta) = De archieven van de Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) en de locale instellingen te Batavia (Jakarta). Leiden: Brill, 2007. 571 p.

    I looked at it some time ago and could not find something of interest or unpublished on the Tasman voyage. But I must admit I have not been to Jakarta myself. It would be unlikely if a major documents on the Tasman journal would have escaped decades of scholars.

    The other questions will take a bit more time.

  14. Dave Hory says:

    I think the comments by Patricia Wallace on the Witsen illustrations are most revealing. She points out that the nature of illustration had changed between the time that the original sketches were made, and the Witsen engravings were published.

    The original sketches were documentary in nature; they were made explicitly to capture the details of the scene accurately. The later renditions were in a more indicative style, where the intent was to present a pleasing picture rather than deliver accurate information.

  15. Michael Ross says:

    In 1992 I conducted the research for a commissioned TVNZ documentary to celebrate the 150th anniversary of AT’s visit. Brian Bruce was the director, and we got as far as having the Dutch Queen involved. Then there was a new head of TVNZ commissioning who was, in his words, “not interested in history”. He canned the doco, costing him in excess of $100,000, then.

    During that research I worked with the Indonesian authorities extensively. There are file repositories in Jakarta which have not been catalogued. The Indonesian authorities gave us permission to inspect these files, which the told us “they have not been inspected, and the dust [testifies] to that”.

    This is one of the reasons I do not make definitive statements such as “The frequent resolutions of the ship’s council during the voyage, mentioned in the Journal have all been lost. In fact we don’t have any document that was written during the voyage!”

    Tasman’s document is similar to an annual report. He tells us what he wants the VOC directors to know. Other documents provide us with “I was there” perspectives.

    While we have significantly advanced our understanding of the Maori perspective, through the wonderful research of Patricia and others, we have not discussed what the SAC etc. are telling us.

    Currently an ‘Old Dutch’ scholar is looking at a sample of this document to evaluate the likely accuracy of the various translations. In itself that may be very revealing.

    And we definitely need broader discussions of what that document actually says. One aspect of this I have personally researched and have been published on, relates to the differing on-board views regarding ‘Cook strait’. Those views are reflected in the two different maps. But they also indicate a significant pre-knowledge of this land.

    My comments have been based on that research.

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