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My Father's Islands

Introductory comments

Aims of the unit

Given that the time allocated to the unit will vary, at the very least, a study of My Father’s Islands should achieve the following:

A more comprehensive study of the book would also develop the following:

Teacher preparation

http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/44385/20040920-0000/www.nla.gov.au/collect/treasures/aug_treasure.html
This site contains a useful introduction to Tasman’s voyages, as well as an interesting account of the acquisition and conservation by the Library of the painting of Abel Tasman with his wife and daughter.


Introductory lesson: The portrait of Abel Tasman, his wife and daughter

Christobel Mattingley’s inspiration for My Father’s Islands came from a portrait of Abel Tasman with his second wife and his young daughter, painted in 1637 by Jacob Cuyp. The portrait was acquired by the National Library of Australia in 1959.
A copy of the painting is provided in the book, but you could use a large projected image in class by accessing the portrait online at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an2282370.
Class discussion of this portrait is an excellent starting point for this unit. Any study of the book should at least give time to this.

1.    Class discussion

Without saying anything about the portrait, allow the class a few minutes to look at it. Then ask the students for comments or conclusions, or have them record one or two responses on paper. These could form the starting point for discussion.

Questions to stimulate discussion

2.    After the class discussion

After an appropriate amount of discussion, reveal the identity of the family: Abel Tasman and his wife, Jannetje. She is the stepmother of the little girl, who is Tasman’s daughter Claesgen (pronounced Klasegen).
Conclude this lesson, or start the next one, with Claesgen’s account of having this portrait painted (pp. 32–33).

Suggestions for subsequent lessons

Suggestions for individual, group and/or class activities are set out under chapter headings. For each chapter, there is a short synopsis (in bold italics) to assist you in locating particular content.
This detailed approach will not be suitable if the study of the book has to be curtailed but the suggestions should assist in planning a shorter, but still rewarding, study of My Father’s Islands.
The symbol of a ship indicates chapters that are central to the significance of Tasman’s voyages in the history of Australia and New Zealand, or chapters that could have special appeal to a class.

CHAPTER ONE: Hello! Call me Claesgen

Claesgen introduces herself.

Activities

1.        Reading aloud

Read this chapter to the class.

2.         Focus question

What was Claesgen’s favourite thing among the gifts her father brought back from his voyages? (Sea shells)

3.         Discussion of the relationship between Abel Tasman and Claesgen

Why do you think Abel Tasman and his daughter were so close?
(Note: While the details of this relationship are imagined by the author, a discussion of this question should help to engage the interest of all students.)
Possible responses:
Claesgen’s mother died when she was a baby and she was a link to Tasman’s first wife.
The long absences of Tasman at sea made their time together more precious.
They shared a curiosity about the world, and Tasman encouraged his daughter to ask questions, while she listened to the stories of his voyages.
They enjoyed laughing together.

4.         Glossary

This could take the form of a class chart, built up during the unit, or it could be compiled by each student, which would suit independent learners. The footnotes provided in the book make compiling such a list a straightforward matter, but the discipline of regularly updating the chart is a sound one. You might need to check spelling, but this could be done quickly as a class activity.
Possible glossary items: sounding (p. 10); burghers, landlubber (p. 11); Terra Australis Incognita (p. 12); mizzen mast, foremast, mainmast (p. 13); astrolabe, cross-staff, sand-glass (p. 14)

5.         List of dangers faced by seventeenth-century European explorers

This could be the start of a cumulative list and could provide the basis of a group poster as a follow-up project.
Possible inclusions: storms, reefs, shoals, pirates (p. 11); hostility of other European powers e.g. rivalry with Spain (p. 15)

6.         Map work

The maps within the text will be useful for reference, but a map of the world and/or a globe would enable students to identify Holland, and to note its distance from the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and Batavia (Jakarta). The journey by sailing ship made such voyages lengthy and sometimes dangerous undertakings.
Have students, in small groups or individually, create a cumulative wall display.

CHAPTER TWO: From cows and canals to captain

Tasman’s early life; the Dutch East India Company

Activities

1.         Focus question

When, where and why did Abel Tasman achieve his dream of commanding his own ship? (incident, see p. 24)

2.         List of dangers faced by seventeenth-century European explorers

Have students add this incident to the list of dangers faced by seventeenth-century European explorers.

3.         Map work

Have students add the following places to the map: Arabia, India, Sumatra, Banda, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Amboina (Ambon), the Spice Islands (Moluccas), Siam (Thailand), Ceram (Seram).

4.         Glossary

Add: rigging, capstan (p. 19); shrouds (p. 20); caulking, spars (p. 23); pinnace (p. 24)

5.         List of spices

Make a list of the spices and luxury goods the Dutch East India Company ships brought back to Europe from the East (see pp. 21–22).
You could do this as a board exercise, with students recording the list in their own notes. This could form the basis of a future project on spices and the spice trade.

CHAPTER THREE: Smugglers, blockades and a portrait

Tasman returns to Holland, a portrait is painted; Tasman returns to Batavia, accompanied by his wife and daughter.

Activities

1.         Focus question

How long did it take to sail from Holland to Batavia, and what was the name of the ship in which Claesgen accompanied her father and stepmother?
(seven months; the Engel(Angel))

2.         List of dangers faced by seventeenth-century European explorers

Add: smugglers (p. 30); seamen’s poor diet, causing disease (p. 31); storms (p. 35)

3.         Glossary

Add: astern (p. 34)

4.         Creative response

For project work, have students use the description of the full moon on the ocean on p. 35 to create a painting or some other piece of art.

CHAPTER FOUR: Gold and silver islands

Two Dutch ships search without success for fabled gold and silver islands. Many sailors die through lack of food. But inaccurate charts are greatly improved for future voyages.

Activities

1.         Focus questions

Why were the two ships of the Dutch East India Company sent on this voyage?
Tasman brought his daughter Claesgen a ‘didapper feather’. What is a didapper?

2.         Map work

Indicate Japan and Formosa (Taiwan) on the map. Using Tasman’s own chart (p. 38), you could have students add the two small islands named after the expedition’s ships.

3.         List of dangers faced by seventeenth-century European explorers

Add: Fables and legends led ships on unknown routes, where charts were inaccurate (p. 42); poor diet, bad weather and exhaustion meant many sailors died and were buried at sea (p. 45).

4.         Glossary

Add: longitude, latitude (p. 40); guilder (p. 41); dogwatch (p. 45)

CHAPTER FIVE: To the Unknown South Land

Tasman’s expedition of 1642

Activities

1.         Focus question

What were the names of the two Dutch ships that Tasman led on this expedition?
(Heemskerck and Zeehaan)

2.         Map work

Pinpoint the island of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean. (Why did the expedition call there?)

3.         List of dangers faced by seventeenth-century European explorers

Add: ships ran aground or broke spars and rigging (p. 57), which often had to be repaired on land (p. 54); ropes and rigging were sometimes old and rotten (p. 55); injuries to sailors had to be treated by the ship’s surgeon (p. 56)

4.         Glossary

Add: steersman, cartographer (p. 51); ‘blew a topgallant gale’, spritsail yard, lying-to (p. 55); boatswain, pitch (p. 56)

CHAPTER SIX: The long watch

The expedition makes a long dangerous journey east across the southern ocean, in search of the Unknown South Land. Land is sighted at last.

Activities

1.         Focus questions

What types of bad weather did the ships and their crews experience in the wild southern oceans?
What sea creatures were seen on this part of the voyage? (Seal, whales, tunny fish)

2.         Map work

Add Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), New Holland (Australia). You could also indicate the route from Batavia to Mauritius to Van Diemen’s Land (see larger map on pp. 26–27).

3.         List of dangers faced by seventeenth-century European explorers

Add: danger of shipwreck in unknown, uncharted seas (p. 62); terrible weather: storms, snow, sleet, hail, fog; long weeks at sea, not knowing when they would see land again. (They left Mauritius on 8 October, 1642. Land sighted (Van Diemen’s Land) on 24 November. How many weeks was this?)

4.         Glossary

Add: coffer (p. 59); top yard, piece of eight (p. 62); ship’s log, quarterdeck (p. 63); poop deck (p. 66); leviathan, lodestone (p. 67).

CHAPTER SEVEN: Van Diemen’s Land

The first sighting of land after 48 days at sea; Tasman names the land Van Diemen’s Land, for the Governor of Batavia; shore party fails to secure fresh food or water; Tasman deduces the natives are giants; the Dutch flag is hoisted in Frederick Henricx Bay.

Activities

1.         Focus question

As it was too dangerous to take the small boats ashore through the waves, how was the Dutch flag finally planted in Van Diemen’s Land? What did this symbolise for the Dutchmen?(pp. 79–80)

2.         Map work

Students could make a detailed map, labelling the parts of Van Diemen’s Land that Tasman named, as well as Frederick Henricx Bay (now Blackman Bay (p. 79)), where the Dutch flag was raised.

3.         List of dangers faced by seventeenth-century European explorers

Add: It was often difficult and dangerous to land and get supplies of fresh food and water (pp. 75–77)
Why did Tasman conclude that the unseen people were very tall, like giants? (p. 77) Was this supposition correct? (No, but it shows that the Europeans expected danger from wild animals and hostile natives (p. 75).

4.         Planting the flag

The planting of the flag could be examined further, either at this point in the unit, or later, as a project.

This incident could be compared with the later voyage by Captain James Cook in 1770, raising the British flag on Possession Island, and claiming the East Coast for King George III of Britain.
When the First Fleet landed in Sydney Cove in 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip also raised the British flag and a toast was drunk to the new colony.

What do national flags mean to people today? Where are they flown? When are they used? (Sporting events etc.)
When the American astronauts landed on the Moon on 20 July 1969, they planted the American ‘Stars and Stripes’. How does this compare with what Tasman did in 1642? (The class could look up this event online and find a photo of the American flag planted on the moon’s surface. One of many relevant sites is: http://www.kidport.com/REFLIB/Science/MoonLanding/MoonLanding.htm

CHAPTER EIGHT: The Tasman Sea and second landfall

The South Island of Staten Landt (New Zealand) is sighted. The seamen relax in calm weather. The ships are approached by native canoes. An anxious night, as the Dutch anticipate hostility.

Activities

1.         Focus question

What souvenirs did Tasman bring Claesgen of things crafted by the Dutch sailors in still weather? (These things were made in calm weather, when the sailors had rare time to relax.)

2.         Map work

A map of Tasman’s contact with New Zealand might be of particular interest to New Zealand schools.
Maria and Schouten islands are mentioned in this chapter; also Vanderlijns Island (Freycinet Peninsula today) (p. 83); South Island of New Zealand (p. 84).

3.         List of dangers faced by seventeenth-century European explorers

Add: Natives in canoes approached the Dutch ships—they could not communicate through language and the sailors feared that they were hostile; Tasman ordered guns in place; night watch was nervous (pp. 85–87)

4.         Glossary

Add: hardtack, prow (p. 85)

CHAPTER NINE: Murderers Bay

The Dutch sailors are attacked by natives in canoes, four are killed; Tasman calls the place Murderers Bay.

Activities

1.         Focus Question

What was distinctive about the hairstyle of the attacking natives? (p. 91)

2.         Map work

Add Murderers Bay (Golden Bay), Staten Landt (New Zealand) (p. 95); Abel Tasman Passage (Tasman Sea) (p. 96).

3.         List of dangers faced by seventeenth-century European explorers

Add: European seamen were sometimes killed by hostile indigenous peoples, as in the incident at Murderers Bay
Discuss the reasons for hostility: lack of understanding of what was said on both sides, defence of territory by indigenous peoples, perhaps previous bad treatment by sailors on visiting ships

4.         Glossary

Add: quartermaster (p. 92)

CHAPTER TEN: The long sail for water and food

Discovery The North Island of New Zealand is discovered; coastline makes it too dangerous to land for fresh water.

Activities

1.         Focus question

How did the sailors celebrate Christmas Day, 1642? (see p. 101)

2.         Map work

Add: Zeehaansbocht, Zeehaan’s Bay (Cook Strait) (p. 99); North Island; Drie Coningen (Three Kings Islands) (p. 103)

3.         List of dangers faced by seventeenth-century European explorers

Add: unknown dangerous coastlines, poor weather, often made obtaining fresh food and water difficult (pp. 101–102).

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Finally a welcome

People of the Tongan Islands trade with the ships’ crews for fresh food; however, water is still not available.

Activities

1.         Focus questions

How did the Dutch sailors trade with the islanders?
How did they ‘pay’ for the food the local people brought to the ship? (pp. 107–108)

2.         Map work

Add: Tongan Islands

3.         List of dangers faced by seventeenth-century European explorers

Add: fear of hostile encounters because of the loss of men at Murderers Bay (pp. 108, 110, 111)

4.         Discussion

See the drawings of this encounter made by the expedition’s draughtsman, Mr Gilsemans (pp. 106, 115, 116–117).

5.         Glossary

Add: fore and aft (p. 107)

CHAPTER TWELVE: Adrift!

A shore party manages to obtain water; the Heemskerck breaks away from its anchorage and starts to drift

Activity

1.         Focus questions

What caused the ship to start drifting?
How would the shore party have felt when they saw their ship was not there? (p. 120)
(The steep bottom to the bay, afternoon trade wind meant the ship’s anchor broke free. The crew was reduced because of the shore party, so it had trouble securing the vessel, which continued to drift. The class could reflect on how critical it was not to lose touch with the ship!)

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Water at last!

The two ships get back together; a good supply of water for the expedition is obtained from another Tongan island; they sail past Fiji; storms and wild weather hit the ships

Activities

1.         Focus question

What did Tasman particularly enjoy about a rare expedition ashore on one of the Tongan islands?
(The scent of the earth and flowers p. 128.)

2.         List of dangers faced by seventeenth-century European explorers

Add risks to ships on such expeditions:

3.         Discussion

What punishments were given to crew members for disobedience? Why were they so harsh?

4.         Glossary

Add: leeward (p. 123); a lee shore (p. 129); hogshead (p. 125)

5.         Map work

Add: Prins William Eylanden (Fiji) (p. 130)

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: ‘Dark, rough, and dirty weather …’

Vivid description of sailing north and west in monsoon conditions—six weeks without seeing the sun; sightings of more islands, natives; barter attempts yield little

Activities

1.         Focus question

What did the quartermaster of the Heemskerck give away in an attempt to trade with the native people? (p. 141)

2.         List of dangers faced by seventeenth-century European explorers

Add: long weeks of wet weather affected the mood of the sailors (pp. 136–137).

3.         Map work

Add: Nova Guinea (New Guinea), New Ireland, Solomon Islands

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Calms, currents, earthquakes and encounters

The ships search for a shorter passage back to Batavia along New Guinea coast; they experience an earthquake at sea and sail past a glowing volcano

Activity

1.         Focus question

How did the earthquake at sea affect the ships? (p. 147)

CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Coconuts, coconuts and more coconuts

The ships barter with the native people for huge piles of coconuts

Activity

1.         Focus question

What was Claesgen’s concern about all the trade with the natives in coconuts?
(If there is time, this could be the basis of a discussion about what value the visiting ships were to the native peoples: were they treated justly by the visiting sailors?)

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: ‘So many large and small islands that there is no counting them’

The voyage continues along the New Guinea Coast; good passage is discovered for ships going west from Batavia to Peru; death of the Zeehan’s Captain; the homecoming, after 10 months at sea

Activity

1.         Focus question

What two losses occurred on 5 June? (p. 162: the kedge anchor, and a sailor charged with wrong doing, who swam to an island)

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: ‘We kept doing our best’

Abel Tasman receives a warm welcome from his family, but the Council of India is lukewarm about his great achievement: few prospects for trade and profit, ‘not adventurous enough’

Activity

1.         Focus questions

Why was Claesgen so upset after her father returned from seeing the Council of India, which had sponsored the trip?
What point does Tasman’s wife, Jannetje, make about the achievement of the voyage? (‘sailed further south than any previous navigator had done’ (p. 167))
For further information on Tasman’s achievements, see p 180.

CHAPTER NINETEEN: My father’s special island

In this final chapter the author imagines a conversation between Abel Tasman and his young daughter (For classes that have been able to undertake an in-depth study, this provides a delightful conclusion to the story.)

Activities

1.         Reading aloud

An ideal chapter to read aloud to the class.

2.         Focus question

Why don’t the names of Tasman’s wife and daughter appear on any maps? (p. 173) (Talk about the special small group of islands that Tasman perhaps secretly named for his family.)

TASMAN’S LATER YEARS