Early European charts of the Pacific Ocean
The Museum Library has in its collection a number of maps dating from the 17th and 18th centuries that depict the charting of the Pacific as Europeans sailed around the world and recorded their search for new territories and exotic merchandise. Many of these were originally published in atlases, made for wealthy patrons of Science.
A significant collection
The Museum Library is very fortunate to have a small collection of significant maps relating to the discovery and exploration of the Pacific Ocean and islands by Europeans, dating from before 1800. Of course, many islands were inhabited by indigenous peoples; but the practice of mapping and charting land and sea came with Europeans as they recorded their findings around the world.
In 1519 Ferdinand Magellan lead the Spanish expedition to the East Indies. His fleet of 5 ships took 3 years to sail westwards around the Earth; Magellan himself was killed in the Philippines in 1521, and only one ship, the Victoria, returned to Spain in 1522.
In the chart by Abraham Ortelius (see Maris Pacifici) the ship with the winged figure Victory (representing the ship Victoria) is being blown westward across the Pacific. Whilst the depiction of the Americas is quite good, notable is the made-up coastline of ‘imaginary’ land slanting across the bottom of the world. The Museum purchased this map at auction in 1981.
Mare del Sud detto altrimenti Mare Pacifico
Considered one of the great maps of the Pacific, Coronelli's Mare del Sud detto altrimenti Mare Pacifico depicts the west coast of America with California as an island.
Aotearoa is shown as a land of great extent and with an imaginary eastern coastline marked 'not yet well known' and a note 'discovered by the Dutch in 1654'. Southern Tasmania and a part of Australia are shown to the west.
It features the track of the 1615-17 voyage by Lemaire, who was the first to enter the Pacific by rounding Cape Horn, discovering that Tierra del Fuego was not part of the southern continent, 'Terra Australis'. Japan is separated by only 50 degrees from the California coast.
In Amsterdam, Louis Renard acquired the stock of publisher and engraver Frederick de Wit (deceased 1710) and re-printed a chart first published by de Wit in 1675 (see Magnum Mare).
This chart of the Pacific shows the west coast of North America depicting California as an island, a cartouche incorporating a portrait of Magellan and the figure of Neptune, and four galleons on the Pacific. De Wit's original map is clearly derived from Coronelli's Mare del Sud detto altrimenti Mare Pacifico
The Coronelli and the Renard charts were purchased by Enid Evans, the Museum's first professional Librarian, on her sabbatical trip to London in 1952.
Chart of part of the South Sea
After the voyages of Captain James Cook, depicting the Pacific became far more consistent and accurate. Many Pacific maps showed the tracks made by explorers (see Chart of part of the South Sea). This chart was gifted to the Museum in 1957.
Made to last
Although these maps are very old, they are in excellent condition chiefly because of the type of material from which the paper is made. Before the mechanisation of wood-pulp into paper, it was made by hand from quality plant material such as linen-flax, papyrus, mulberry, or hemp; also, clothing rags from cotton and linen were re-used to make paper. Some treatment has been carried out on these just to ensure they are stable and will last far into the future.
Cite this article
Early European charts of the Pacific Ocean. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 18 August 2015. Updated: 13 September 2018.
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