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Early European charts of the Pacific Ocean

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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.

Maris Pacifici (quod vulgo Mar del Zur), cum regionibus circumiacentibus, insulisque in eodem passim sparsis, novissima description / Abraham Ortelius. Antwerp: Christopher Plantin, 1589.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. G9230.

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.

Maris Pacifici

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

Mare del Sud detto altrimenti Mare Pacifico / auttore il P. M. Coronelli M.C. Cosmografo della Serenissima Republica di Venetia. Venice: Coronelli, 1696.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. G9230.
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.

Magnum Mare

Magnum Mare del Zur cum insula California = De groote Zuyd-Zee en't Eylandt California / L. Renard. Amsterdam: L. Renard, 1715.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. G9230.

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.

Chart of part of the South Sea shewing the tracts and discoveries made by His Majesty's ships Dolphin, Commodore Byron, & Tamer, Capn Mouat, 1765, Dolphin, Capn Wallis, & Swallow, Capn Carteret, 1767, and Endeavor, Lieutenant Cooke, 1769 / engraved by William Whitchurch. London: Strahan & Cadell, 1773.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. G9230.

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

Senior, Julie. 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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