Category Archives: Exploration

The U.S.S. Jeannette

Two different versions of the same map, separated between editions not only by 14 years, but also by differences in quality. The later map also includes fascinating additional manuscript text showing the ‘Probable drift of articles from the “Jeannette”‘.

Nord-Polar-karte, 1905. M1 (173)

The pages come from Adolf Stieler’s Handatlas, first published in 1817 and going through numerous editions with contributions from some of Germany’s leading cartographers, including Hermann Berghaus, who designed the 1905 Arctic map, and Augustus Petermann, who will play a further part in this story. An interesting and complex character as well as an outstanding cartographer, here’s a link to an earlier blog about the man.

Nord-Polar-karte (with manuscript additions), 1891. M1 (172)

The map, especially the later coloured version is good in itself, giving a high birds-eye view of the top of the World with insets showing a more traditional approach to topographical representation at the edges and two gridded circular maps at the bottom corners showing ocean currents  and coverage of the Northern Lights (see inset). But it’s the manuscript additions that make the earlier map more interesting, despite its condition. The Jeannette was originally a Royal Navy ship called the Pandora, one in a long line with that name, the first being the ship sent to capture the Bounty mutineers in 1790. In 1879 she was  sent on an expedition to the North Pole. The main aim of the expedition was to follow the Kuroshio Current, a warm current system in the Pacific similar to the Gulf Stream which it was believed, incorrectly, to flow through the Bering Strait and then into the ‘Open-Polar Sea’, an imagined sea set in the Arctic Sea free of ice. This sea was mapped by Mercator in 1569 but believed to exist even before Mercator’s famous map of the World. It was Petermann, a firm believer in the existence of the warm sea current theory, that proposed the expedition that would lead to the Jeannette setting sail in 1879.

Polus Articus, from Atlas Minor, by Gerardi Mercatoris, 1621. Map Res 100.

This map of the Polar region comes from a 1621 edition of Mercator’s Atlas Minor. Mercator went further than most in his views on the Pole, believing that not only that there was an ice-free sea but that the Earth was hollow and the ocean flowed through holes at the Pole into the Earth.

Leaving San Francisco in July the Jeannette passed through the Bering Strait in late August and continued her journey towards the Pole, but by the 7th of September she became trapped in ice, and spent the next 21 months drifting according to the currents and movement of the ice until finally the pressure put on the ship caused it to break apart and sink in June, 1881.

This extract from the earlier map shows two islands discovered as the ship was trapped, Jeannette and Henrietta, with a further island, Bennett, discovered as the crew tried to reach land after the ship sank. The map dramatically shows the location of the ship’s final moments, ‘Untergang [doom] d. Jeannette, 13 Juni 1881’ and the manuscript additions show the path taken by the ‘articles’ of the ship, the remains left on the ice after the ship went down, which slowly floated on currents down the east coast of Greenland before beaching on the southwest of the island.

Stanford’s map of the countries around the North Pole, 1875. M1 (107)

This beautiful map of the North Polar region was published 4 years before the voyage of the Jeanette by Stanford’s, the famous map publishers and sellers out of 55 Charing Cross. This map highlights the hardship faced by Polar explorers, with vast areas of the Arctic labelled ‘Unexplored Polar Region’. It’s to the credit of these intrepid explorers that there is so much red text and lines on the map, indicating what the map calls ‘chief Arctic worthies and the dates of discovery’.  The inset from the map shows the same area as shown earlier in this blog, with the group of islands round New Siberia before the discoveries made by the Jeanette.

It’s a story reminiscent of Shackleton and the Endurance in the South Pole, with one crucial difference. Like the Endurance the Jeannette’s crew survived the hardships of the ship’s entrapment. But 20 of the crew of the Jeannette perished in the attempt to reach safety, including the captain, George Washington de Long, although 13 of them did survive.

 

…and in less than a quarter of an hour went all to pieces…

Before the introduction of the first Admiralty Chart by the Hydrographic Office of the Navy British- produced nautical charts were published by independent map-makers. In the case of the map featured in this blog Laurie and Whittle. Robert Laurie and James Whittle took over the map making business of Robert Sayer in 1794, and this map, drawn in 1786 but published in 1794, must have been one of the first the duo made. The company still exists today, producing maps and charts under the name ImrayLaurie, Norie and Wilson. Laurie was a skilled artist and engraver and presumably was responsible for the fine cartography and views on display on…

A new chart of the Southern Coast of Africa, from The Cape of Good Hope to Dalagoa Bay; including The Bank of Cape Agulhas, its soundings, currents within and without & c. is a remarkable chart for a number of reasons.

The skills involved in the creation of the map are evident, from the engraving to the information on depths and sea-floor sediments in the Bank of Cape Agulhas to the artistic representation of the view of the Cape of Good Hope.

The map plots the course around the Cape, an important but dangerous part of the journey to and from the Indies for European shipping. To aid in this journey the area to the south of the Cape, the Bank of Cape Agulhas, is prominently featured, showing both the extent of the bank to stop ships running aground and the depths and constitution of the sea floor. Sea depths, called soundings, would have been recorded by lowering rope with a lead weight attached, which may have a waxy substance added to the bottom which would pick up sediment. Judging by the amount of information shown this was considered an important place to survey and was presumably a tricky place to sail over. That the Bank was navigable can be seen by the course that the Worcester took on the outward bound journey from Britain to India in 1786. The Worcester was an East Indiaman (which is a general term for a ship of any European nation with trade links with India) which made a number of journeys to the Indies between 1786 and 1809, journeys which would usually take two years to complete. It may seem strange to focus on the journey of one individual ship, the intention being presumably to show the route taken as an example for those using the chart to plot their own progress round the Cape, as the Worcester has plotted a course to battle against as little head-current as possible. The map also shows the best line for taking advantage of the currents going round the Cape from a westerly direction, giving information on how fast the currents travel as well as the best course to take to make the most of the currents (‘the best track of the ships to avail themselves of the current’). Currents are also shown on the Bank, hence the …currents within and without … part of the title. Two large insets show safe harbours, both detailing rocks, good  anchorage and depths.

In this extract of the Bank of Cape Aguihas the routes of both the Worcester (the straight dotted line in the centre of the image that then goes off at an angle to the bottom right) on the outbound journey while the route to take best advantage of the currents for those heading home follows the line of the three ships. The make-up of the sea floor is clearly shown. The importance in plotting currents, especially in the age of sail, can be seen in the amount of times they feature on maps, both nautical and general. This map, again published by Laurie and Whittle in 1794 shows currents in the Indian Ocean, highlighting the importance of this part of the World for European trade. Unlike the main map in this blog, which would have been made from existing plates in Sayer’s collection this is a copy of a French map from 1776.

A chart of the currents in the Indian Sea during the southwest monsoon, to the northward of the line, 1794. (E) L1 (143)

The map below is an extract from Africa divided into its several regions (1792), by the person that Laurie and Whittle first worked for, Robert Sayer. The pair bought all existing stock and plates and took over his premises when Sayer died in 1794. At the southern tip of the continent is a less detailed portrayal of the Bank.

Ironically, for something that deals with the safe passage at sea, the most dramatic part of the map deals with a shipwreck. ‘On Thursday the 17th July 1755, about a quarter before one in the morning, the Doddington, outward bound East indiaman, struck on a rock about 3 leagues from the Main of Africa, and in 33d. 44m. south latitude. They had doubled the Cape…the time they were lost they saw the breakers, and in less than a quarter of an hour went all to pieces : out of 270 people only 23 were saved. They remained on this rock (which they named Bird Island) six months, and built a ship out of the wreck, the Chief Mate and 16 people all that were left alive, went to Madagascar in her…’. Bird Island is still named thus, and there is a Doddington Rock nearby, on the inset at right Bird Island is just to the east of Algoa Bay. Like the Worcester the Doddington was part of the fleet of the East India Company. Formed in 1600 to look after British trade the EIC eventually colonised large parts of India and Southeast Asia and pretty much ran India for the British Government following the Battle of Plassey in 1757 until corruption  and mutiny forced the Crown to take  control in 1858.

This fold-out map comes from a book (A journal of the proceedings of the Doddington, East-Indiaman, from her sailing from the Downs till she was unfortunately wrecked on some rocks on the East Coast of Africa*)  written by one of the survivors, Mr. Webb, one of the ship’s mates.

The book describes how the ship set sail on April the 23rd, 1755, taking seven weeks to get to the Cape. Then disaster strikes early on Thursday, July 17th, as the ship is wrecked on Bird Island. Despite breaking an arm and being being told by the Captain that ‘we should all perish’ Webb managed to get to Bird Island and eventually take part in the journey on a boat made from the wrecked remains 6 months later to Madagascar.  On this extract from the map Bird Island is the central rock A while the rock marked F is believed by Webb to be the one the ship first hit before being driven by the high seas onto Bird.

At some point before coming to the  Bodleian the map has been repaired with sellotape, so this will have a trip to conservation to restore it back to its former glory.

If you have enjoyed reading about nautical charts then more can be found here  , a blog telling the story of a chart made for Samuel Pepys, while a blog about a map made by fellow diarist John Evelyn for Pepys can be found here , and a blog about beautifully engraved French charts can be found here

*203 g.233. c.1756

A new chart of the Southern Coast of Africa, from The Cape of Good Hope to Dalagoa Bay; including The Bank of Cape Agulhas, its soundings, currents within and without & c. 1794 620.11 t 2 (2)

 

Same but different

Location names get repeated throughout the World. Old and New York, Egyptian and Elvis Memphis, the list goes on and on. No one pair or group can have such a distance between them, and such a difference in what they are, as the Milky Way.

Der Südliche Sternenhimmel, c1899. A1 (42)

The Milky Way is one part of the Spiral Galaxy that includes our Solar System. Stars in their billions, so numerous that they appear as a river of milky light in the night sky. It is thought that there are as many planets as stars amongst the light. As with everything in the Universe size and distance defies belief, the width of the Milky way visible from Earth is 1000 light years across (light travels at 186,282 miles per second, 299,792 km, so in one year light travels 5.88 trillion miles, 9.46 trillion km. A trillion is one million million).

Here’s the Milky Way in two maps. First is a German map of the Southern Hemisphere from circa 1899 by the prolific Justus Perthes publishing house in Gotha. And then a later English map of the Northern Hemisphere from George Philip and Son in 1959. This is one part of a larger map which includes an equivalent  map of the Southern Hemisphere, a larger map of the Middle Heavens and lists and charts of stars and clusters. It’s easier to see from the Philip map how the Milky Way got its name.

Philips’ Chart of the Stars, A1 (10), 1959

The Milky Way is also a narrow bit of water between Noir and Kempe Islands at the western side of the Tierra del Fuego. It gets its name for the same reason, a milky appearance from a frothy stretch of white water. A book published in 1847, the North and South Atlantic Memoir, describes it as ‘a space of sea, in every part of which rocks are seen just awash with, or a few feet above, the water; on them the sea continually breaks’. The gentle name belies a dangerous passage between the islands with rocks clearly seen on the chart, a danger to any passing ship.

This extract comes from an Admiralty Chart of the Magellan Strait from 1887. The names on the chart give an indication of the hard landscape and dangerous sailing which abound. ‘Useless Bay’, ‘Desolate Bay’, ‘Famine Reach’, and the high number of narrow channels, many of which lead to a dead-end, show how hard it must have been for early explorers to navigate as opposed to sailing round Cape Horn. No wonder Magellan took so long to find a passage through.

Magellan Strait (formerly Magalhaen) sht 554, 1887

This chart shows the skills involved of the surveyors who measured, took soundings, kept records as well as lived onboard ship in such a harsh environment and the cartographers who then transferred this jumble of information on to a map. One of these surveyors was Commander Robert Fitzroy, of His Majesties Ship Beagle. This was Fitzroy’s first journey through Tierra del Fuego, his second, and more famous, was with Charles Darwin aboard as a companion and scientific officer. It was on this voyage that Darwin, after making numerous studies on the natural history of the lands explored on the voyage formed his theory of natural selection. In his book ‘The Voyage of the Beagle’ Darwin wrote ‘We passed out between the East and West Furries: and a little further northward there are so many breakers that the sea is called the Milky Way. One sight of such a coast is enough to make a landsman dream for a week about shipwrecks, peril and death…’. Fitzroy went on to become an expert on meteorology, forming what would become the Met office in 1854 and created ways to predict weather patterns, something which he gave a new name to, forecasts. A fervent Christian Fitzroy was horrified by the publication of Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’, the effect it would have religious beliefs and his role in helping Darwin form his theories by taking him on the Beagle voyage. Depression ran in his family, and Darwin’s fame together with financial difficulties and trouble with the Met Office led to Fitzroy taking his own life in April 1865.

Darwin’s importance can be seen in this  extract from the chart, with Darwin Sound and Beagle Channel appearing on a map just under 30 years after Darwin published his ground-breaking work.

 

 

Woodcuts

The easiest way to get round the age-old problem of portraying a three dimensional landscape on a flat piece of paper? Make a map that in itself is three dimensional. Freed from traditional European conventions dating back to Ptolemy peoples from different cultures could, and did, express themselves and their surroundings in a way alien to those with a ‘European mindset’ that made sense to those with a shared culture. Examples are numerous, ranging from the stick charts made by Polynesian navigators to the Medicine Wheels of North America, which enabled their builders to predict seasonal changes by astronomical observations (European prehistoric stone circles had a similar function). It is this freedom that enables the cartographer to use what ever material is suitable, as the Inuit hunter Kuniit has done with these maps made from wood, an ideal medium to portray a rocky and indented coastline.

The maps were made in a settlement on Greenland’s eastern seaboard, Ammassalik, by Kuniit, who sold them to the Danish Naval Officer and Arctic explorer Gustav Holm during Holm’s expedition to south-eastern Greenland using traditional Inuit boats between 1883 and 1885. The originals are in the Greenland National Museum and Archives, these are facsimiles made for the 23rd International Conference of the History of Cartography, held in Copenhagen in 2009.

At first these two maps appear hard to interpret, but a little bit of reading sheds some light. The surrounding coastline is a jumble of Fjords and off-shore islands, and it is this area north of Ammassalik that the two pieces map. The broader of the two shows the coastline while the longer the off-shore islands. Small nodules mark the places, according to Holm’s interpretation, where old settlements were sited and which proved good places to land a boat while the grooves over the ridges (shown here) show places where kayaks and small boats could be portaged around headlands when the seas were blocked by ice.

 

One of the more interesting aspects about the maps is how they portray the coastline, because the wooden blocks mirror the way the coastline wraps around the land. When used to journey around the inlets and islands north of Ammassalik the blocks would be continually turned to face the direction of the land shown on the blocks, north being very much a moveable concept. Also, the top features on both sides of the broader piece represent areas furthest away from each other on the map, as you drop down the wooden block, on both sides, the locations get closer together. Compare the blocks to the maps of the area, shown here, in this extract from Fishing chart of Southern Greenland & adjacent seas, 1906. M4:7 (1)

The top part of the thinner of the two wooden maps corresponds to Storö (a) on the paper map. As you drop down the wooden map the features match up with the paper as if you were sailing around them, so for insistence the penultimate island on the wooden map matches up with the island Morene (to the left of b) on the paper, so despite starting at the top with a northern orientation you now need to rotate the wooden block to face south to get it to match up with the coastline of Morene.

The same principles work with the larger wooden block. The top right corresponds with the northern side of the inlet above Storö  (1), with the first inlet on the wooden block representing the small fjord above Storö (2). The right-hand side carries on down the coastline, ending up with the last section matching the small peninsula above the island of Stenö. Then the left-side of the larger block starts at the far extreme of the wooden blocks range, with the top sections representing the headlands above the settlement of Sermiligaaq (4) before ending opposite Morene (5). As can be seen there is a natural flow to the wooden blocks in harmony with the land they map. A fluid approach to orientation allows for a design that is as uncomplicated as possible, despite first appearances.

The question is though how useful this would be to the Inuits of the area. To be be able to map an area so well would suggest that for your own use you wouldn’t need to map it in the first place. So were these blocks made as a navigational aid for Holm, who presumably had existing maps and charts of the area already, or with the onset of European exploration in the region were they made to sell, as souvenirs in much the same way that the majority of the Polynesian stick charts that exist today were made towards the end of the nineteenth century for European explorers?

Gustav Holm wrote a number of articles in the Danish journal ‘Meddelelser om Grønland’ (Notices of Greenland) about his travels around King Christian IX Land, which were illustrated with a number of sketches, photographs and a map. One of the sketches is of the wooden blocks, where it can be seen that there was a third made, which covers the area around Ammassalik between the fjords Sermiligaaq (Sermiligak on the map, top right) and Kangerdlwarsikajik (Kangerdluarsikajik on the map). Identifying places isn’t easy as spelling isn’t consistent across available maps, with places even spelt in slightly different ways between the text and the maps in Holm’s articles!

As can be seen in these sketches of the three wooden blocks the two blocks that were reproduced for the 2009 Conference have numerous references next to key points which correspond with a page of text next to the image. The image on the left doesn’t have these, and in the text is given the briefest of mentions (‘Fig. 3 represents the halfway between the fjords Sermiligaaq and Kangerdlwarsikajik’) which suggests that when It was given to Holm it was either too old or too inaccurate to be of use. It certainly doesn’t have the sense of newness that the middle and right-hand maps have.

This map and image of the wooden blocks come from ‘Meddelelser om Grønland’, 1888. Gen. Per 22

Information on the maps came from the The History of Cartography, vol. 2, book 3, Cartography in the traditional African, American, Arctic, Australian and Pacific Societies, edited by David Woodward and G. Malcolm Lewis,1998 G24 B1.100 (2iii)

The coastline 100 km northward from Ammassalik, East Greenland made by the Inuit hunter Kuniit from the Umiviik settlement in Ammassalik Fiord, 2009 M4 d.1

 

A land of silver?

This beautiful map of part of the coast of Brazil has been in the Bodleian’s collections for many years. It was drawn to our attention recently by an enquiry from officials in the city of Fortaleza, part of the area which it represents.

The map is in an unusual style; a planimetric view of the coast from above gradually shifts as we look inland to a bird’s eye view of the mountains outlined against the sky as if in a picture. It shows the area around the fort, built by the Dutch West India Company in 1649 and first named Fort Schoonenborch (the name is spelt in several different ways on this map). The inland areas of forest around the river are beautifully depicted. North is towards the bottom of the sheet, as indicated by the compass rose. The text is in French, with a number of misspellings that suggest it may have been made by someone who was a not a good French speaker; the spelling of “Zud” instead of “Sud” for south in the title for example. The area was disputed by the Dutch and Portuguese, and the fort was handed over to the Portuguese in 1653. They renamed it Fortaleza de Nossa Senhora de Assunção; the area around it is now a substantial city, still called Fortaleza, capital of the north eastern state of Ceará.

The map includes a detailed plan of the fort, a section through and a numbered index locating its features. This would be useful military information. Some water depths are given around the fort; the map would be of practical use for anyone arriving by sea.

The map was found amongst the papers of Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon. Why is this hand drawn map of part of the coast of Brazil amongst the state papers of an adviser to an English king? The answer is in the accompanying written text described as a “Remonstrance concerning advantages for his sacred Majestie”, directed to Charles II. It explains that the map is a “true copy of an original gotten out of the secret cabinet of the Amsterdam West India Company”, and describes the enormous value of silver that exists to be mined in the area. The text appears to come from Balthazar Gerbier (who also refers to himself by the name Douvilly, a reference to a probably invented noble ancestor). At this time Gerbier, formerly a courtier, diplomat and art consultant, had fallen on hard times since the Restoration. He had previously taken part in an unsuccessful expedition to Guiana in search of gold. His extravagant claims regarding silver around Fortaleza do not appear to have been followed up.The hope of finding precious metal was an important part of exploration of the Americas by Europeans. This cartouche from a Dutch printed map of South America, from around the same time, shows South American people apparently smelting metal before well-dressed European gentlemen in ruffs and flamboyant hats; miners can be seen carrying their pick axes uphill in the background.

La description dela contrée de Chiara en Amerique á trois degrez du zud du temp que la Compagnie des Indes Occidentalos la possedoit, et y avoient erigé le fort Schonenbourg. 1649-1653,  MS. Clarendon 92 (f.179a)

Tractus australior Americae Meridionalis a Rio de la Plata per Fretum Magellanicum ad Toraltum. ca 1650. (E) H1:7 (2)

Going South

The early 20th century was the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration with the competition between a handful of men really pushing the boundaries of discovery and survey. Ernest Shackleton was at the forefront of this but it wasn’t until after the Nimrod Expedition which he led from 1907 to 1909 that he was able to write about it.

The Expedition, named after the aging ship, Nimrod, was short on funds, lacking experience and preparations were rushed.  Finally the difficulties were overcome and team were underway southwards. The main target was to be the first men to the South Pole. Once the team arrived in Antarctica there were a range of geographical and scientific objectives to be undertaken but there would be long periods of inactivity due to the season and weather. However, Shackleton had put some thought to what the team could do in the long dark winter months.  He took along a printing press with which all the members of the Expedition wrote a book, Aurora Australis.

 

The challenges of writing, illustration, printing and binding this work in the frigid temperatures cannot be overstated and became the first book published in Antarctica. Published at ‘The Sign of the Penguin’ (Cape Royds) the extreme cold meant the printing ink became thick and difficult to work.  It can be imagined that to include maps in this work would just be too difficult. However, about one hundred of these volumes were produced and bound by another expedition member, Bernard Day, using recycled horse harnesses and Venesta boards from the packing cases.

Each copy retains stenciling indicating the provisions packed in that case which gives each copy a name.  The lettering on the Bodleian’s copy is “Kidneys”.

An Australian member of Nimrod Expedition, Douglas Mawson, created the maps of the expedition from surveys he and other members undertook. A geologist at the University of Adelaide by profession, he was ideally placed to do this work.

The maps show the Expedition’s Winter Quarters at McMurdo Sound, Cape Royds, and their routes on land and ice.  The style of the maps is attractively spare but almost illustrative. Printed in colour, the depiction of relief is mainly pictorially stippled with the names of the features are a mixture between prosaic (Brown Island, Snow Valley) and commemorational such as Mount Evans, Mount Doorly, both named by Captain Scott during the earlier Discovery Expedition after colleagues. Also notice the Royal Society Range – it’s always good to keep your sponsors onside. The routes show the first ever ascent of Mount Erebus, the second highest volcano in Antarctica, and the route southwards. It is poignant that the route stops not at the South Pole but at the map edge, dated “16.1.09 Lat. 72° 25’ Long. 155° 16’.”. However, this was the furthest south anyone had reached at that time.

 

The maps were drawn once the party returned to England and were issued in The heart of the Antarctica by Ernest Shackleton which was published in 1909 as a weighty two volume work.

The heart of the Antarctic  2036 d.17,18

Aurora Australis Broxb. 51.14

Golden Globes

Globes in various forms are an everyday sight but intriguing none the less.  Like maps there are increasingly being looked at in an aesthetic light, but were designed with a clear educational function.  An early example the ’Erdapfel’ or ‘Behaim globe’ constructed between 1490 and 1492

was thought to have come to the attention of Christopher Columbus before his famous voyage.  He would have consulted flat paper maps but it is only on a globe can you appreciate the directness of the Great Circle route. They also “contrived to solve the various phœnomena of the earth and heavens, in a more easy and natural manner” so said George Adams in his Treatise describing the construction and explaining the use of new celestial and terrestrial globes. (1777)

Globes were traditionally made using gores – 12 or 16 shaped paper or vellum strips pasted to a sphere with ‘calottes’ or caps to cover the inevitable untidiness at the joins at the north and south pole and subsequently mounted at 23½° off the vertical to replicate earth’s tilt in space. To maintain this angle lead shot was used to balance. Some globes were manufactured to be portable whereby they can be disassembled in 48 pieces.

Modern self-supporting globes use sections that bear very little resemblance to the elegant gore. The traditional skill of globe making has been revived recently by Greaves & Thomas a small company specialising in the production of all manner of globes “spanning cartographic history from 1492 to the present day”.

The Bodleian has never restricted itself to collecting justbooks and manuscripts. Indeed it was Sir Thomas Bodley who purchased a pair of extravagantly expensive terrestrial and celestial Molyneux globes (1592) and subsequently bemoaned the fact they were getting ‘slurred’ (smudged) and so their upkeep would become a continuous charge.  This proved to be the case as the Bodleian accounts show payments made to the joiner in 1629, 1636 and in 1644 for mending one or other of the globes.  This pair was discarded in favour of a pair of Blaeu globes which can be seen on a contemporary print by David Loggan of Duke Humfrey’s Library in 1675. It appears these were also rejected in favour of a more modern (and smaller) pair of John Senex globes dating from 1728.  It is this pair which reside in the Rare Books and Manuscript Reading Room of the Weston Library.  .

Today globes are more likely to be found as blow ups, pop ups or large installations.

Examples of this more public structure can be found in Boston, Massachusetts as the Mapparium in the Mary Baker Eddy Library and De Lorme’s Eartha globe in Yarmouth, Maine but equally the inflatable globe functions well as a ball on a beach. ‘Three dimensional atlases’ are now being published as pop ups of hemispheres, illustrating text wonderfully for younger readers. Miniature globes were regarded as children’s toys with some educational value but the most peculiar is the ostrich egg. Sadly the Bodleian does not possess one of these wonderful objects but given its delicate structure it is only a decorative piece.

Mapparium photo credit: https://flic.kr/p/2dhfXcJ

Egg photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bellerby_%26_Co_Egg_Globe_Commission.jpg

 

Boats and Maps

Maps come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and one recent purchase by the Rare Books Section was not one I’d seen before.  The artist’s book The last voyage by Tracey Bush is based on a poem by a seventeenth century wit John Taylor who undertook a journey in a paper boat with two stockfish tied to canes for oars from London to Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.  The map is fashioned into a hand folded paper model of a boat which is accompanied by a booklet with extracts of the poem In praise of the hemp-seed written by Taylor to describe his journey. The booklet and boat are made entirely by hemp paper and are contained in a folder secured by a small piece of hemp rope.

This artistic use of maps is increasing with the popularity of maps as visual objects and you can see them everywhere – mugs, mouse mats and even the former First Lady’s dress. What is it about maps that is so appealing?  Is it the potential for a journey? The depiction of something (generally) real? Or do they just make pretty things to look at? Whatever the draw it has been going on for centuries as can be seen by Leo Belgicus which was first drawn in 1583 by Michaël Eytzinger, an Austrian cartographer.  He depicted the Low Countries as a lion rampant facing east, an image which was popular in various forms for many years.

As was closer to home James Gillray’s caricature of England as an old woman seated on a sea creature.  Otherwise it is the content, rather than the appearance of the map which is more important – who hasn’t seen advertisements for items personalised with a map of a significant location in cufflinks, necklaces and puzzles.

Whatever it is in this age of technology maps remain relevant as practical items (an Ordnance Sheet doesn’t require a mobile phone signal) and an artefact thus still fulfilling the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s definition of cartography as ‘the art and science of graphically representing a geographical area, usually on a flat surface such as a map or chart. It may involve the superimposition of political, cultural, or other non-geographical divisions onto the representation of a geographical area.’

Alaska before Alaska

This striking map of North America from 1836 first came to our attention because of the labeling of Alaska, here called Russie Américaine. Russia had started to explore the coastline of

Alaska in the 1720’s, with the Dane Vitus Bering the first to travel through the strait that now bears his name. This inevitably led to fur traders moving in and setting up posts, gradually spreading out into the hinterland meeting up with traders coming from the Canadian side in the next century. Never profitable, Russia sold Alaska to the United States in 1867 for $7.2 million.

But there is a lot more to the map than the Alaska question. The map was published at a time of major changes in the way that North America was beginning to develop into the countries and states we recognize today. In 1836 Canada relates to a small part of the country around the St Lawrence River north of the Great Lakes while the rest of this now vast country is left to Native Americans and traders. Mexico extends far up the west coast to the Oregon border, while Texas is shown as an independent state, not yet part of the United States but no longer part of Mexico after defeating the Mexican Army in 1835.

The importance of trade in the opening up of the west is best shown with the settlement of Astoria. Lewis and Clark’s Government-sponsored exploration to open up the West between 1805-06 had lead to further expansion, John Jacob Astor and his Pacific Fur Company being amongst the first to found a settlement, Astoria, on the banks of the Columbia River.

Exploration beyond the Arctic Circle was focused at the time of the map publication in finding the Northwest Passage. British explorers had first started the search for a link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans as early as 1576, but it wasn’t until the great naval voyages of Franklin and Ross in the early 1800’s that real progress was made, despite the harsh conditions and sea-ice. Franklin went on a number of expeditions from 1819 leading to the last final expedition in 1845 which ended in tragedy with the loss of all who took part.

Amerique de Nord par A.H. Dufour, 1836. (E) B9 (102)

Smoke on the water

This untitled map shows the route of the journey made from Siam to Brest by the French Ambassador for King Louis XIV to Siam, Alexandre, Chevalier de Chaumont in 1686. The journey taken is shown by the dotted line going through a large area of the South Atlantic (the distance between Ascension and St Helena alone is close to 750 miles). The map is undated but comes from the Libro dei Globi, by the Venetian cartographer, globe maker and Franciscan Monk Vincenzo Coronelli, published between 1683 and 1704.

fire

The map centres on the islands of St Helena and Ascension, discovered by the Portuguese in the previous century, important lands that break up the hazardous journey across the Atlantic. As well as the cartographic detail on display the map also features boats from Brazil and the Congo and fishing vessels from Guinea. Using fire as a way to attract fish to the boat the fishermen then spear the fish using a trident. One boat has a fire burning inside, with holes to allow smoke into the water, presumably to stun the fish. In the middle of the map are a group of putti, winged spirits (this time with additional fishes tails). Usually shown engaged in an activity here they are carrying a piece of Elephant ivory.

fire inset

Coronelli was a highly acclaimed maker of globes, with commissions from the great families of Europe, Louis the XIV amongst them. The Libro dei Globi is an atlas made up of the maps which were drawn for the globes. More correctly called Gores, the sheets are cut to fit around a spherical ball, hence the shape of the map shown here.

gore1

This example of a Gore map comes from a facsimile of the Libro dei Globi on the open shelves of the Map Room, in the Weston Library, G1 B1.21q

Unnamed map by Vincenzo Coronelli, circa 1683-1704. (E) K14 (124)