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Fine Chart of the Cape of Good Hope from an Important History of the Dutch in the East Indies

Nice example of Francois Valentijn's chart of the coast of South Africa near the Cape of Good Hope and Table Bay. It featured in his Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indien, a significant history of the Dutch in Maritime Asia and one written with rare access to the Dutch East India Company (VOC) archives and information.

The chart shows the area around one of the most important sites for early modern trade and navigation, the Cape of Good Hope. It stretches from Saldanha Bay in the west to the coast just beyond the Cape in the east. Many rhumb lines crisscross the chart, and sounding depths are included in Saldanha Bay, Dassen Island, Robben Island, Table Bay, Sout Bay, and False Bay. Steep hills and cliffs line the coast. A scale is at the bottom center and a decorative compass rose is in the bottom right.

Bartolomeu Dias was the first European to reach the Cape in the early modern era. He landed there in 1488 and named the promontory the Cabo das Tormentas, or Cape of Storms. Joan II of Portugal renamed it as the Cape of Good Hope, a decidedly more optimistic name.

Saldanha Bay was initially called Table Bay after the Portuguese encountered it in 1503. In 1601, when nearby Table Bay was named the same thing, the name Saldanha was given to the first bay, after the Portuguese António de Saldanha who was a captain in the initial expedition. Saldanha also was the first European to anchor in the actual Table Bay and the first European to climb Table Mountain.

The Dutch settled the Cape in 1652 and established a camp near Table Bay. Today, this city is Cape Town, although on this chart settlements are not shown. It quickly became an important stopping point for all ships sailing from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.

Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indien

After spending sixteen years in the East Indies over the course of several voyages, Valentijn returned to his native Dordrecht. There, he finished his history of the East Indies, Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indien. The book was divided in five parts spread over eight volumes. It had over a thousand illustrations, including some of the most accurate maps of the region published to that date.

For the text, Valentijn borrowed heavily from contemporary works. To create such detailed maps and descriptions, Valentijn most likely also had access to the VOC’s archives. These archives were closely watched and very few scholars or officials gained entry, particularly if they were likely to publish the contents of the repository. Indeed, Valentijn was lucky to see his work published at all.

Today, Valentijn’s work is regarded as a veritable encyclopedia on maritime Asia. It is considered a useful collection of sources, from the eighteenth century and earlier, drawn from the VOC and personal papers. Some of his maps, particularly those of Australia, are drawn from manuscript sources now lost, making his history the lone surviving record of endangered knowledge.

This chart shows one of the world’s most important features, the Cape of Good Hope, in detail. It was featured in an important publication chronicling the Dutch in the East Indies. It would be an advantageous addition to any collection of Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, or Dutch charts and maps.  

S. Arasaratnam, Francois Valentijn’s Description of Ceylon: (Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indien, 1726) (London: Hakluyt Society, 1977).