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The First Modern Map of Table Bay, South Africa

Cornerstone map of Table Bay and Cape Town, South Africa, from the extremely rare and important "Secret Atlas" of the Dutch East India Company (VOC).

While it has been suggested that the chart may have been rendered as early as 1728, it was first published decades later by Johannes (II) Van Keulen, in the VOC Secret Atlas in 1753. There exists several VOC manuscript charts from 1722 which provide cover a similar region, although this printed chart is more cartographically detailed and advanced.

The chart provides an unparalleled view of Table Bay and the surrounding area during the 1720s.

The map serves as both a practical sea chart, allowing for the maritime navigation of Table Bay, and a plan of the terrestrial layout of the small town below table mountain (now Cape Town). The map shows the coastal fortifications and the "Company's Garden" (of the VOC), which still exists. Interestingly the map shows a Dutch settlement on Robben Island, which the VOC then used for a prison and which would attain greater notoriety when Nelson Mandela was imprisoned there for 18 years.

The map includes a plethora of detail about the colony that was previously unrecorded in charts of the area. For instance:

-The infamous public Gallows near the Castle (now lower Buitenkant Street) and the Wheel Gallows (both labelled as 'Justitie').
-The Cape windmill (Caapsche Windmole) on the banks of the Liesbeek River, in the area of the first expansion of the nascent colony towards the east. This, of course, shows the beginning of the grain industry in the area. The windmill was fully demolished in the 20th century.
-Indicates the three main roads (to the north, east, and south). The roads still follow mostly the same route for miles.
-The watermill (Watermole). This indicates the beginning of the beer industry in the Cape; the same springs still supply the local industry today.
-The "Lion's Rump" and "Lion's Head".
-The anchor-ground.

Van Keulen's chart was later copied by Sayer & Bennett around 1778 (and thereafter amended by Laurie & Whittle in 1794), under the title: A Plan of Table Bay with the Road of the Cape of Good Hope, from the Dutch Survey Published by Joannes Van Keulen. This signaled an increasing British interest in the Cape of Good Hope. In 1795, the British invaded and occupied the Cape Colony, in response to the French takeover of the United Netherlands.

The VOC Secret Atlas

The so-called "Secret Atlas" of the Dutch East India Company was, in fact, Part VI of the Zee-Fakkel, published by Johannes (II) Van Keulen, from 1753. For the first 150 years of the Company's history, the VOC had resisted producing printed sea charts of the area east of South Africa, which the VOC saw as their proprietary region. By keeping these charts secret, the best available navigational information and coastal details would remain proprietary. To this end, manuscript charts were produced with proprietary information by the likes of Isaak de Graaf.

The Secret Atlas (Volume VI of the Zee-Fakkel), like the VOC manuscript maps before it, was never offered for sale to the public and was only issued to VOC ships, with explicit instructions that the charts must be returned at the completion of each voyage.

It is interesting to note that Sayer & Bennett published a nearly identical version of the map and credited Van Keulen with its production. This shows that decades after it had first been issued, the Van Keulen name and the VOC knowledge contained on the chart still carried real weight among the British public. The knowledge was still worth keeping secret -- and worth stealing!


The map is extremely rare on the market. We locate only a single example offered for sale by a dealer in the past 30 years and no other examples in published auction records.

We extend special thanks to Roger Stewart for his assistance in cataloging this map.

See The Van Keulen Cartography 530; 531.1; and 531.2.