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Rare Maps of South American Port Cities, part of the Founding of the South Sea Company

Separately-published partial sheet containing maps of Valdivia, Guayaquil, and Chiloe, all on the west coast of South America. Moll usually published his maps in atlases, as large sheet maps, or in voyage accounts, making a separate, smaller item like this a rare survival. This particular set of three was issued to be attached to a map Moll prepared for the South Sea Company at its founding in 1711.

To the left is the Valdivia map or, as it was written by English-speakers in the eighteenth-century, Baldivia. The map shows the formidable fortresses that line the bay, including the walled city itself. The many rivers and streams that empty into the bay are shown, as is the hilly terrain that would greet a sailor from a sea-view. A compass rose is to the right, while several blocks of text provide further detail for the reader.

In the center is a map of the Bay of Guayaquil, or Guiaquil as it is written here. A wider map than the two flanking examples, this map again shows the hills visible from the water, as well as the many inlets that lead into the interior. Several soundings, sand banks, rhumb lines, and a compass rose indicate that this map was meant to be helpful to, or at least to appeal to, a maritime audience. A large cartouche in the center top of the map carries a dedication to the Earl of Oxford and Mortimer.

To the right is the final map, which returns south to the Chilean coast. It shows the island of Chiloe, one of the first inhabited areas as one came through the Straits of Magellan or rounded Cape Horn. A jagged line to the east shows how close the Andes Mountains are to the coast, and the many islands suggest that it would be difficult to sail through what is called the Lake of Ancuna, between Chiloe and the mainland. Slightly out to sea, near the compass rose, is the island of Guafo, with a puffing volcano at its apex.

Spanish draughts and other sources

Moll mentions on all three maps that they are informed by the latest Spanish draughts, or maps. In the early modern period, the Spanish maintained a tight hold on their geographic knowledge; they stored everything centrally in the Casa de la Contratactión in Seville (and later in Cadíz). Their pilots and captains would check out maps from the repository and return them when they finished their cruises. The only way for British mapmakers, like Moll, to get access to them was via theft.

In this case, Moll is most likely referring to Spanish maps taken by pirates who visited the South Seas in the 1680s. Bartholomew Sharpe, a sometime captain of these buccaneers, managed to seize a Spanish derrotero, or sea waggoner, that showed the entirety of the western Americas from Acapulco to the Straits of Magellan. He brought it back to England, where a mapmaker named William Hacke made luxury copies for noble clients. When Hacke published a collection of South Seas voyage narratives in the 1699, Moll engraved the maps for the volume, gaining valuable geographic knowledge in the process.

These maps gained further detail from another cache of stolen Spanish maps, this time taken by the privateer Woodes Rogers on this voyage around the world. Rogers, who would later serve as Royal Governor of the Bahamas, took a treasure galleon and rescued Alexander Selkirk, the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe, on this eventful voyage. Moll also prepared the maps for Rogers’ account, whose title page proclaims that the maps are made from the “best Spanish Manuscript Draughts.”

The South Seas Company and their map

Rogers’ account was published in 1712, but these three smaller maps most likely debuted a few months earlier. They were intended to be attached to a full sheet map of South America which Moll prepared for the South Sea Company, founded in 1711. The company was the brainchild of none other than Robert Harley, the Earl of Oxford and Mortimer, the subject of the dedication in the cartouche on the Guayaquil map.

Harley needed a means to fund Britain’s unsecured debt, which he cleverly tied to the South Seas, then enjoying a moment of popularity thanks to Rogers’ triumphant return. For a brief time, the fledgling company actually planned a voyage to the South Seas, to which they now had a trading monopoly. As part of their preparations, they commissioned Moll to make a map of their new holdings, “A New & Exact Map of the Coast, Countries and Islands within ye Limits of ye South Sea Company”.

These three insets, meant to line the top edge of the larger sheet, were included as suggestions of places for the British to trade (or plunder). Rogers had just sacked Guayaquil, while John Narbrough had visited Valdivia in the early 1670s in an attempt to start a commercial relationship. He failed and had to leave several of his men in a Spanish prison, an event referenced on the Baldivia map.

The proposed South Sea Company expedition was ultimately dropped, but Moll’s map, and these smaller maps, remain a testament to a time of great ambition on the part of the British Empire. This sheet is a rare survival seldom seen unattached to the larger map and would make a noteworthy addition to a collection of British Empire, Pacific, pirate, or South America maps.

Condition Description
Hand colored.
Peter Gerhard, Pirates of the Pacific: 1575-1742 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990); Dennis Reinhartz, The Cartographer and the Literati—Herman Moll and His Intellectual Circle (Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1997).
Herman Moll Biography

Herman Moll (c. 1654-1732) was one of the most important London mapmakers in the first half of the eighteenth century.  Moll was probably born in Bremen, Germany, around 1654. He moved to London to escape the Scanian Wars. His earliest work was as an engraver for Moses Pitt on the production of the English Atlas, a failed work which landed Pitt in debtor's prison. Moll also engraved for Sir Jonas Moore, Grenville Collins, John Adair, and the Seller & Price firm. He published his first original maps in the early 1680s and had set up his own shop by the 1690s. 

Moll's work quickly helped him become a member of a group which congregated at Jonathan's Coffee House at Number 20 Exchange Alley, Cornhill, where speculators met to trade stock. Moll's circle included the scientist Robert Hooke, the archaeologist William Stuckley, the authors Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe, and the intellectually-gifted pirates William Dampier, Woodes Rogers and William Hacke. From these contacts, Moll gained a great deal of privileged information that was included in his maps. 

Over the course of his career, he published dozens of geographies, atlases, and histories, not to mention numerous sheet maps. His most famous works are Atlas Geographus, a monthly magazine that ran from 1708 to 1717, and The World Described (1715-54). He also frequently made maps for books, including those of Dampier’s publications and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Moll died in 1732. It is likely that his plates passed to another contemporary, Thomas Bowles, after this death.