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A Foundational Rarity in the Mapping of Australia, Made Using Secret VOC Archival Information

Important early map showing the track of Abel Tasman's first voyage of 1642-43, the first European expedition to contact Tasmania and New Zealand.

The map is the second earliest map to focus minutely on Australia and New Zealand, pre-dated only by Thevenot's Hollandia Nova detecta 1644. It was compiled with privileged access to the VOC archives, which were usually kept a secret from the public, making it the best-informed map of Australia to date.

Tasman’s track, which proceeds counter clockwise in a wide arc around Australia, defines the extent of the map. It includes a northern and western outline of Australia, as well as the south of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), a part of the west coast of New Zealand, the Solomons, New Guinea and the East Indies.

New Guinea is shown as connected to Australia via Carpentaria, while the relationship of Van Diemen’s Land to the larger landmass is left open to conjecture. Although the track of Tasman's second voyage of 1644 is not shown on this map, the observations he made along the northern coast of Australia are evident. 

To the east is the Land van Quiri, a reference to land encountered by Pedro Ferdinand de Quiros. Quiros had sailed with Mendaña on his second voyage to the Solomons in 1595. The young navigator became obsessed with the idea of the southern continent and wrote a series of memorials to champion his cause. In 1605, the Spanish Crown granted him a voyage. He did find land, but it was Vanuatu, not a massive and unknown mainland. He supposedly founded a city and performed elaborate possession rituals but his crew forced him to return to Spanish holdings. He vowed to return but died while preparing another expedition.

This map was published in François Valentijn’s Oud en Nieuw Oost Indien (Amsterdam, 1726). As part of the preparation of this history of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), Valentijn gained rare access to the Company’s closely-guarded maps, journals, and reports. Thus, apart from using data supplied by Tasman's journal, Valentijn also drew on information provided in later reports and manuscript maps which had not been available to earlier mapmakers. His map builds on Thevenot’s map, integrating more sources and including the Solomons and Vanuatu.

Tasman’s voyages and the Dutch encounter with Australia

This map’s central focus is Tasman’s first voyage. However, it also chronicles earlier encounters with Australia. Whereas the Portuguese were the first Europeans to tap the lucrative resources of the East Indies, other European powers quickly joined the race. The VOC, founded in 1602, was based in Amsterdam with a local headquarters in Batavia (Jakarta).

Dutch ships roved the waters of the Indian Ocean. A few crossed the sea at southern latitudes, taking advantage of the winds of the roaring forties, which put them on a collision course with the continent of Australia, then still unknown to Europeans. These ships were following the Brouwer Route to Jakarta, so-called because it was explored in 1611 by Hendrick Brouwer. Less than five years later, it was named the prescribed route from the Cape of Good Hope to Java and following the route was compulsory for all VOC ships, unless they were destined directly for China and Ceylon, rather than Batavia.

Ships were supposed to turn north when they sighted Amsterdam Island or St. Paul Island, both of which are featured on this map. However, the methods for calculating longitude in the seventeenth century were imprecise and some ships continued east, eventually running afoul of the Australian coast.

The first of these to contact West Australia was the Eendracht in 1616, which was blown off course en route to the East Indies. It was commanded by Dirk Hartog and Hartog’s landing was the first recorded European landing on the western coast of Australia. It is marked here with C. en Baey van Dirk Hartog and ‘t Land vande Eendragt of Concordia ontdekt 1616. The crew commemorated their discovery by erecting a post with a pewter dish inscribed with their ship’s information—the earliest physical record that historians have of any European landing in Australia.

Other voyages also sighted or landed in Western Australia in the 1620s. This map references that of Gerrit Fredericsz De Wit in 1628, of the Leeuwin in 1622, and of Pieter Nuyts, who commanded the Gulden Zeepaert along the southern coast in 1627.

By the 1640s, the officials of the VOC were eager to now the extent of the south lands and if they included any useful resources or willing trading partners. They appointed Abel Tasman to pursue these questions. Tasman's 1642-43 voyage was the first to circumnavigate the whole of the Australasia region, thus proving it was a separate entity unconnected from a mythical, and massive, southern continent. He surveyed the south coast of Tasmania, which he called Van Diemens Land after the VOC governor of Batavia, and the western coast of New Zealand, as well as the Tonga and Fiji Archipelagos. While important for geography, his voyage was nevertheless a disappointment to the VOC, as it netted no new commercial opportunities.

His second voyage proved even less successful. He was supposed to find a passage south of New Guinea to the east coast of Australia, but he missed the strait and instead thought it a bay. He did, however, more fully chart Australia’s northern coastline, which had only been sporadically encountered to that point. Previously, information for the north coast, especially for portions of the coasts in what it today Queensland, Australia, come from the voyage of the Dutch vessel Duyfken in 1605-06. Under the command of Willem Janszoon, the Duyfken explored the eastern shore of the Gulf of Carpentaria, just below the Cape York Peninsula, a venture which was famously the first recorded European contact with Australia.

Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indien

François Valentijn (1666-1727) was a missionary and a scholar. 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 is divided in five parts spread over eight volumes. It has 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 and conducted original research. 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.

Watch Geography Geek's Discussion of this Map's Role in the History of the Discovery of Australia:

The Dutch Discovery of Australia

Tooley 1270, ill. Pl.95. Tooley 69, p.212, Tooley 47, p.288. Schilder Australia Unveiled ill. Pl.xxxii. Landwehr VOC, 467.3B, Map 22 p.253. KAP
Francois Valentijn Biography

Valentijn was born in 1666 in Dordrecht, Holland, but spent significant time in the tropics, notably in Ambon, in the Maluku Archipelago. In total, Valentijn lived in the East Indies 16 years. Valentijn was first employed by the Dutch V.O.C. or East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie), at the age of 19, where he served as Minister to the East Indies. He returned to Holland for about ten years, before returning to the Indies in 1705, where he was to serve as Army Chaplain on an expedition in eastern Java. He again returned to Dordrecht where he wrote his Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indien (1724-26), a massive work of five parts published in eight volumes and containing over one thousand illustrations and including some of the most accurate maps of the Indies of the time. He died in The Hague, Netherlands, in 1727.

Valentijn likely had access to the V.O.C.'s archive of maps and geographic secrets which they had always guarded jealously. Johannes Van Keulen II became Hydrographer to the V.O.C. in the same year Valentijn's book was published. It was in Van Keulens time that many of the VOC charts were published, one signal of the decline of Dutch dominance in Spice Trade. Valentijn was fortunate to have seen his work published, as the VOC (Dutch East India Company) strictly enforced a policy prohibiting former employees from publishing anything about the region or their colonial administration. And while, as Suárez notes, by the mid-18th Century the Dutch no longer feared sharing geographic secrets, the execution of this policy was still erratic and based on personal motives.

While Valentijn's maps and diagrams were prized possessions, his scholarship, judging by contemporary standards, was not of the highest integrity. While current standards of referencing and plagiarism were not in effect during the 18th Century, Valentijn's borrowed liberally from other scientists' and writers. E.M Beekman referred to Valentijn as an "exasperating Dutch braggart," but nevertheless cites him as an important figure and given his writing style, diction and penchant for story, one of the greatest Dutch prose writers of the time-going so far as to suggest comparison between one of the various stories in his work and a Chaucerian tale.