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Striking Chart of the Northern Pacific, One of the Earliest to Show Hawai’i

Rare chart of the Northern Pacific with the coasts of Asia and America, showing the voyage of the Spanish treasure galleons and Captain Cook’s third voyage.

Based on recent information from the Spanish, Russians, and English, this map was supposedly based on a map published in the Gentleman's Magazine in December 1780. Interestingly, however, Jolly indicates that there was no such map included in the Gentlemen's Magazine.

The text at the bottom of the map indicates that this map was also part of an account of Cook’s third voyage, published in 1781. This was most likely John Rickman’s hack account, Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage. This account was one of several that cropped up upon return of Cook’s crew in late 1780. Cook himself had died in early 1779 in Hawai’i. The official account of the voyage, based on Cook’s journal and that of his second-in-command, Charles Clerke (written here as Clarke), was not published until 1784.

Asia and North America frame the Northern Pacific, which contains the tracks of Cook, Clerke, and the Spanish galleons. The chart is intended to show in sharp relief the latest information about the coastlines of the far north. The focal point is the strait between the continents, which is blocked by a “Continent de Glace ferme,” or a continent of firm ice. Many points, capes, and sounds are labeled along both coasts.

Less emphasized, but no less important, are the Sandwich Islands, or Hawai’i, further south. They include a note that says there were visited by Cook in 1778 and Clerke in 1779. This was the first time a European ship visited the islands, and it was here that Cook died when his ships returned unexpectedly in early 1779. This would have been one of the first printed charts to show the islands that would soon be some of the most famous in the world, as the final resting place of the famed navigator.

Recent discoveries of the Russian, Spanish, and English

The title explains that this map was based on the latest discoveries of the Russian, Spanish, and English. This refers to a series of voyages completed in the decades before the map was published. The Russian voyages of Vitus Bering (or Behring) and his deputy Aleksei Chirikov conducted from 1728-30 and 1733-43 delineated eastern Siberia and touched upon the northwest of North America. Bering’s voyages were monumental in their achievements, even if they cost the life of the commander and many of his men.

The Spanish are chronicled here for their important galleon route. In 1564 Miguel López de Legazpi command a squadron destined for the Philippines. One of his men, Andrés de Urdaneta, set out east toward New Spain and managed the first known crossing of the Pacific from west to east. After Urdaneta’s voyage, an annual trade began which brought silver from New Spain and South America west to Asian markets. These galleons docked at Manila to offload their bullion and take on Asian trade goods destined for Latin America.

The Manila-Acapulco galleon route lasted from 1565 until 1820 and involved 120 ships (112 built in the Philippines, 8 built in Mexico). These ships varied in size but the largest were the greatest ships afloat at the time, averaging between 1,700 and 2,000 tons. However, the passage was a dangerous one, even for such formidable ships. Over thirty vessels were lost, including several to British privateers and naval vessels. Thomas Cavendish captured a Manila galleon in 1587, Woodes Rogers overcame a galleon off the coast of Mexico in 1709, and Anson took a treasure-laden ship in 1743.

The text at the bottom of the page mentions another Spanish voyage, that of the Sonora and the Santiago, led by Lieutenant Bruno de Heceta. The Santiago made important discoveries on the coasts of what are now Oregon, Washington, and California, while the Sonora made Spanish claims in Alaska and along the Canadian coast.

The final discoveries noted here are those of the most famous of all explorers, Captain James Cook, on his third voyage. After two Pacific cruises that observed the Transit of Venus; charted New Zealand, the eastern coast of Australia, and many islands; and disproved the existence of a vast southern continent, his third voyage focused on searching for the Northwest Passage. His ships set off in 1776, Cook died in Hawai’i in 1779, and the remainder of his crew made it back to England in 1780, spurring the publication of this map.

This map is one of the earliest to show Hawai’i and chronicles some of the latest European voyages to chart the northern Pacific. It shows the immense interest showered on the area in the late-eighteenth century and highlights its increasing importance to world trade and geography.  

Dennis O. Flynn, World silver and monetary history in the 16th and 17th centuries (Variorium, 1996); Glyndwr Williams, The Prize of All the Oceans: The Triumph and Tragedy of Anson’s Voyage Round the World (New York: Harper Collins, 2008). KAP
Tobias Conrad Lotter Biography

Tobias Conrad Lotter (1717-1777) is one of the best-known German mapmakers of the eighteenth century. He engraved many of the maps published by Matthaus Seutter, to whose daughter Lotter was married. He took over Seutter’s business in 1756. Lotter’s son, M. A. Lotter, succeeded his father in the business.