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Rare First State / Overview of South Polar Exploration and Conjecture in the First Half of the 18th Century!

Remarkable map of the Southern Hemisphere, the foundational map the work of noted French mapmaker Philippe Buache.

This map is Buache's first attempt at depicting the Southern Hemisphere. This first state lacks any attempt to map Antarctica, which was still completely undiscovered and unknown in the middle of the 18th century, although it had been depicted on maps since the early 16th century. Buache's second map, issued in 1754, would show less restraint, creating a remarkable southern continent and inland sea, entirely from conjecture.

The map incorporates information from Abel Tasman and other Dutch Voyages which touched on New Zealand and Australia (1642-43).  Also shown are the southern hemispheric discoveries Amerigo Vespucci (1503), Francis Drake (1578), Ferdinand Magellan (1616), Pedro Fernandez de Quiros (1605), Le Maire and Schoten (1616), Edmund Halley (1700), Dampier (1700),  and La Brune (1738).

On the edges of the map is an account of the 1738-9 expedition of Bouvet de Lozier, which mentions the discovery of icebergs between two and three hundred feet high and half a league to two or three leagues in circumference. Buache made Cap de la Circoncision at 54° south, below Africa, a northern promontory of the smaller of his two land masses, next to one of the openings of his polar sea, where Bouvet had recorded his many great icebergs. Buache also shows the route of the voyage of Abel Tasman (1603-1659) in 1642-3, as a source for information about the southern lands. The other opening into the inland sea, to the southwest of South America, was placed where Sharpe and Davis had reported icebergs in 1687. Buache believed that the icebergs must have derived from a floating ice sheet, as in the Arctic, rather than from the newly discovered land. This led him to conclude that the southern continent was not a single landmass but two islands separated by a frozen inland sea, from which icebergs detached themselves to float northwards.

Buache would later go on to hypothesize that the southern pole must contain a frozen sea, fed by mountain ranges and huge rivers, in order to produce icebergs of the size reported by Bouvet; the large sea (Mer Glacial, 'Glacial Sea').  The image depicted on this first state of his map provides an early version of this hypothesis. 

There is also an extensive discussion of Cap de la Circoncision, which would later become Bouvet Island. The island was discovered on January 1, 1739, by Jean-Baptiste Charles Bouvet de Lozier, commander of the French ships Aigle and Marie. This was the first time land had been spotted south of the 50th parallel south. Bouvet, who was searching for a presumed large southern continent, spotted the island through the fog and named the cape he saw Cap de la Circoncision. He was not able to land and did not circumnavigate his discovery, thus not clarifying if it was an island or part of a continent. His plotting of its position was inaccurate forcing several expeditions to fail to find the island again.

Buache was an academic geographer who researched his material thoroughly, relying on the most up-to-date information from voyages of discovery. He was the first geographer to recognize the important concept of the watershed and it was this that led him to make a number of deductions, some correct, some not. A correct deduction was the existence of Alaska and the Bering Strait, years before they were officially discovered, while an incorrect deduction was the existence of a central Antarctic sea, which he later conjectured to be the source of the icebergs observed by Bouvet in 1738-39.

Text Translation:


19 July 1738, the 2 frigates Aigle and Marie left from Port de l’Orient. 8 September passed the Equator. 11 October arrived at St Catherine’s Isle off the coast of Brazil. 13 November set sail from this island to go to look for latitude 44° roughly on 355° longitude. 26 [November] thick fog at latitude 35° and 344° longitude; often one could not make out objects at gun-shot distance. It lasted until the 20th of January. 3 December we began to see gulls and extremely large whales and numerous birds at 39° 20´ latitude and  35° longitude. Believing ourselves close to some land, we sounded without finding the bottom at 180 fathoms. 7 [December] cold weather even though we were then in the summer and the sun was close to the solstice. 10 [December] at latitude 44° and on the Prime Meridian, the land [we had come] to view is located in this place by some geographers. We could not find any land; either it has been mislocated or was just some island. 25 [December] at a latitude equivalent to that of Paris and 7° longitude, the air very cold. Saw the P… icebergs, which made one suspect nearby lands. 28 [December], latitude 51° 13´ longitude 15° 22´, a variation of the compass observed from 24° northeast to 50° northwest; became 15 different irregularities which one had already observed in approaching the icebergs of Hudson Bay and the Davis Strait. First of January 1739, view of an extremely high landmass at 54° latitude and 28° 30´ longitude. We named it the Cape of the Circumcision. For twelve days we were unable to land there because of the icebergs, the fog and adverse winds. From the 12th to the 25th [January], we coursed latitudes 51° for 425 leagues, always seeing whales and sea-lions etc. 5 February, at 44° 30´, the vessels separated. M Bouvet made for the Cape of Good Hope and M Hay for the Isle de France. 4 March, anchorage at Cape of Good Hope, where we recognised that we had been carried to the east coast; conjectured that strong winds, from the 25th to 31st January, had done it. Arrived in France 24 June without loss of any man, despite the extreme fatigue of the voyage.

MAP OF THE SOUTHERN LANDS  contained between the Tropic of Capricorn and the South Pole, where can be seen the new discoveries made in 1739 south of the Cape of Good Hope on the orders of the Gentlemen of the Indies Company. Drawn up from the memoirs and the original map of M de Lovier Bouvet, leader of this expedition, by Philippe Buache of the Academie Royale des Sciences, son-in-law of the late M Delisle, Private Geographer to the King, and from the same Academie.

PLAN and VIEW of the lands of the CAPE OF THE CIRCUMCISION, situated at about 34 degrees southern latitude and 28 degrees, 32 minutes longitude.

Icebergs seen in January 1739.

LAND that extends 8 to 20 leagues to the east north-east and 6 leagues to the southeast.

Cape of the Circumcision. This variation was observed: 6° 30´ on one compass and 4° on another, on 30 December 1738, at latitude 32° 26´ and at 35° 43´ longitude.

These icebergs seemed to be 2 to 300 feet high and from half a league to 2 or 3 leagues around.

At PARIS on the Quai de la Megisserie at St Esprit, near the Pont-Neuf, under the privilege of the Academie Royale des Sciences, 3 September 1739

Philippe Buache Biography

Philippe Buache (1700-1773) was one of the most famous French geographers of the eighteenth century. Buache was married to the daughter of the eminent Guillaume Delisle and worked with his father-in-law, carrying on the business after Guillaume died. Buache gained the title geographe du roi in 1729 and was elected to the Academie des Sciences in the same year. Buache was a pioneering theoretical geographer, especially as regards contour lines and watersheds. He is best known for his works such as Considérations géographiques et physiques sur les découvertes nouvelles dans la grande mer (Paris, 1754).