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Fine Conjectural Map of the Southern Hemisphere from the Prussian Academy of Sciences

Striking hemispheric projection published as part of a popular atlas from the Prussian Academy of Sciences. It features a speculative outline of Australia and Antarctica.

The school atlas was first published in 1753 with maps by Johann Christoph Rode and with input from famed mathematician Leonhard Euler.

The map stretches from the South Pole to the Equator, including significant portions of Africa and South America, as well as much of the East Indies and all of Australia, which is hypothesized to include Van Diemen’s Land and New Guinea.  

Although not explicitly stated, the mountain ranges that run through the Süd Lander are extensions of mountain ranges in Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. This theory of interlocking mountains and river basins was developed by Philippe Buache in the mid-eighteenth century. This map draws extensively on the ideas of Buache and is based on his map of the southern continent and a 1714 map by Buache’s father-in-law, the famed cartographer Guillaume Delisle. However, the Academy rejected Buache’s idea of an internal sea in Antarctica.

Circling the pole is a massive outline with shadow coasts. The vast size of this Terra Australis is the result of the combination of several voyages; isolated sightings of land and incomplete reports have been correlated and joined into the huge form seen here.

The edges of the continent are linked to actual islands. In the southern Atlantic, Cap de la Circoncision (today Bouvet Island) is part of the coast rather than insular. This isolated shore was sighted by Bouvet de Lozier on his 1738-9 expedition in search of a south land. Bouvet spotted the island through the fog, was not able to land, and did not circumnavigate his discovery, thus not clarifying if it was an island or part of a continent. This obscurity and potential made it of intense interest to geographers.

Another outpost of this grand southern continent is New Zealand. Abel Tasman, in the employ of the Dutch East India Company in 1642-1643, sailed south of New Holland to Van Diemen’s Land and then to a shore new to Europeans farther east in the Pacific. This was New Zealand. Tasman then returned north and then west to Batavia.

In addition to this possible Antarctica, there is some speculation projected onto Australia as well. The western coast is derived from Dutch East India Company (VOC) voyages of the seventeenth century which encountered the western and northern coasts of what they called New Holland. Land With entdeckt 1623 likely refers to the voyage of Jan Cartensz in that year. He also named Carpentaria after Peiter de Carpentier, the VOC governor of the East Indies at that time.

Land Endract entdeckt 1628 is an elision of two Dutch voyages. The Endracht was the second recorded European ship to contact Australia (1616). In 1628, Gerrit Frederikszoon de Witt, captain of the Vianen, sailed in a similar area.

In the southwest is Land Lewin entdeckt 1622. The crew of the Leeuwin charted some of the southwest coastline in 1622. Finally, nacht Land is named for Pieter Nuyts, a Dutch navigator who commanded the Gulden Zeepaert along the southern coast in 1627.

Australia is connected to New Guinea via Carpentaria. This was a common depiction on contemporary maps. The Academy could not know that Luís Vaz de Torres, who sailed with the Pacific explorer Pedro Fernandes de Quiros on a voyage for the Spanish in 1605, had passed through the straits between New Guinea and Australia. However, the Spanish had suppressed his report in the hopes of maintaining power via geographic secrecy and the Strait was only rediscovered by Alexander Dalrymple in 1762 when he was researching documents captured from the Spanish in the Philippines during the Seven Years’ War. Later, Cook sailed through the Strait, confirming its existence to the Western world, during his first voyage.

Early modern mapping of the South Pole and Terra Australis

Many early modern maps include a vast continent that fills the southernmost latitudes of the world. Some of these constructions are entirely fantastic; others are based on careful compilation work that included the latest expeditions and observations. Geographers would cobble together reports and sightings, often suggesting that singular islands and massive cloud formations indicated the presence of a large continent that counter-balanced the heavy northern continents. This theory of continental balance has ancient origins but continued to be popular into the early modern period.

By the seventeenth century, some mapmakers begin to doubt the enormous size of the southern continent, or even its existence at all. In 1639, Henricus Hondius published a map that showed an absence of land at the South Pole. It was surrounded by supposed coast lines, but there was no confident outline of a continent.

Seventy-five years later, in 1714, the theoretical geographer Guillaume Delisle produced a map that showed the routes of navigators that had traveled far south; however, he did not include a southern continent. By the early-eighteenth century, blank space rather than guesswork was preferred by mapmakers, but discussion still raged as to what land lay near the South Pole.

In 1739, Delisle’s son-in-law, Philippe Buache, took Delisle’s 1714 map and added more recent expeditions, most significantly, Lozier de Bouvet’s discovery of Cap de la Circoncision surrounded by icebergs. He also produced another map that included his conjecture as to what a southern land would look like, based on his theory of watersheds that stemmed from the world’s interlocked mountains ranges and river basins. This map shows a two-part southern continent, separated by a nearly landlocked sea. Buache is clear, however, that this is nothing more than an intellectual exercise. Other savants were intrigued by Buache’s ideas. This map eliminates the internal sea and shows a derivation on Buache’s work as combined with Delisle’s earlier map that extends to the Equator.

The understanding of Antarctica shifted from the hypothetical to the practical with the second voyage of James Cook (1772-1775). In the Resolution, he passed the Antarctic Circle three times, the first ship to do so, drastically limiting the area which could be covered by a southern continent. Mainland Antarctica would only by sighted for the first time on January 27, 1820, by members of the Russian expedition under Bellinghausen.

Euler and cartography

Leonhard Euler (1707-1783) was an extraordinary mathematician and one of the most prolific writers on mathematics of all time. He was the first to recognize sine and cosine as functions, rather than as chords, and was a pioneer of differential equations in calculus, as well as breakthroughs in analytic geometry and number theory. To Euler is attributed the notation f (x) for a function, e for the base of natural logs, i for the square root of -1, π for pi, and many others.

While his work on cartography is less well known, it is a subject with which he engaged throughout his long and productive career. He published several treatises on geodesy, that is the shape of the earth, particularly the shortest routes between points on a curved surface, the calculation of a degree of the meridian, and on the mapping of a spheroid on a flat plane, i.e., projections. Euler led state projects in cartography for the Russian Empire, by whom he was employed for much of his career. Along with Joseph Nicolas Delisle, who tutored him in geography and cartography, Euler prepared a map of the Russian Empire that was published as the Russian Atlas with twenty maps.

While he was working in Berlin (1741-1766) and as the de facto head of the Prussian Academy of Sciences (1759-1766), Euler oversaw the publication of many maps and calendars, which provided income for the Academy. These maps served a general purpose as well as related to specific papers submitted to the institution. This map is an example of the former. The Atlas geographicus omnes orbis terrarum regions, in which this map was featured, was first published in 1753, with a second edition in 1760 and a third in 1777.