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Description

Rare, Detailed World Map by Brué with the Mountains of Kong

Scarce double-hemisphere map of the world, published in Paris by Adrien-Hubert Brué, which contains many details from recent expeditions and voyages.

The map was issued at the close of a monumental period of French and English exploration and circumnavigation, resulting in vast improvements in the mapping of Australasia, New Zealand, the Pacific Ocean and the Northwest Coast of America. The explorers responsible for these cartographic advances included the likes of Byron, Bougainville, Wallis, Carteret, Cook, La Perouse, Vancouver, and Flinders. Additionally, there was the voyage of Nicolas Baudin in the Geographe and the Naturaliste (1800-1804), on which Brué sailed as a young man.  

The map is noteworthy for its depiction of the incomplete mapping of the Northwest Passage, a blank template which would vastly change in the four decades following this map’s publication. Greenland is still connected to Canada around Baffin Bay. The features farthest north are named for Hearn and Mackenzie.

Samuel Hearne, fur trader and explorer, made the first overland excursions across the frozen North by a European (with immense help from local guides and peoples). He reached the Coppermine River in 1771, following it to the Arctic Ocean and proving there was no Northwest Passage at lower latitudes.

Alexander Mackenzie was a Scottish explorer. As an employee of the North West Company, he set out from Lake Athabasca to the northwest via a river system. He reached the Arctic Ocean in July 1789. The river, the second longest river system in North America, was later named for him. He also led the first east to west crossing of North America north of Mexico in 1792-1793.

Similarly, the map is devoid of detail in the Antarctic. The lands farthest to the south are the Sandwich Islands in the South Atlantic, which were charted by James Cook in 1775.

Dotted lines mark out political divisions around the world, actual and assumed. For example, the Pacific is neatly divided into three large areas. Farther west is Grand Archipel, or Maritime Southeast Asia, containing Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and New Guinea. Taking up the central area of the ocean is Polynesia, stretching from the Carolines and Marianas to the Marquesas and Easter Island, the most remote inhabited island in the world.  The final region is Australase.

These regional divisions predate the popularity of the still-used regional monikers of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. These were coined by French explorer Jules Dumont D’Urville, who commanded the Astrolabe on a Pacific voyage from 1826 to 1829, and were based on arbitrary racial classifications.

The two hemispheres are joined by four informative spheres in the corners. These illustrate latitude and longitude parallels, with Paris as a reference point (bottom left and right). The upper right sphere displays climactic zones by latitude, while the upper left shows the major tropics and circles that divide the globe.

The Mountains of Kong

Brué’s map includes one of the most curious cartographic mysteries of the nineteenth century, the mountains of Kong. The mountain range, in West Africa, is unlabeled here, but it is next to the actual town of Kong, on the tenth parallel of latitude.

Geographers had long surmised that the Niger River of Africa must find its source in a mountain range. This hypothesis had circulated from at least the sixteenth century. Particularly in the late-eighteenth century, mapmakers began to include a line of hills or mountains in the interior of West Africa. Then, in his Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa (1799), Mungo Park asserted:

I gained the summit of a hill, from whence I had an extensive view of the country. Towards the south-east, appeared some very distant mountains, which I had formerly seen from an eminence near Marraboo, where the people informed me, that these mountains were situated in a large and powerful kingdom called Kong; the sovereign of which could raise a much greater army than the king of Bambarra.

Park’s popular account was accompanied by a map, A Map shewing the Progress of Discovery & Improvement, in the Geography of North Africa (1798), by none other than James Rennell, the meticulous mapmaker responsible for A Bengal Atlas (1779). Rennell’s map was the first to label the mountains as the “Kong mountains.” Rennell explained his choice in the appendix to Park’s book:

The discoveries of this gentleman…give a new face to the physical geography of Western Africa. They prove, by the courses of the great rivers, and from other notices, that a belt of mountains, which extends from west to east, occupies the parallels between 10 and 11 degrees of north latitude, and at least between the 2nd and 10th degrees of west longitude (from Greenwich). This belt, moreover, other authorities extend some degrees still farther to the west and south, in different branches

After this map, many others began to adopt the mountains of Kong. In 1889, however, French explorer Louis Gustave Binger led an expedition to the mountains. He followed the Niger River from Mali to Kong. The town was there, the mountains were not. Thereafter, the feature began to dwindle on maps, but it was still featured in the Oxford Advanced Atlas as late as 1928.

Reference
Edward Brooke Hitching, The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders on Maps (London: Simon & Schuster, 2016), 146-9. KAP
Adrien-Hubert Brué Biography

Andre Hubert Brué was a French geographer and cartographer. Born in Paris, he served in the French Navy, joining the Baudin expedition to the Pacific (1800-1804). After his sea service, Brué applied his navigation and charting skills to creating finely-crafted maps, which were renowned for their crisp engraving and accuracy. He drew directly on the copper of the plate, creating what he called encyprotypes. He is best known for the Atlas universal de géographie physique, politique, ancienne et moderne.