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One of the Earliest Obtainable Sea Charts of the Indian Ocean from the Dutch Golden Age

Janssonius’ important early sea chart of the Indian Ocean, showing early Dutch encounters with Australia. It was included in the first folio sea atlas, Atlas Maritimus, published in Amsterdam in 1650.

The chart extends from Cape Horn to a nascent outline of what is now Australia. From south to north it stretches from the empty ocean at 50 degrees south latitude to Japan and Korea. Japan is shown in a horizontal position, a typical representation of the islands during the seventeenth century. Korea is described as an island. Madagascar curves slightly to the east.

Rhumb lines criss-cross the watery spaces, suggesting the vast volumes of trade that sailed the Indian Ocean in the seventeenth century. Two compass roses are set in the lower third of the chart. Between them is the title cartouche, which is framed by two indigenous peoples with bows and arrows (left) and two Asian traders (right). Five putti perch on the decorative cartouche housing the scale in the upper left corner.

The Dutch Golden Age and the expansion of trade

The Dutch experienced what is referred to by historians as a Golden Age in the seventeenth century. The term can apply to the extraordinary volume and quality of Dutch art in this period, but also to the prominence of Dutch traders in international commerce and finance, as well as to the dominance of Dutch geographers and publishers, who led the European map and atlas trade throughout the century.

The focus on the Indian Ocean in this chart is prescient, as trade with the Indian subcontinent and the East Indies was a central focus for the Dutch when the chart was made. The Moluccas, just west of Papua, were of importance for they were the vaunted Spice Islands, originally the only source in the world for nutmeg, mace, and cloves. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to gain power in the East Indies, trading for spices in the Moluccas and controlling the spice market in Europe.

The Dutch wanted in on the lucrative trade, but they also had to contend with the Portuguese. The first Dutch expedition, led by Cornelis de Houtman in 1595, avoided India, the Strait of Malacca, and the Moluccas—Portuguese strongholds—in favor of the Sunda Strait. The Dutch set up their trade centers on the island of Java, at Bantam and, later, Batavia; both are labeled here. After Houtman, the second Dutch expedition (1598-1600) quickly set sail for the East Indies. It was followed by five others. In 1602, the most powerful of these merchants and the Dutch government, the States General, created the Dutch East India Company (VOC), a monopoly to control the East Indies trade.

Dutch exploration south of the East Indies

Unfinished coastlines on the islands east of Java suggest the unknown lands still to be encountered by Europeans. New Guinea is a long thin island that extends into the eastern edge of the chart. It is very close to another coastline that we now know is the York Peninsula in Australia. Although Torres had sailed through the strait now named for him in 1606, the Spanish government suppressed news of the voyage.

Janssonius based this portion of the chart on an earlier chart of the East Indies by Hondius, first published in 1636, which in turn was based on a slightly earlier chart by Blaeu. Like Hondius before him, Janssonius does not quite connect New Guinea and the coast to the south. There is a note that says that part of the island, known as “Terra d’os Papous” was named by Jacob le Maire. Le Maire was part of a very important voyage from 1615 to 1617. Not only did he and his fellow Willem Schouten (whose name is on an island off the coast of Papous) circumnavigate the world and give many Pacific islands Dutch names, they also passed round Cape Horn via a strait that now bears Le Maire’s name. As the Strait of Magellan had been under a VOC monopoly, Schouten and Le Maire’s voyage provided Dutch traders and those of other nationalities freer access to the Pacific.

Like the Spanish, the Dutch also kept geographic knowledge secret. However, they employed official hydrographers who simultaneously ran commercial print shops, thus providing a channel for geographic knowledge to reach a wider public. However, some information was successfully suppressed; for example, Tasman’s voyages are not included in this map and were only added in the 1680s.

An early outline of Australia

Janssonius includes a rough outline of Australia, or Terre del Zur as written here, chronicling the Dutch voyages that tentatively sailed along the western coast of the continent. The information for portions of the coasts in New Guinea and northern 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.

Further west is G.F. de Wits, which refers to the 1628 voyage of Gerrit Fredericsz De Wit to the western coast of Australia. The largest label is t’Landt vam d’Eendracht 1616. The Eendracht was blown off course en route to the East Indies in that year. 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 as well, Dirk Hartogs ree. 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.

Slightly west, out to sea, is a tiny geographic feature called Trial. These refer to the rocks struck in the dead of night by the English ship Trial. The survivors of the wreck managed to sail in two small craft to Batavia in July 1622 and report the dangerous, but hard to locate, obstructions. These details of the Duyfken, Eendracht, and Trial were all included in the earlier Hondius chart.  

Farther south, Janssonius has also included other Dutch voyages. Houtmans Abrolhos and I. de Edells landt det. 1619 refer to the same voyage. Jacob d’Edel, in the Amsterdam, along with Frederik de Houtman in the Dordrecht came within sight of the western coast and called the stretch of land d’Edelsland. The Houtmans Abrolhos are an archipelago, as shown here, named for the navigator who sighted them, or at least it was Houtman who reported the islands to the VOC. The name Houtmans Abrolhos, as used on this chart, was first used in Hessel Gerritszoon’s 1627 chart Caert van't Landt van d'Eendracht. Also included on Gerritszoon’s chart is the shoal sighted by and named for the Tortelduyf, which is labeled here.

Along the southern coast, ‘t Landt vande Leeuwin det 1622 is named for the Leeuwin, whose crew charted some of the southwest coastline in 1622. ‘t Landt van P. Nuyts 26 Jan 1627 is named for Pieter Nuyts, a Dutch navigator who commanded the Gulden Zeepaert along the southern coast in 1627.

Interestingly, though, Janssonius has not included several details. For example, there is no mention of the well-known wreck of the Batavia on the Houtman Abrolhos in 1627. Similarly, the sighting of the northern coast by the Arnhem, a Dutch East India ship, in 1623 is omitted. Oddly, the discoveries of the Arnhem’s accompanying ship, Pera, on the York Peninsula are included. While slightly out of date, the chart still shows early Dutch interaction with Australia and reveals the uncertain circuits through which geographic knowledge passed.

The depiction of Australia and the map’s inclusion in the first folio maritime atlas make this a particularly important chart for collectors of the Indian Ocean and Australia. The Atlas Maritimus, widely considered the first true sea atlas, was the fifth volume of Janssonius’ Atlas Novus.

Condition Description
Old Color. Centerfold restoration. Minor soiling.
Tooley, R.V. (Australia) p. 101; Schilder, G. (Australia) #45; Clancy, R. pp. 82-3; MCC 72 (Tooley) #747.
Jan Jansson Biography

Jan Janssonius (also known as Johann or Jan Jansson or Janszoon) (1588-1664) was a renowned geographer and publisher of the seventeenth century, when the Dutch dominated map publishing in Europe. Born in Arnhem, Jan was first exposed to the trade via his father, who was also a bookseller and publisher. In 1612, Jan married the daughter of Jodocus Hondius, who was also a prominent mapmaker and seller. Jonssonius’ first maps date from 1616.

In the 1630s, Janssonius worked with his brother-in-law, Henricus Hondius. Their most successful venture was to reissue the Mercator-Hondius atlas. Jodocus Hondius had acquired the plates to the Mercator atlas, first published in 1595, and added 36 additional maps. After Hondius died in 1612, Henricus took over publication; Janssonius joined the venture in 1633. Eventually, the atlas was renamed the Atlas Novus and then the Atlas Major, by which time it had expanded to eleven volumes. Janssonius is also well known for his volume of English county maps, published in 1646.

Janssonius died in Amsterdam in 1664. His son-in-law, Johannes van Waesbergen, took over his business. Eventually, many of Janssonius’ plates were sold to Gerard Valck and Pieter Schenk, who added their names and continued to reissue the maps.