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Delisle and Buache's World Map, Updated to Show the Sea of the West

Fine example of the updated edition of Guillaume Delisle’s double hemisphere map of the world, first published in Paris in 1720.

This example has been reworked by Delisle’s son-in-law, Philippe Buache, to include the latest expeditions of geographic consequence to the mid-eighteenth century, as well as the controversial and intriguing Sea of the West and Buache’s conjectures about Antarctic lands.

Some of the most interesting geography is that of Australia. The west coast is labelled according to Dutch encounters with the continent in the early seventeenth century. The east coast is suggestively filled in, creating a large landmass that includes New Guinea, Van Diemen’s Land, and Quiros’ Terre Australe du S. Esprit.

In the north of Australia is Carpenterie, so named in 1623 by Jan Cartensz after Pieter de Carpentier, the VOC governor of the East Indies at that time. Farther west and south is Terre d’Endracht.  The Endracht was the second recorded European ship to contact Australia (1616). In the southwest is Terre de Leuwin, named for the Leeuwin, whose crew charted some of the southwest coastline in 1622. Terre de Nuits is named for Pieter Nuyts, a Dutch navigator who commanded the Gulden Zeepaert along the southern coast in 1627.

New Zealand is connected by a dotted line to a large Antarctic island. There are two of these southerly landmasses. Notes nearby explain Buache’s conception of what might lie at the South Pole. He hypothesized, here and on other maps, 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, Halley, and others.

The map is a marvelous depiction of the routes of a number of important explorers, showing the routes of Magellan (1520), Mendaña (1595), Quiros (1605), Le Maire (1615), Tasman (1642), Halley (1700), the St. Louis (1709), the St. Antoine (1710), and Bouvet (1738-9).

This edition also incorporates the Russian discoveries in Alaska, as well as Buache’s ideas about the interior geography of the Pacific Northwest. The first (1728-30) second (1722-41) Bering Expeditions redrew the known features of the far northern Pacific by encountering and charting the Alaskan mainland and islands, as well as the Bering Strait. Buache incorporated this information, as well as that of more dubious sources, like the Admiral de La Fonte’s letters, in a series of maps produced in the early 1750s. The speculative geography is repeated here, including Fonte’s inlet and lakes, as well as the findings of Juan de Fuca and Martin Aguilar.

Near the Sea of the West is the label, “Foussang des Chinois.” This note stems from the work of French Orientalist Le Guignes, who hypothesized that the Chinese arrived in the New World over a millennium before the Europeans in his 1761 work, Recherches sur les Navigations des Chinois du Cote de l'Amerique, et sur quelques Peuples situés a l'extremite orientale de l"asie. Le Guignes was named a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1752 and his work was well known across Enlightenment Europe and integrated into the maps of Buache.

The Sea of the West

Many European maps of North America in the early seventeenth century depict a massive inland sea, hundreds of miles in diameter, with a small inlet and many interior islands. The origins of this myth can be traced to several different sources, and it would not be until the great Russian expeditions of the mid-eighteenth that knowledge to disprove the idea would be obtained. Like many cartographic myths, the Sea of the West persisted for decades after it was proved wrong.

The 1592 voyage by Juan de Fuca is celebrated as discovering the Salish Sea for Europeans. Of course, de Fuca's travels are little known, and it is uncertain if he ever even sailed into the straits which now bear his name. Navigators such as Cook doubted him, but it now seems that de Fuca's account of his voyage matches strongly with the geography of this area. De Fuca describes a large bay with numerous archipelagos which he spent many days sailing. Intriguingly for those seeking a Northwest Passage, he described a vast inland sea which he saw but did not reach. 

This idea of an inland bay was picked up by De L'Isle, who drew several conjectural maps which included a Sea of the West, though these were never printed. A copyright battle prevented competitors from following up on this idea, though it had commenced gaining traction.

The myth of the Sea of the West was picked up again at some point in later in the eighteenth century following the supposed discovery a long-lost letter regarding the Spanish admiral Bartholomew de Fonte's travels to the region. It would be this iteration of Sea which would make its way onto later maps. The exact nature of this Sea varied from map to map, but the grandest ideas depicted a vast body of water stretching nearly to the Mississippi.

While not all maps of the period depicted such a sea, many did. Russian exploration to the northwest was the primary reason this short-lived myth was dispelled, even though initial voyages had not ruled out such a bay. Gerhard Muller's map is perhaps the most influential of the period to not show this bay, and his work was responsible for laying the cartographic foundations for a Pacific Northwest we now recognize today.

Quiros and Espiritu Santo

The map adopts a particular and somewhat peculiar configuration for Australia that includes a prospective eastern coastline which extends all the way to 180°E. Two rivers flow to that far shore, the Jordan and the St. Salvador.

These rivers are part of Terre du St. Esprit. This toponym connects the speculative coastline to the voyages of Pedro Ferdinand de Quiros at the turn of the seventeenth century. Quiros was a skilled pilot who accompanied Alvaro de Mendaña on his second voyage to the Solomons in 1595-6 (the first voyage took place in 1567-9).

After returning to Spain, Quiros convinced authorities that he could find Terra Australis, the southern continent, if they gave him ships and supplies. He set out in 1605 and eventually landed in Vanuatu. He mistook one of the islands for the fabled continent and called it Austrialia de Espiritu Santo. The largest island in the chain is still called Espiritu Santo today.

Quiros intended to set up a colony on the supposed continent. He performed a series of elaborate possession rituals and founded a city he called Nueba Hierusalem. The “city” was nestled between two rivers which Quiros called the Jordan and the San Salvador (likely today’s Jordan and Vitthié Rivers). However, his crew forced him to leave. Quiros returned to Mexico, but his second-in-command sailed west, through the strait now bearing his name. Due to state secrecy, however, the strait remained largely unknown until the 1760s.

Upon his return, Quiros revved up his campaign, lobbying once again for a voyage to return to his supposed southern continent. To gain support, Quiros wrote at least fifty memorials to advertise his successes and lay out his plans. Fourteen of these were printed between 1607 and 1614.

The most widely circulated was the Eighth Memorial. In it, he describes Austrialia de Espiritu Santo to be as wide as Europe, Asia Minor, the Caspian Sea, and Persia combined, “in its outline it quarters the entire Globe.” Printed in Madrid in 1608 and Seville in 1609, the Eighth Memorial was reprinted in 1612 by Dutch cartographer Hessel Gerritsz in his Detectio Freti Hudson.

Quiros’ discoveries remained tantalizing and would be revived by geographers for the next two centuries. They were part of the Abbe de Paulmier’s 1664 plan to convert the citizens of the Southern Continent. In the mid-1740s, in his reissue of Harris’ Navigantium atque Itinerantium Bibliotheca, John Campbell explained that it was likely that New Guinea and Van Diemen’s Land were all disparate parts of a large Terra Australis that connected to New Holland. His main source to back up this theory was Quiros’ memorials.

Quiros also featured in other prominent voyage collections of the mid-eighteenth century, namely Charles de Brosses’ Histoire des Navigations aux Terres Australes (Paris: Durand, 1756) and Alexander Dalrymple’s An Historical collection of the several voyages and discoveries in the South Pacific Ocean (London, 1769-71).

A hypothetical eastern coastline for Australia

Cartographically, there was variation in the placement of a hypothetical eastern coastline that included Espiritu Santo. One of the earliest maps to show this depiction seems to have been Guillaume Delisle’s 1714 map of the southern hemisphere. The map shows Espiritu Santo with the Jordan and San Salvador rivers at roughly 185°E (from an Atlantic prime meridian), but it is not connected to New Holland. Others also adopted the idea of an Australian continent stretching to Espiritu Santo, including Richard Cushee in his 38 cm. diameter terrestrial globe of 1731.

The idea of a hypothetical eastern coast, evident in the famed Bonaparte Tasman map, was revived in the 1740s and 1750s. One of the world maps in Campbell’s collection, by Emmanuel Bowen, shows T. de St. Espirit at 150°E (Greenwich meridian) as part of a suggested eastern coastline for Australia.

In 1753, Bellin connected Van Diemen’s Land to Espiritu Santo (145°E, Paris meridian), but added a note explaining the link as unproven. Robert de Vaugondy’s map of 1756 also connects the two into a large continent with New Holland (Espiritu Santo at 170°E, with an Atlantic meridian). Interestingly, the latter map was included in De Brosses’ voyage collection, wherein De Brosses expressed his belief that Espiritu Santo was insular.

The most extreme example of the connection of New Holland and Espiritu Santo is seen here on this map by Philippe Buache. In his update of his father-in-law’s world map of 1720, Buache connected the western Dutch discoveries, Van Diemen’s Land, Carpentaria, New Guinea, and Espiritu Santo, which was located at 180°E (Ferro meridian).

The Sea of the West

Many European maps of North America in the eighteenth century depict a large, western inland sea, hundreds of miles in diameter, with a small inlet to the Pacific and even some interior islands. The origins of this myth can be traced to several different sources and are tied to the search for a Northwest Passage. Like many cartographic myths, the Sea of the West persisted for decades, even in the face of strong evidence pointing to its non-existence.

One of the first European navigators to supposedly explore this area was Martin Aguilar. A Spanish captain, he sailed with Sebastian Vizcaino on a reconnaissance expedition up the California coast in 1602-3. Aguilar, commanding the Tres Reyes, was blown off course, to the north. When the seas calmed, Aguilar reported that he had found the mouth of a large river. Eighteenth-century geographers later conjectured that the river was the entrance to the Sea of the West.

Other maps placed the entrance to the Sea of the West via the Juan de Fuca Strait. Juan de la Fuca is the Castilianized name of Greek navigator Ioánnis Fokás (Phokás). Little archival evidence survives of Fuca’s career, but a chance meeting with an English financier, Michael Lok, in Venice in 1596 gave birth to rumors of Fuca’s voyages in the Pacific. Fuca reported that he had been sent north from New Spain twice in 1592 in search of the Strait of Anian. The Spanish Crown failed to reward Fuca’s discovery of an opening in the coast at roughly 47° N latitude and Fuca left the Spanish service embittered. His story lived on in Lok’s letters and eventually was published in Samuel Purchas’ travel collection of 1625. On many eighteenth-century maps, Fuca’s Strait is linked with a River or Sea of the West. In 1787, the present-day Juan de Fuca Strait was named by the wife of naval explorer Charles William Barkley, making permanent a label that had previously just been hopeful guesswork.

The Sea of the West was speculated to exist by Guillaume De L’Isle, France foremost theoretical geographer, around the turn of the eighteenth century. It first appeared in print on maps published by Johann Baptiste Nolin ca. 1700, but it quickly disappeared thereafter.  

The re-introduction of the sea in the mid-eighteenth century was the result of De L’Isle’s son-in-law, Philippe Buache’s review of his father-in-law’s papers. Although De L’Isle never published a map showing the sea, he had postulated that it could exist, and that it might connect to a Northwest Passage through New France, not through English territory farther north. Nolin had plagiarized the idea from Guillaume, as the latter testified when suing the former for plagiarism. He said, the Sea of the West “was one of my discoveries. But since it is not always appropriate to publish what one knows or what one thinks one knows, I have not had this sea engraved on the works that I made public, not wanting foreigners to profit from this discovery” (as quoted in Pedley, The Commerce of Cartography, 109).

The sea was a major part of Buache and Joseph-Nicholas Delisle’s maps of the North Pacific, published in the 1750s. While controversial, the features of those maps were quickly copied by other mapmakers, including the Sea of the West. The inland body of water lingered on maps until the later-eighteenth century.

Guillaume De L'Isle Biography

Guillaume De L'Isle (1675-1726) is probably the greatest figure in French cartography. Having learned geography from his father Claude, by the age of eight or nine he could draw maps to demonstrate ancient history.  He studied mathematics and astronomy under Cassini, from whom he received a superb grounding in scientific cartography—the hallmark of his work. His first atlas was published in ca. 1700. In 1702 he was elected a member of the Academie Royale des Sciences and in 1718 he became Premier Geographe du Roi

De L'Isle's work was important as marking a transition from the maps of the Dutch school, which were highly decorative and artistically-orientated, to a more scientific approach. He reduced the importance given to the decorative elements in maps, and emphasized the scientific base on which they were constructed. His maps of the newly explored parts of the world reflect the most up-to-date information available and did not contain fanciful detail in the absence of solid information. It can be fairly said that he was truly the father of the modern school of cartography at the commercial level. 

De L’Isle also played a prominent part in the recalculation of latitude and longitude, based on the most recent celestial observations. His major contribution was in collating and incorporating this latitudinal and longitudinal information in his maps, setting a new standard of accuracy, quickly followed by many of his contemporaries. Guillaume De L’Isle’s work was widely copied by other mapmakers of the period, including Chatelain, Covens & Mortier, and Albrizzi.