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Newly Revised Edition of Sir Edmund Halley's Foundational Map of the World – Rare Late State!

Edmund Halley's chart of the world is one of the most important world maps of the eighteenth century. The map is the first surviving map to show isogonic lines, or lines connecting points of equal magnetic variation in the oceans, a feature then considered of prime importance for determining longitude.

This late state, published by the Ottens firm, is very rare and significantly updated. It includes shipping routes from Europe to Batavia (Jakarta), Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and the Malabar coast, adjusted for the monsoons. There are also additions of a sighting of a southern continent and icebergs in the southern Atlantic and Indian Oceans, of the supposed southern continent discovered by Quiros in the early-seventeenth century, and an improved outline of Kamchatka and northeastern Asia.  Lastly, the map is further embellished with dark lines and arrows to better illustrate the currents in the primary sailing regions of the world's oceans.

The world map is presented in a long-strip format of a Mercator projection, which Halley called a nautical projection. Eastern Asia and Australia are repeated, so as to better show the flow of the isogonic lines. These lines radiate over the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, but not the Pacific. A note in the Pacific explains his innovation and why the lines stop as they approach the world’s largest ocean:

The Curve lines which are drawn over the Seas in this Chart, shew the Variation of the Compass in all the known Seas, the double lines divide the tracts of East and West Variation & under them the Compass stands true without Varying. In any other place, the degrees of Variation is [sic.] seen by the number on the Line that passes over that place. I durst not presume to describe the like Curves in the South Seas wanting account thereof. (quoted from the English edition of Halley’s chart, published by Emanuel Bowen, 1722).

The isogonic lines are certainly a distinctive feature of this map. They are joined on this state by wind directions arrows and narrow lines that shade the map between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Again, this is an early use of such map conventions and is a reference to Halley’s important 1686 world map which included the trade winds.

While it was later learned that magnetic variation fluctuates with time and cannot be used to find longitude at sea, Halley’s charts and his use of isogonic lines were considered an indispensable contribution to the study of navigation by savants and sailors alike. As Samuel Pepys asked rhetorically, “Mr Hawley—May he not be said to have the most, if not to be the first Englishman (and possibly any other) that had so much, or (it may be) any competent degree (meeting in them) of the science and practice (both) of navigation?” (as quoted in Thrower, 15).

The map also includes a wealth of geographic information. In the South Pacific is a half-hemisphere map of the North Pole. A helpful note explains, “That nothing might be wanting in this Chart we have added this Polar, partly to shew the Inclination of the Meridians toward the Pole, partly to avoid the too great contraction of our Scale” (ibid, translation taken from the English edition of the map).

Halley also includes several details that we now know are cartographic myths.  A tiny island near what is today Argentina is labeled as Pepys Island. Pepys was a contemporary of Halley’s and had served as President of the Royal Society. This island was named in the 1680s by a buccaneer and lingered on maps for a century before naval explorers like Byron and Cook confirmed that it did not exist.

Another chimera is repeated twice in Northeast Asian waters. This late state has an updated outline of Kamchatka. However, unfinished coastlines remain of Terre de Iesso and Terre de la Compagnie. Iesso, or Yesso, is a name for Hokkaido and its size was usually exaggerated on maps of this period. Compagnie’s Land, and its neighbor, Staten Land, were mis-discoveries found while searching for another mythic island, Gamaland (see below).   

A final phantom coast is in the South Atlantic, where Terra Australis lurks near a track of one of Halley’s voyages (see below). Farther east, icebergs are outlined. These, and Cape Circoncision, were discovered by the Frenchman Bouvet de Lozier in 1739, the first time that land had been spotted south of the 50th parallel south. He was not able to land, however, 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.

There are decorative details tucked into the blank and inland spaces of the map. For example, a poem, in Latin, graces the North Pacific in a temple-style cartouche and lauds the unknown inventor of the maritime compass. A similar framed cartouche carries another Latin poem, this one praising the consolidation of maritime power by Queen Anne (a holdover from the English edition), in Russia. Muses carrying the instruments of astronomy, navigation, and cartography grace the title cartouche in North America.

The Solomons and Terra Australis St. Spritus

The final difference between this late state and the earlier Ottens’ issue of the map is the addition of the Solomons and Terra Australis St. Spritus in the Pacific. This is a call-back to the expedition of Pedro Ferdinand de Quiros, a Spanish navigator intent on discovering the southern continent.

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 name has been altered slightly here. 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. It continued to be use as a source for mapmakers well into the eighteenth century, as seen here.

Halley’s voyage and his charts

Halley was a prolific publisher and his output included several important maps and charts, including his untitled world map of 1686 showing the trade winds. During the 1680s, Halley became increasingly concerned with the implications of magnetic variation for navigation. Not one to just read about a phenomenon, Halley sought command of a Royal Navy vessel, the Paramore, and took it on three voyages between 1698 and 1701. The first two, to the South Atlantic, were to study geomagnetism. The third, in the English Channel, focused on tidal phenomena. While his journals were not published during his lifetime, his charts from those voyages were.  

The first chart he published was a chart of the Atlantic with isogonic lines, “A New and Correct Chart Shewing the Variations of the Compass in the Western & Southern Oceans as observed in ye year 1700 by his Ma/ties Command.” Dedicated to William III, who died on March 8, 1702, the chart is usually dated to 1701, as Halley returned from his second voyage on September 18, 1700. It was printed by Richard Mount and Thomas Page of Tower Hill and engraved by John Harris. He presented the chart to the Royal Society on June 4, 1701.

The chart of the world’s oceans which Halley created, of which the present chart is an example, would prove more influential and grow to greater prominence, appearing in several states, foreign editions, and even updated revisions. It was the first printed world map to employ isogonic lines. This is a rare late state of the chart, showing the longevity of its influence.

The chart first appeared in 1702, datable by the dedication cartouche in Africa that references “Prince George of Denmark, Lord High Admiral.” The Prince Consort was elevated to that position on April 17, 1702.

The world chart contains fewer decorative details than the Atlantic chart, as well as a few additions. One of these is the Falkland Islands, which had been named as such by John Strong in 1690. Halley mentions Strong’s journal in his own and this chart would help to fix that name to the archipelago.

Interestingly, although the world chart proved popular and was reissued, translated, and updated (see Montaine and Dodson’s chart (1744) which extends the isogonic lines to the Pacific), the chart became scarce in all iterations over time. Indeed, by 1870, Halley’s charts were so scarce that Sir George Airy, Astronomer Royal, exasperatedly exclaimed that, despite having seen references to “Halley’s Magnetic Chart,” he had “not ascertained that any writer had ever seen it…As I was desirous of making myself acquainted with a document so important in the history of magnetic science, I made enquiries in nearly every Academy in Europe, but could not find anywhere a copy of this Chart.” He eventually did find an example of the world chart nearby, at the British Library; he seems not to have known of the existence of the Atlantic chart.


The present  state was issued by Reiner and Joshua Ottens in Amsterdam. It is widely considered to be the most visually attractive editions of the map.

The map is scarce on the market, as are Halley’s charts in general.  

North Pacific chimeras: Yesso, De Gama, and Compagnie Land

The etymology of the idiom Yesso (Eso, Yeco, Jesso, Yedso) is most likely the Japanese Ezo-chi; a term used for the lands north of the island of Honshu. During the Edō period (1600-1886), it came to represent the ‘foreigners’ on the Kuril and Sakhalin islands. As European traders came into contact with the Japanese in the seventeenth century, the term was transferred onto European maps, where it was often associated with the island of Hokkaido. It varies on maps from a small island to a near-continent sized mass that stretches from Asia to Alaska. 

The toponym held interest for Europeans because the island was supposedly tied to mythic riches. Father Francis Xavier (1506-1552), an early Jesuit missionary to Japan and China, related stories that immense silver mines were to be found on a secluded Japanese island; these stories were echoed in Spanish reports. The rumors became so tenacious and tantalizing that Abraham Ortelius included an island of silver north of Japan on his 1589 map of the Pacific.

Yesso is often tied to two other mythical North Pacific lands, Gamaland and Compagnies Land. Juan de Gama, the grandson of Vasco de Gama, was a Portuguese navigator who was accused of illegal trading with the Spanish in the East Indies. Gama fled and sailed from Macau to Japan in the later sixteenth century. He then struck out east, across the Pacific, and supposedly saw lands in the North Pacific. These lands were initially shown as small islands on Portuguese charts, but ballooned into a continent-sized landmass in later representations.

Several voyagers sought out these chimerical islands, including the Dutchmen Matthijs Hendrickszoon Quast in 1639 and Maarten Gerritszoon Vries in 1643. Compagnies Land, often shown along with Staten Land, were islands sighted by Vries on his 1643 voyage. He named the islands for the Dutch States General (Staten Land) and for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) (Compagnies, or Company’s Land). In reality, he had re-discovered two of the Kuril Islands. However, other mapmakers latched onto Compagnies Land in particular, enlarging and merging it with Yesso and/or Gamaland.

In the mid-eighteenth century, Vitus Bering, a Danish explorer in Russian employ, and later James Cook would both check the area and find nothing. La Perouse also sought the huge islands, but found only the Kurils, putting to rest the myth of the continent-sized dream lands.

The history of geomagnetism

Humans have known for centuries that there was a magnetic property to metals, and to navigation. Polarity and orientation were first recorded in China in the sixth century; they recorded the first compasses, a needle floating in a bowl of water, in the twelfth century. This technique for finding direction was also developed in Europe in the Medieval period. The first maps to include an inkling of declination are markings on German sundials from the mid-fifteenth century. Soon mapmakers adopted the convention, including declination markings on their wind roses.

Until the sixteenth century, the seat of magnetic attraction was thought to be housed in the heavens. In the early modern period, more and more data was gathered. This data was collected by navigators at sea and consisted of magnetic inclination, declination, and deviation. The former, also known as magnetic dip or the dip angle, is the angle made with the horizontal by the Earth’s magnetic fields. Magnetic declination, or variation, is the angle on a horizontal plane between magnetic and true north. Magnetic deviation is the affect of local magnetic fields on compass error. Directional data led savants to conclude that these phenomena varied considerably based on one’s location. They found there was terrestrial polar attraction, creating waves, or lines, of magnetic variation across the globe.

More data also shifted understanding of the source of magnetic variety. As more and more ships took to the open seas, they contributed new data sets. Many found magnetic declination to be zero near the Azores, suggesting that it was a natural prime meridian from which to measure longitude. A tilted dipold was thought to lie 180°E of the Azores, affected by the great magnetic mountain that supposedly lay in the Arctic—it appears famously on Mercator’s map of the North Pole. While this idea was mistaken, as were other hypotheses of two and up to six dipolds, the ideas of an Earth-bound source for magnetism, and of terrestrial locations for the magnetic poles, were not.

The first map to show isogonic lines—lines connecting points of equal declination—was a manuscript chart by the Jesuit Christoforo Borro; made in the 1620s, it is now lost. The seventeenth century was an important period in the theorization of geomagnetism; William Gilbert and others contributed to the ideas of global crustal heterogeneity, rather than a single Arctic magnetic pole. Observations conducted over time at a single point also showed that there was a temporal element to magnetic readings. Precisely why these changes occurred was what drove Edmond Halley to conduct the first naval surveys of magnetic declination in the 1690s.

In the eighteenth century, isogonic lines such as those employed by Halley would become a useful tool for those eager to crack the secrets of geomagnetism. They appeared on maps by Frezier (1717), Van Musschenbroeck (1729, 1744), van Ewyk (1752), Mountaine and Dodson (1744, 1756), Dunn (1775), Lambert (1777), and Le Monnier (1778). The first map to include isoclinics, or lines of equal dip, was made by Johann Karl Wilcke in 1768. Towards the end of the century, John Churchman, a surveyor, published a magnetic atlas that employed both isogonics and isoclinics. They called on a huge amount of data gathered on shore by national observatories and local natural philosophers, as well as at sea by naval officers and Company employees. All of this information led to the abandonment of the idea of even multiple fixed poles and gave way to an understanding of shifting magnetism based on disjointed dipoles that were dynamic, tilted, and nonantipodal.

From the 1830s, astronomers and physicists became the primary gatherers of data. They measured the full magnetic vector; that is, they recorded both the direction and intensity of magnetism. These surveys allowed them to map the field as a whole, a process that accelerated in the mid-twentieth century when scientists were able to carry out various magnetohydrodynamic simulations.

Norman J. W. Thrower, The Three Voyages of Edmond Halley in the Paramore 1698-1701 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1981), 55-66, appendix E. KAP
Reiner & Joshua Ottens Biography

The Ottens brothers, Reiner and Joshua, operated a successful printing partnership in the mid-eighteenth century (fl. 1726-1765). They began the venture in 1726, publishing maps and other prints as “R & I Ottens.” They specialized in the reprinting of others’ work, especially Guillaume De L’Isle. In 1750, Reiner died; his soon, also Reiner, took his place, but the firm began listing their works as “Joshua & Reiner Ottens.” The firm lasted until Joshua’s death in 1765. Joshua’s widow, Johanna de Lindt, sold their remaining stock of plates in 1784.

Edmond Halley Biography

Edmund Halley (ca. 1656-1742) was one of Britain’s foremost astronomers and natural philosophers. He was also an explorer and mapmaker famous for his voyages to study magnetic variation.  Edmund was born in Shoreditch, London. After the Great Fire of 1666, his family moved to Winchester Street, near where the Royal Society, one of the world’s first scientific societies, then had its rooms.

Halley began his astronomical observations as a schoolboy at St. Paul’s School and later at Queen’s College, Oxford. By the time he left Oxford, he had already written three scientific papers and was in touch with the foremost minds in Europe, including the architect Christopher Wren, the natural philosopher Robert Hooke, and fellow astronomers, John Flamsteed, Jean Dominique Cassini, and Johann Hevelius.

Halley left Oxford without a degree because he wanted to travel to St. Helena to determine the positions of the southern stars and to observe the Transit of Mercury, a project he embarked on with the support of Charles II and the East India Company. Although not entirely successful, the star chart he published as a result earned him Fellowship in the Royal Society. In 1680, Halley and a school friend embarked on a scientific Grand Tour of Europe, observing, en route, the first appearance of a bright comet.

He discussed this comet with Isaac Newton upon his return. Halley struck up a great friendship with Newton and oversaw the publication of Newton’s masterpiece, Philosphiae naturalis principia mathematica (1687).  Halley wrote the Latin preface to the work, the most important in the field of physics ever published.

In the 1680s, Halley became interested in magnetic variation. As part of these studies, he produced one of his first known maps, a chart of the trade winds, the first such meteorological chart of its kind. To gather more data on the worldwide phenomena, Halley gathered information about winds and magnetic variation from a global network and took to the sea himself to make surveys and observations. In 1689 he presented a chart of the Thames approaches to the Royal Society. In 1691, he improved the design of a diving bell to help with the salvage of a cargo of gold and ivory.

Halley’s interest in sailing and charting continued in the 1690s, even as he worked as warden to the country mint at Chester. He published a flurry of scientific papers in this decade on topics including life expectancy, optics, rainbows, thermometers, and barometers. Most influential of his work for this time, he calculated the orbit of 24 comets and concluded that comets like the one he saw while on the Grand Tour have elliptical orbits. He also explained that the comet of 1682 had a return period of roughly 75 years; this comet was later named for Halley.

In 1698, Halley was given command of the purpose-built Royal Naval ship the Paramore. He set sail for the South Atlantic to make observations of magnetic variation. He embarked on a second cruise in 1699, also to the South Atlantic. These two voyages served as the basis for a chart of magnetic variation that covered the entire Atlantic, the first surviving chart to use isogonic lines and one of the first thematic charts ever produced. In 1701, Halley took the Paramore on a final cruise in the English Channel, which resulted in another chart that was a vast improvement on previous Channel charts.

Upon outbreak of the War of Spanish Succession, Halley was charged with surveying on behalf of England, a role which took him to the Adriatic. After completing his work there, he returned to an appointment as Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford. One of his major projects while there was to publish Flamsteed’s star charts, a project which contributed to the already stormy relationship between the men. In 1715, Halley drew a map of totality for a rare solar eclipse that would pass through London; his observations were still being used by astronomers in the twentieth century. In 1721, he succeeded Flamsteed as the second Astronomer Royal and moved to Greenwich, where he was concerned with the saronic cycle of the moon and, as ever, comets. He died there in 1742.