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Fine Large-Format Map of Australia and the Southwest Pacific

Striking, large-format map of Australia, New Zealand and the Southwest Pacific, extending to Fiji, the Solomons, Papua New Guinea, Timor and the Celebs.

The map was drawn for inclusion in Thomson’s influential New General Atlas, first published in 1817. 

When this map was drawn, the outline and cohesion of this area was in flux. Thomson calls the area “New Holland and Asiatic Isles.” A contemporary mapmaker, Andre Hubert Brué, was using Océanie for a similar but larger region. Later in the century, the monikers of Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia would come into use.

The islands are shown in sharp detail. Dates of European encounter are included in many places, as are notes about geography. For example, “New Guinea or Papua” has sections that are “Very low Land” and others that are “open & level.”

Between this island and the Carpentaria Peninsula is a historical aside, “Here the Pandora was Wrecked 1791.” HMS Pandora had been sent to catch the Bounty mutineers who had set Captain Bligh adrift. The ship indeed found several mutineers, but was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef on August 25, 1791. Survivors limped back to England in 1792, telling their grim tale.

The outline of Australia, which had finally been circumnavigated just ten years before by Matthew Flinders, encloses a vast, open territory labeled New Holland in the West and New South Wales in the East. Australia would not become the official name for the continent until 1824. Native presence is limited to notes such as “high trees, natives seen” and “Inhabitants found here were black.”

Some of the names included by Thomson are based on early Dutch encounters with Australia in the seventeenth century. In the north of Australia is Carpentaria, so named in 1623 by Jan Cartensz after Peiter de Carpentier, the VOC governor of the East Indies at that time. Carstensz was not the first Dutchman in this area, however, as Willem Janszoon visited what is today Queensland on his voyage of 1605-6, the first European to encounter Australia. Arnhems Land, just to the west, refers to the Arnhem, a Dutch East India ship and one of the two ships that sailed with Carstensz, which sighted the area in 1623. 

Farther west is C F de Witts Land, which recalls Gerrit Frederikszoon de Witt, captain of the Vianen, which sailed in 1628. Next is Land of Endracht. The Endracht was the second recorded European ship to contact Australia (1616), and the first in western Australia. The Eendracht was blown off course en route to the East Indies in that year. It was commanded by Dirk Hartog, whose name is on an island here. 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.

Edels Land is named for Jacob d’Edel. In the Amsterdam, along with Frederik de Houtman in the Dordrecht, d’Edel came within sight of the western coast and called the stretch of land d’Edelsland. Dinnings Land includes the date of 1619, but it is actually likely a blending of descriptions of dunes from earlier Dutch maps. The final Dutch name for a stretch of coast is Nuyts Land; Pieter Nuyts, a Dutch navigator, commanded the Gulden Zeepaert along the southern coast in 1627.

Not only the Dutch had early Australian encounters. Dampier’s Land and Sharks Bay refer to the visit of English buccaneer William Dampier, the first person to circumnavigate the world three times. He visited the area in 1699.

Charting the outline of Australia, ca. 1800

The outlines of Australia and many toponyms are thanks to the many voyages that charted Australia. The most prominent of these were those of Nicolas Baudin and Matthew Flinders at the turn of the nineteenth century.

When Nicolas Baudin left Le Havre in the Geographe in October 1800, he was embarking on a voyage meant to survey the shores of Australia. He was accompanied by the Naturaliste, commanded by Captain Jacques Felix Emmanuel Hamelin, whose crew included the young naval officer Louis Freycinet. At this time, the British had established their presence in eastern Australia, but the western and southern portions of the continent remained unexplored and not necessarily claimed by the British. In other words, although ostensibly a scientific expedition, the French were also open to possible overseas expansion if the opportunity arose.

Initially the ships, sometimes separated, made their way north up the western coast of Australia from Cape Leeuwin to Timor. They then went south again, but were separated a second time. Baudin and the Geographe made for Van Diemen’s Land and then returned toward the west.

En route, they encountered British naval officer Matthew Flinders in the Investigator. Flinders had initially begun his charting of Australia in the southeast in the mid-1790s, where he surveyed and named the Bass Strait. By the time he met Baudin, Flinders was on his third Australian surveying mission. He was heading to Sydney, from where he would begin a clockwise circumnavigation of the Australian continent, the first such voyage to ever do so.

Baudin and Hamelin were reunited in Sydney, where both ships had come to recuperate in late 1801. During the course of 1802, the Geographe and the Casuarina, a survey vessel purchased by Baudin and commanded by Freycinet, surveyed the southern coast of Australia (the Naturaliste had been sent back to France). They then sailed round the west coast to Timor, then back to Mauritius, where Baudin died. It was also where the Casuarina’s career ended, as the ship was abandoned in favor of consolidating the crews on the Geographe. The ship returned home on March 25, 1804.

Flinders was not so lucky. On his homeward voyage to Britain in late 1803, Flinders was forced to stop in French-controlled Mauritius due to the poor condition of his ship. As Britain and France were then at war, the governor of the island arrested Flinders, detaining him (in relative comfort) for seven years (1803-1810).

Flinders worked on his charts of Australia while in Mauritius, but he was unable to publish them in full. Instead, the first map of the continent was by Freycinet. It appeared in an atlas of the Baudin expedition, released in 1811.

Christina Thompson, Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia (London: WilliamCollins, 2019); Bronwen Douglas, Science, Voyages, and Encounters in Oceania, 1511-1850 (Houndsmill, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014); Graham Seal, The Savage Shore: Extraordinary stories of survival and tragedy from the early voyages of discovery (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015); Gunter Schilder, Australia Unveiled: The Share of the Dutch Navigators in the Discovery of Australia (Amsterdam: Theaturm Orbis Terrarum Ltd., 1976). KAP
John Thomson Biography

John Thomson (1777-ca. 1840) was a commercial map publisher active in Edinburgh. He specialized in guide books and atlases and is primarily known for his Atlas of Scotland (1832) and the New General Atlas, first published in 1817 and reissued for the next quarter century. The New General Atlas was a commercial success—it was also published in Dublin and London—and it compiled existing geographic knowledge in compelling ways for a wide audience.

His Atlas of Scotland introduced new geographic information and was the first large-scale atlas of Scotland to be organized by county. It provided the most-accurate view of Scotland available before the Clearances. Work on the atlas began in 1820 and led to Thomson’s bankruptcy in 1830 due to the high costs of gathering the latest surveys and reviewing the required materials. Despite the publication of the atlas, Thomson declared bankruptcy again in 1835.