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Influential Swiss World Map with the Lakes of Admiral de la Fonte and the Sea of the West

Daniel Bernoulli's rare, revised broadside world map, based on his notable collaboration with map and globe maker Isaac Brouckner.

This broadside example, known in only one institutional example, includes text in both French and German. The geographic outline for this map Brouckner’s massive, rare twelve-sheet world chart on the Mercator projection that was part of the first Prussian sea atlas. However, the present map has considerable additions as compared to the earlier chart.

Bernoulli was a mathematician from a family of famous mathematicians; he was also a good friend to Leonhard Euler. The men might have met in St. Petersburg through their relationship with Euler, as both worked with him there. At the University of Basel, after Brouckner joined the faculty of the university there in 1753, Bernoulli and Brouckner worked together on this world map, as well as a later globe.  

The present map, without the text, was included in the fifth edition of Lawrence Echard's Dictionnaire géographique portatif, published by Jean Jacques Schorndorff in Basel in 1755, as the cartouche suggests. This broadside was produced in Zurich in ca. 1755 by Johann Rudolf Holzhalb.

Brouckner’s earlier world chart was focused on the shores of the world, with little to no inland detail. Here, however, there are many terrestrial details, particularly regional names, major cities, and rivers.

Australia, or New Holland, is well-delineated to the west and north, a result of Dutch encounters with its shores in the seventeenth century. It is suggestively connected to New Guinea and Terre du St. Esprit, a possible continent named by Pedro Ferdinand de Quiros on his voyage in 1606. In reality, he had landed on Vanuatu.

South of the Cape of Good Hope, and near the antoeciens of Basel, is “Terre decouverte 1739.” This is a reference to the voyage of Jean-Baptiste Charles Bouvet de Lozier (1738-9), who saw Cap de Circoncision in the far southern Atlantic Ocean. It was the first time that land had been spotted south of the 50th parallel south.

There are several ships’ tracks included. One is the annual route of the Acapulco-Manila galleon, which transported silver and goods across the Pacific between outposts of the Spanish empire. Specifically, this is the galleon of 1743, which was captured near Manila by British commodore George Anson.

Nearby is a route to California in 1709. This is a reference to the St. Antoine, a French merchant vessel and the first non-Spanish voyage across the Pacific from west to east. The ship, commanded by Nicolas de Frondant, traded with Chile and Peru in 1709.

In the far North Pacific are several ships’ routes. These belong to the First and Second Kamchatka Expeditions, led by Vitus Bering (1728-30, 1733-43). They are joined by a large Sea of the West and surprising lakes in the interior of Northwest North America, which were controversial features in mid-eighteenth-century European geography (see below).

The attached text, in French and German for a Swiss audience, explains how to use a Mercator chart and how to calculate distance using the table at the bottom of the page. It also discusses the location of the antipodes of Basel in the Pacific, again underlining the Swiss audience for this map. Unusually, this map also includes the location of Basel’s periociens, or location on the same line of latitude but the opposite meridian, as well as its antoeciens, or location on the same meridian but on the opposite line of latitude.

The Russian Kamchatka expeditions, the Sea of the West, and the so-called findings of Admiral de la Fonte

By the far the most intriguing area on this map is what is today known as the Pacific Northwest, from northern California to Alaska. Their depiction is based on a controversial map by prominent French cartographers Joseph Nicolas Delisle and Philippe Buache. De L'Isle and Buache first presented the map to the Acàdemie Royale on April 8, 1750; it was printed in June of 1752 and then quickly reissued across Europe.

Joseph Nicholas De L'Isle spent much of his career in Russia, where he helped to found the Russian Academy of Sciences. While there, he had access to the latest findings of Russian explorers and was at the center of Russia's geographic establishment; for example, he helped produce the first Russian atlas, the Atlas Russicus, with Ivan Kyrilov. He returned to Paris in 1747 with a large map collection, an event that drew some criticism from Russian academicians who thought he absconded with delicate materials.

While this map integrates the latest Russian explorations, it also re-invigorates the mythical Sea of the West, which had first appeared on charts published by Johann Baptiste Nolin in ca. 1700, but had quickly disappeared thereafter. In contrast, a dominant feature of this map is a vast "Mer ou Baie de l'Ouest.”

The re-introduction of the sea was the result of Buache's review of his father-in-law, Guillaume De L’Isle's papers. Although Guillaume 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, 109).

The Pacific Northwest shown here is defined by the so-called discoveries Admiral De Fonte, which proved dubious at best. Admiral de Fonte supposedly sailed to the area in the mid-seventeenth century. The first mention of Fonte appears in two letters published in London in 1708 in two issues of The Monthly Miscellany or Memoirs for the Curious. The Fonte letters had been reprinted by Arthur Dobbs in his 1744 An Account of the Countries adjoining Hudson's Bay and were mentioned in other travel accounts. De L'Isle's copy of the letters came from Lord Forbes, British ambassador to Russia, as the former explained in a memoir, Nouvelles Cartes des Decouvertes de l'Amiral de Fonte (Paris, 1753). He also read of them in Henry Ellis' account of the 1746-7 expedition to Wager Inlet.

The letters recounted that Fonte had found an inlet near 53°N which led to a series of lakes. While sailing northeast, Fonte eventually met with a Boston merchant ship, commanded by a Captain Shapley. One of Fonte's captains, separated from the Admiral, reported he had found no strait between the Pacific and the Davis Straits, yet had reached 79°N, helped by local indigenous peoples. This story, with its suggestion of water passages connecting the Pacific Northwest with the east, inspired hope in some and doubt in others in the mid-eighteenth century. A few, like Irish mapmaker John Green, thought the entire story a farce. Many, including De L'Isle and Buache, thought the information conformed neatly to other recent discoveries and included Fonte on their map.

In their June 1752 map, Fonte's entrance is at roughly 63°N latitude, as it is here. In the face of criticism, De L'Isle published another map in September 1752 moving the entrance to 53°N, as the letters had stated. This caused a rift between De L'Isle and Buache, as the latter stuck to the initial misreading of the letters. In the second map, the Mar de l'Ouest is significantly smaller than on the first. Both men, however, continued to believe Fonte a credible source and continued to include him on their maps in some capacity. As seen here, other mapmakers also took up their initial ideas and spread them widely.


The map with broadside survives in a single recorded example in the Ryhiner Collection at the Universitätsbibliothek Bern.

Mary Sponberg Pedley, The Commerce of Cartography: Making and Marketing Maps in Eighteenth-Century France and England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005); Glyndwr Williams, Voyages of Delusion: The Search for the Northwest Passage in the Age of Reason (HarperCollins, 2003). KAP
Isaac Brouckner Biography

Isaac (sometimes Isaak) Brouckner (sometimes Bruckner) (1686-1762) was a Swiss tradesman, mapmaker, and globe maker. His father was a preacher, but Isaac focused on apprenticeships with a belt maker, a stone cutter, and a mechanical specialist. These skills allowed him to shift toward the creation of instruments. His first known globe was made from 1722-5; he then presented the gilt-copper globe in Paris, at the Académie des Sciences. As a result, Brouckner was named a correspondent of the society and was made Royal Geographer to Louis XV. Brouckner then traveled to St. Petersburg and their Academy of Sciences at the invitation of Leonhard Euler. While there, he produced several maps and instruments, as well as taught mechanics. He left Russia in 1745 for Western Europe. Next, he was employed by the Academy of Sciences in Berlin on the first Prussian sea atlas. Finally, in 1752, he returned to Basel, where he was named to the faculty of the university there. He lectured on geography, mechanics, and geometry. In 1754-5, he and mathematician Daniel Bernoulli collaborated on a world map and a globe.

Daniel Bernoulli Biography

Daniel Bernoulli (1700-1782) was a renowned mathematician and physicist from a family of famous mathematicians. His father, Johann, was central to the development of calculus and his uncle, Jacob, played a role in creating probability theory. Born in Groningen, his family moved to Basel when he was young. Daniel studied in Basel, Heidelberg, and Strasbourg and had a wide network of savants, including Leonhard Euler, who he worked with in St. Petersburg from 1724-33. Bernoulli worked as a professor in medicine, metaphysics, and natural philosophy at the University of Basel. While there, he collaborated on a world map and a globe with Isaac Brouckner.