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A German Ornamental View of the World

Scarce, striking double-hemisphere map of the world, engraved by Joannes Walch in Augsburg and published by Johann Martin Will.

The map is based on a much-earlier world map published by the great French geographer Guillaume De L’Isle, which explains why the ships’ routes that are included predate this map by several decades. However, there are also recent updates, such as the shape of New Zealand, the east coast of Australia, the toponyms and shape of Alaska, and the presence of the South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands. These show knowledge of the recent voyages of James Cook (1769-1771, 1772-5, 1776-1780) (see below).

This odd configuration is explained in the title cartouche. Walch mentions that other maps by Lotter are also sold by his publisher, Will. Tobias Conrad Lotter was a German mapmaker who had brought out his own version of De L’Isle’s world map in 1775. Walch seems to have used Lotter’s other maps to update this one, changes Walch explains in a geography primer advertised in the cartouche in the bottom center of the map.

The northwest of North America and the northern Pacific is of particularly interest here. The rough shape of Alaska is determined by Cook’s third voyage, which sought the Northwest Passage. A route into the far north, where the shores are undefined, is named for the navigator.

Korea is well delineated, but nearby is a huge peninsula called, Terra Yedso, a misunderstanding of the geography of Hokkaido. The unfinished Terre de la Compagnie is nearby, as are lands supposedly seen by Dom Ioan de Gama. All of these features are linked to the search for large lands in the area in the seventeenth century (see below).

The toponym Stachtan Nitad and the mention of Bering and Tschirikow (Chirikov) show familiarity with the Russian voyages to the area in the mid-eighteenth century (see below). All of the area is labeled as Littoral Russian America.

While there is no southern continent, Australia is shown in a recognizable form, although Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) is shown as connected. The Bass Strait was not charted until the turn of the nineteenth century.

Many ships’ tracks criss-cross the waters. In the Indian Ocean is that of the Frenchman Chaumont. In 1685-6, Alexander, the Chevalier de Chaumont, led a delegation from France to Siam, which today is known as Thailand. This was the second official French trip to Siam; Chaumont was to deliver two ambassadors and to collect delegates from the first delegation of 1684. The route marked here is Chaumont’s voyage to and from Siam from the Cape of Good Hope.

In the Pacific, there are mentions of Spanish navigators (or those who sailed for the Spanish Crown), like Gaetano (1542). His path was forged by Magellan and his crew, who performed the first circumnavigation in 1519-1522 (Magellan died in the Philippines). Mendaña is mentioned twice; Álvaro de Mendaña y Neira led two voyages of discovery into the Pacific in 1567 and 1595 in search of Terra Australis.

The Dutch are also well represented. After Magellan’s voyage, Olivier van Noort led the first Dutch circumnavigation (1598-1601). Following his crew’s return, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) declared the Straights of Magellan as their own, disallowing non-VOC ships from entering. In an attempt to circumvent these restrictions, the merchant Isaac LeMaire financed a voyage to find an alternative route in 1615. William Schouten and Jacob Le Maire, Isaac’s son, entered the Pacific from the West via a straight that sent their ships around Cape Horn, which they named for their port of departure in the Netherlands. Le Maire’s name was chosen for the Strait, while the island they passed by received the name of Staten Landt (here Terra Statum).

Perhaps the best known of the explorers chronicled here is Abel Tasman. The early seventeenth century saw several Dutch encounters with a land they called New Holland. By the 1640s, the officials of the VOC were eager to know the extent of the south lands and if they included any useful resources or willing trading partners. They appointed Abel Tasman to pursue these questions. Tasman's 1642-43 voyage was the first to circumnavigate the whole of the Australasia region, thus proving it was a separate entity unconnected from a mythical, and massive, southern continent. He surveyed the south coast of Tasmania, which he called Van Diemens Land after the VOC governor of Batavia, and the western coast of New Zealand, as well as the Tonga and Fiji Archipelagos. While important for geography, his voyage was nevertheless a disappointment to the VOC, as it netted no new commercial opportunities.

His second voyage proved even less successful. He was supposed to find a passage south of New Guinea to the east coast of Australia, but he missed the strait and instead thought it a bay. He did, however, more fully chart Australia’s northern coastline, which had only been sporadically encountered to that point.

Finally, there are English voyages shown here. First is Dampier’s circumnavigation, with a date of 1686. This would have been during the buccaneer’s first circumnavigation, which took a dozen years; he eventually circled the world three times. The other is a track labeled as by a “skillful English sailor” crossing the Pacific and approaching the Philippines. This is likely a reference to Anson’s circumnavigation (1739-1744), when the British commander captured a Spanish treasure galleon.

The two hemispheres are accompanied by polar projections and astronomical models. The title cartouche is adorned with depictions of figures representing Africa and America (left) and Asia and America (right).


This map is unusual and intriguing. It is also rare; this the first time we have ever offered it. OCLC lists only one example, at the Thüringer Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek.

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.

Cook's first voyage (1768-1771)

The Transit of Venus is one of the rarest predictable astronomical phenomena, occurring twice in eight years and then not again for over one hundred years (in a 243-year cycle). Observing the time it takes for Venus to transit across the sun can help to calculate the size of the solar system and the distance from the Earth to the Sun. In 1761, scientific societies sought to record the Transit from posts around the world. However, many of the observations were flawed or thwarted by the weather, especially those arranged, in haste, by the Royal Society of London. Determined to not repeat the same mistake, the Royal Society planned a South Sea voyage to view the 1769 Transit in concert with the Royal Navy, as the southern Pacific would be one of the places where the Transit was visible.

The Admiralty chose Lieutenant James Cook to command the expedition, based on his aptitude for charting and instrumentation.  He was joined by Joseph Banks, a wealthy young botanist, and his retinue of scientists and artists. In addition to observing the Transit, Cook was secretly instructed to seek out and claim any potentially-useful territory or resources that his ship, Endeavour, came across.

Cook and his crew sailed from Plymouth on August 25, 1768. It sailed south, to Tierra del Fuego, and then to its destination for the Transit: Tahiti. There, three groups observed the Transit, although their results were imprecise. When the Endeavour left Tahiti in July 1769; on board was a new member of the party, the Rai’aitean priest and navigator Tupaia, along with his servant, Taiato.

The ship headed south, arriving in New Zealand in early October. There, Tupaia found that he could understand and speak with the local people, the Māori. However, this did not prevent several violent incidents that resulted in deaths. While charting the coastline, Cook and the voyage astronomer, Charles Green, observed the Transit of Mercury. The ship sailed round the southern tip of the South Island, proving it was not connected to a southern continent.

Next, the Endeavour set out east, encountering the east coast of Australia in April 1770. They were the first Europeans to do so. After stopping at a place they called Botany Bay, the ship turned north, skirting the coast. Endeavour ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef; while the ship was saved, they had to stop for repairs at Waalumbaal Birri, or Endeavour River. Here, the Europeans saw their first kangaroo and learned its name from the local people, the Guugu Yimithirr. They nearly ran aground again, but narrowly averted disaster and made for Jakarta, then known as Batavia.

In Batavia, many members of the crew became ill. More than two dozen men, including Sydney Parkinson, the voyage artist, the aforementioned Charles Green, and Tupaia, died in Jakarta or at sea soon thereafter. Weakened, the Endeavour called at the Cape of Good Hope and returned to the Thames in July 1771.   

Cook's second voyage (1772-1775)

Cook’s first voyage was considered a success. The Admiralty chose to send him to the Pacific again, this time to focus on finding and charting Terra Australia incognita, if it existed. This time, Cook was in command of the Resolution and accompanied by the Adventure, captained by Tobias Furneaux.

The ships departed Plymouth on July 13, 1772. They made for the Cape of Good Hope and then sailed south, in search of land. They reached an ice sheet and could not find a break to sail through. The crew melted ice for fresh water and the expedition artist, William Hodges, drew eerie pictures of looming icebergs. On January 17, 1773, the ships crossed the Antarctic Circle, the first ships known to have done so.

Separated in fog, the ships headed toward New Zealand. They rendezvoused in Queen Charlotte Sound, where they traded with the Māori. The Māori inquired as to location of Tupaia and were sad to hear that he had died.

The ships returned to Tahiti, where they found the politics of the island had shifted and there was a new leader, Tu, to consult. Mai, a Rai’atean man, joined the Adventure, while Hitihiti joined the Resolution.  The former became the first Polynesian to visit Britain, while Hitihiti returned home after sailing to Tonga, the Antarctic, New Zealand, and Easter Island.

Cook and his men next sailed to Tonga and then back to New Zealand. En route, the ships were separated again. Resolution left for southern waters without Adventure; Furneaux decided to return to Britain, leaving Cook in the Antarctic.

In December 1773 and January 1774, Resolution crossed the Antarctic Circle for the second and third times. They reached 71°10’ South, the farthest south any ships had sailed; the record would stand until 1823. He had decidedly proven that the great southern continent was nothing more than a myth.

Returning north, Cook called at Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, and his men marveled at the Moai, large statues that stand guard on the island. The Resolution returned to Tahiti, and then called at Niue, Nomuka, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Norfolk Island. After another visit to New Zealand, they sailed east to Tierra del Fuego. In the Atlantic, Cook named South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. On the homeward stretch, Resolution visited St. Helena and then anchored in Portsmouth on July 30, 1775.

Cook's third voyage (1776-1780)

After two Pacific cruises that observed the Transit of Venus, charted New Zealand, the eastern coast of Australia, and many islands; and disproved the existence of a vast southern continent, Cook’s third voyage focused on searching for the Northwest Passage. It was also tasked with the return of Mai, a Ra’iatean man and the first Polynesian visitor to Britain, who had joined Cook’s second voyage.

Cook in the Resolution was joined by Charles Clerke in the Discovery. Resolution sailed in July from Plymouth, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, visited the Kerguelen group in the Southern Indian Ocean, then called at Tasmania before heading to New Zealand.

In the spring of 1777, the ships sailed north, first to Tonga, and then to Tahiti. They left Mai on Huahine in a wooden house built for him by the crew. Cook continued north and became the first European to encounter the Hawaiian Islands, in January 1778.

During the warm months (in the northern hemisphere) of 1778, Cook and his crew charted the northwestern coast of North America, calling at Nootka Sound and Prince William Sound. They went up the Cook Inlet, which they thought could be a Northwest Passage, but it proved to be a false start. Heading west, they skirted the Aleutians and sighted the Asian coast. In January 1779, they returned to Hawai’i to resupply and rest.

In Kealakekua Bay, Cook was greeted warmly by the Hawaiians. They stayed for three weeks, enjoying the considerable hospitality of the people. In early February, the ships set out for another northern tour, but only a few days from Hawai’i the Resolution’s mast was damaged, forcing their return. 

This time, they were not welcomed by crowds. During a dispute over a stolen boat, a scuffle broke out. When it was over, sixteen Hawaiians, four marines, and Cook were dead.

Clerke took command. He forced the Hawaiians to give him Cook’s remains, which were buried at sea. He then led the ships north, passing through the Bering Strait before turning back due to ice. In August of 1779, Clerke too died, of consumption, while near Kamchatka. A third commander, John Gore, then had to lead the ships home.

The ships sighted Japan on their southward journey before calling at Macao. There, they made sizeable profits by selling sea otter pelts, kickstarting a new industry. By April 1780, the Resolution and Discovery were back at the Cape of Good Hope. They returned to Britain via the Orkneys, anchoring in the Thames on October 7, 1780.

The Russian discoveries in the Pacific Northwest and the odd case of Stitchan Nitada

Two expeditions led by Vitus Behring (1728-30, 1733-43) explored Kamchatka and what is now Alaska, charting the strait between them. The first maps of the discoveries appeared in France in the early 1750s, followed by a German map by Gerhard Müller, a member of the second Kamchatka Expedition, first published in 1754 and distributed more widely in a 1758 edition. These maps, though they differed in many respects, show the strait between the continents and the westward thrust of the Alaskan mainland/archipelago.

In the 1760s, Russian fur traders discovered more and more of the Aleutian Islands, some of which are shown here. In 1764, another Second Kamchatka Expedition veteran, Lieutenant Ivan Synd, led a new voyage to the Bering Sea. He was in search of the Northwest Passage, but also hoped to clarify to what extent western Alaska was a peninsula or an archipelago. He produced several maps, all but one of which have been lost. The map that does survive shows a series of islands nearly touching Kamchatka, not a peninsula.

As a result of Synd’s findings, a modified 1773 Russian edition of Müller’s chart converts Müller’s large peninsula to a string of islands. In the same year Jacob von Stählin, secretary to the Russian Academy of Sciences, created his own map based on Synd’s discoveries entitled, “A Map of the New Northern Archipelago discover’d by the Russians.” This map, published in a book with a similar title, was a source for this 1774 edition of Covens & Mortier’s map of the Americas.  Although it does not copy Stählin’s map exactly—it does not include a large Alaschka Island, for example—the Covens & Mortier map does adopt several toponyms from the Stählin map, including Stachtan Nitada on the North American mainland, near the Arctic Circle.

Written as Satchan Nitada on the Covens & Mortier example, this toponym seems to have been included for the first time by Stählin. It is supposedly a place Synd landed at and is near the sighting of the Alaskan mainland by the Russians in 1730, an event also marked on this map. The book excited members of the Royal Society of London, who ensured that the German language publication was translated into English by the end of 1774.

However, Stachtan Nitada’s precise location and importance remained unclear to explorers, none more so than James Cook. Cook carried the English translation of Stählin’s map with him on this third voyage, which was focused on finding the Northwest Passage. What interested Cook was the strait between Stachtan Nitada and the nearest island to the west, a feature repeated, in reduced form, on this map. It seemed to Cook and others planning his third voyage that this could be an entrance to a Northwest Passage.

When Cook arrived in search of the islands and passage in 1778, he found no such place. As J.C. Beaglehole, Cook’s twentieth-century editor, explains:

…no one could be too hard on Stählin. He had thrown the name Alaska on to an arbitrary island in the north; the other name Stachtan Nitada was unknown to either Russian or Aleut…As a cartographer he was naïve, even infantile; and he was unwise enough to speak slightingly of seamen. (Journals of Captain Cook, cxxxvii-cxxxviii)

Cook himself had choice words about Stählin and Stachtan Nitada. In his journal of October 1778, he wrote:

Stachtan Nitada as it is calld in the Modern maps, is a name quite unknown to these people, Indians as well as Russians, but both know it by the name of America. (251)

Of Stählin’s map, Cook wrote later in October 1778:

If Mr Stehlin was not greatly imposed upon what could induce him to publish so erroneous a Map? in which many of these islands are jumbled in in [sic] regular confusion, without the least regard to truth and yet he is pleased to call it a very accurate little Map? A Map that the most illiterate Seafaring men would have been ashamed to put his name to. (456)

Of course, Covens & Mortier could not have known of the inaccuracy of the map in 1774, as Cook would not test Stählin’s hypotheses until later in the decade. For that reason, Stachtan Nitada appears here and on several other contemporary maps and is an enduring example of the conjectural nature of mapmaking.

Johann Walch Biography

Johann, or Johannes, Walch (1757-1816) was a painter and engraver. He was well-known for painting miniature portraits, having trained in Geneva, Venice, and Rome. Walch published several atlases and sheet maps. As with his atlases, many of Walch’s maps were reprinted after his death.