An incredibly rare map from 1628 has been added to the Library’s rich cartographic collections. There are just six known copies of the world map Charte universelle de tout le monde, which captures a pivotal moment in the history of Dutch mapping of the Australian coastline.
Marked on the map are the rivers and inlets of northwest Australia explored by Jan Cartensz and his crew during their 1623 voyage, sponsored by the Dutch East India Company. This was the first European voyage to explicitly survey and describe the eastern shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria, although at the time they thought they were exploring the southern coast of New Guinea. The existence of Torres Strait, separating the Australian mainland from New Guinea, had not been confirmed.
On 21 January 1623, Cartensz left Amboina (Ambon, Indonesia) with the ships the Pera and the Arnhem. The expedition sailed south along the coast of New Guinea into the Gulf of Carpentaria before the ships parted towards the end of April. Van Colster on the Arnhem sailed in a westerly direction, eventually charting some of the coastline to the west of the cape. Cartensz on the Pera sailed north along the eastern shore of the gulf.
Over the next few weeks landing parties explored the coast and, on several occasions, travelled a few kilometres into the interior. The purpose of the expedition was to investigate potential trade opportunities and search for suspected deposits of gold.
In his journal of the voyage, which survives in the National Archives in the Hague, Cartensz describes the barren landscape, the lack of water and the First Nations people they encountered who were unimpressed with the glass beads and trinkets offered by the European crew.
On 3 May 1623 Cartensz writes: ‘...it is very dry and barren, for during all the time we have searched and examined this part of the coast to our best ability, we have not seen one fruit-bearing tree, nor anything that man could make use of; there are no mountains or even hills, so that it may be safely concluded that the land contains no metals, nor yields any precious woods... In our judgment this is the most arid and barren region that could be found anywhere on the earth; the inhabitants, too, are the most wretched and poorest creatures that I have ever seen in my age or time.’
Early explorers like Carstensz could not understand the First Nations cultures they observed, or recognise the complexity and scale of the cultures they were encountering. Their stereotypes of First Nation peoples were entirely due to uninformed and distant observations, and remained largely unchallenged for the next four centuries.
This extraordinary map – complete with sea monsters and cherubs – was produced through a joint effort of the Dutch and the French, and is dedicated to the King of France. Dutch engraver and publisher Cornelis Danckerts was the founder of an important dynasty of cartographers, based in Amsterdam. Originally from Antwerp, the Tavernier family of engravers moved to France around 1575. Melchior Tavernier introduced the fine copper engraving skills of the Dutch printing industry to French printers.
This map was acquired with the support of the State Library of New South Wales Foundation.
Maggie Patton, Manager, Research and Discovery.
Visit our Amaze Gallery to see this exquisite example of mapmaking in person.