Mapping Our World – Landmark Exhibition at National Library

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra Purchased 2000 by the Commonwealth Government with the generous assistance of Robert Oatley and John Schaeffer AO. This is one of three surviving portraits of Cook by John Webber, who spent three years at sea with him as the artist on the Resolution - courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita to Australia will be a unique and very special exhibition held at the National Library of Australia commencing on November 7, 2013 and running until March 10, 2014.

This landmark show has been planned to coincide with both the centenary of Canberra in 2013 and the bicentenary of the making of navigator and cartographer Matthew’s Flinders’ circumnavigation of Australia chart, which takes place in 2014.

Mapping Our World will trace the history and the struggles to both ‘imagine and document’ the whole world.

This included the earth and night sky from ancient times right through until the days when English navigator and cartographer Matthew Flinders (1774-1814) charted the coastline of Australia.

Rare and unique treasured maps from all around the world, as well as those gleaned from the National Library of Australia’s own very significant and comprehensive collection of some 600,000 + maps will be on display.

These range from very early European maps and charts to those in current digital format.

The objective is to tell the story of how Australia came to be and to help transform our understanding of the discovery of that very special part of the world we now live in.

A Shelton Regulator Clock was taken by Lieutenant James Cook on the Resolution. It was made by John Shelton, London, about 1769 and needed a tripod stand to steady it - Photo: courtesy The Royal Society, London

The show will consist of eighty five maps, atlases, globes and scientific instruments, as well as works lent by the Vatican Library, British Library and Bibliothéque nationale de France.

Original manuscript charts by Pacific navigators on display include those of English explorer, navigator, cartographer and naval Captain James Cook (1728-1779), which will be sure to attract many admirers.

The expedition in 1768 was the first of three Pacific voyages Lieutenant James Cook made as a Commander. It had two purposes: to observe the Transit of Venus across the Sun (3-4 June) and to seek clear evidence of the existence of the ‘unknown southern land’.

Eighteenth century transits were challenging, a previous 1761 expedition had been considered a failure from a scientific viewpoint and this one would be the last opportunity for scientists for a very long time.

On board the good ship Endeavour with Captain Cook was astronomer, Charles Green. It was his job to carry out the astronomical measurements. At the time it was known that the size of the solar system could be calculated from the observations. Undertaking the measurements would stretch every aspect of contemporary science.

One of the scientific instruments to be used for timing the measurements to the exact second was an accurate long-case clock with a specialized dial. It was made by London clockmaker John Shelton c1764 for the expedition on the advice of the Astronomer Royal, Fellow of the Royal Society and member of the Board of Longitude. Dr. Nevil Maskelyne (1732-1811). He was making history ‘tick’.

The regulator was one of five clocks John Shelton produced for scientists to use.

The replica of Captain Cook's first expedition ship, the HMB Endeavour, in dock at the National Maritime Museum; Sydney, Australia, at Darling Harbour

Having made the voyage himself to St Helena Island in the Pacific in 1761 Maskelyne knew what Cook’s expedition would need. A sister clock by Shelton is in Australia today. Martyn Cook of Martyn Cook Antiques, Sydney has arranged for it to be loaned for the exhibition.

John Shelton’s Regulator Clocks were used in the 1760’s and 1770’s, and two clocks accompanied James Cook on his subsequent voyages to the South Seas. They were also used in the West Indies, Hudson Bay Canada, North Cape, Norway and Cornwall in England. Incredibly, they were still being used in 1955.

While observations made by Cook and Green at Tahiti in the South Pacific did not immediately offer clear results, the useful maps, charts, views and drawings and the accurate calculations of longitude for many parts of the Pacific, were very useful. They led to new territories eventually being claimed for Britain, including the island continent we know as Australia.

Flinders, Matthew. General chart of Terra Australis or Australia, showing the parts explored between 1798 and 1803 by M. Flinders, Commr. of H.M.S. Investigator (1814) - National Library of Australia

Portrait of Matthew Flinders ca 1800 watercolour miniature courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW

Following the Transit of Venus event, Cook had sealed orders, which said he was to go in search of the great southern land. He circumnavigated New Zealand and surveyed only the east coast of Australia, then known as New Holland, making landfall at Botany Bay.

Navigator and cartographer Matthew Flinders (1774-1814) would be the first  to circumnavigate and confirm this great brown southern land as a continent and to also chart the coastline of Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania), confirming it as an island off Australia’s southern shores.

The accuracy of his charts were so impressive, some remained in use until World War II.

Flinders was also the man who first called this great land Australia, rather than the more formal ‘Terra Australis’, which had been adopted for a time.

He referred to Australia as such in his correspondence, which led to it finally becoming the name of our continent. While his achievements professionally were amazing, he died in pain aged only forty years, the day after the publication of his charts and the accompanying story of his extraordinary voyage.

His maps are his memorial, no other national map in the world  is so bound up with the life of one individual.

He left this locket with his wife when he left to circumnavigate Australia in 1801 and when she next saw him in 1810, his hair was grey.

Australia was the name later taken up by Governor Lachlan Macquarie, who brought ‘culture to the colonies’ during his term in office (1810-1830).

Mar del Sur. Manuscrit enluminé sur parchemin 1622 courtesy Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Hessel Gerritsz (c1581 – 1632), official cartographer of the Dutch United East India Company, produced some of the earliest maps of our coast. His 1622 manuscript chart depicting the currents and winds of the Pacific and incomplete coastline are also in the show.

Highlights include a rare eleventh century manuscript copy of a map created first in 425 AD by the Roman philosopher Macrobius.

Amazingly, he anticipated the ‘Antipodes’ as a large, frozen and undiscovered land in the south of the world, which had had divided into zones or climates.

Map of the world 1448-1453. Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice - One of the most important maps in history

Then there is the 15th century Map of the World by Fra Mauro, who was a Camaldolese monk and part of the Benedictine community living on the island of Murano in the Venetian lagoon.

It is the last of the great medieval maps that inspired navigators to expand their exploration efforts.

Fra Mauro had access to the latest information provided by Portuguese and Arab navigators through his intellectual connections at Florence, giving him a unique perspective on world exploration.

In its nearly 600-year history the map has never left Italy before. This is a rare and generous gesture by the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, who will share this great treasure with the Australian people.

The loan of the Fra Mauro Map of the World has been generously supported by Kerry Stokes AC, Noel Dan AM and Adrienne Dan, Nigel Peck AM and Patricia Peck, Douglas and Belinda Snedden and the Embassy of Italy in Canberra.

Motto and Badge of Henry VIII - The Boke of Idrography, 1542. British Library, London © The British Library Board

The remarkable Boke of Idrography, also known as The Rotz Atlas was produced (1535-1542) and presented to Henry VIII by Jean Rotz, a hydrographer and navigator from Dieppe.

He is believed to have taken part in the expedition from Dieppe to Sumatra under the command of Jean Parmentier in 1529–30, and in 1539 traveled to Guinea and Brazil.

Dieppe in France was a centre for the production of world maps during the 16th century. Wealthy patrons included Henry II of France and Henry VIII of England. The motto and the badge of Henry VIII’s Tudor Rose surmounted by a crown appears upon Mauro’s map and an Inscription reads: ‘Heir endeth this booke of Idrography, made be me Johne Rotz, sarvant to the Kingis mooste exellent Majeste, in the yer of owr Lord Gode jm. vc. xlij. and of his mooste triumphant regne the xxxiiij. yere. Excludit. Gode save his majeste’.

Mercator Map, a technological marvel and work of art

An intricate world map by Benedictine monk Andreas Walsperger (1448) will be on show, alongside one of only four surviving copies of the groundbreaking 1569 projection of cartographer, philosopher and mathematician Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594) who was the first man to use the term Atlas for a collection of maps.

Like many others during Mercator’s day, those who feared a larger view of the world and change, constantly threatened his life.

There are also charts made by the French explorer Louis de Freycinet (1779-1842) who embarked on a scientific expedition to the southern ocean between 1817-1820 with Nicolas Thomas Baudin (1754-1803). This took place in 1800 under orders from the post revolutionary government.

Carte Générale de la Nouvelle Hollande. General map of Australia, 1808-1820 Louis-Claude de Saulces de Freycinet

Baudin and Freycinet on their voyage together worked closely as cartographic surveyors and naturalists in a scientific expedition that made a significant contribution to the charting of Australia.

The meeting in Encounter Bay between England's Matthew Flinders and Nicolas Baudin in 1802 by Marine Artist John Ford

Their encounter with Matthew Flinders, who was also charting the coastline, was a very civilised occasion.

Interestingly the French were able to publish their findings in Europe a long time before Flinders, who was detained for six years in Mauritius by the Governor, who would not believe he wasn’t a spy.

After the restoration of the Bourbon Kings to the French throne Freycinet left on another expedition to circumnavigate the globe.

Perhaps one of most fascinating aspects of this story is that his wife Rose de Freycinet, despite mariners being alarmed at the idea of women on board, joined her husband on the Uranie disguised as a man until they left port.

Rose was the first woman to complete an account of the three-year circumnavigation in a ‘series of intimate letters, which took the form of a diary’.

Her observations of life on board and stories about the people and places they visited, the scientific work of the expedition, the relationships between men and women, and the work of artist Jacques Arago were recorded for posterity.

Detail Map of the world 1448-1453. Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice

Mapping our World: Terra Incognita to Australia promises to be an important, interesting and inspiring exhibition that should attract good crowds to visit our national capital this summer.

It’s undoubtedly an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view these rare and unique treasures that really belong to the whole world.

Mapping our World: Terra Incognita to Australia

National Library of Australia
Parkes Place, Canberra

Dates: 7 November 2013 to 10 March 2014
Opening hours: 
10.00am daily with last entry at 5.00pm (closed Christmas Day)

Download PDF of Mapping Our World List Exhibits

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2013

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