Even as this year marks the 450th anniversary of the Herzog August Bibliothek’s foundation, the library remains a place full of treasures little seen by visitors before. From its collection of 19th-20th century postcards to portraits from the time of the Rotunda Library, there remain many neglected corners in the Herzog August Library. In this spirit, I would like to draw attention to the library’s extensive collection of maps from the 16th to the late 19th century, from which we can learn much about the early perception and reception of the world beyond European shores. In particular, I shall focus on the Western presentation of Oceania as a continent which was once mere unsubstantiated theory and only later in the 17th century a visible presence in the Southern Hemisphere. By referring to Oceania, I want to highlight an important distinction between the terms ‘Oceania’ and ‘Australasia’. Whilst in common parlance they are used as synonyms, Australasia … Continue reading As someone of Pākehā descent (European New Zealander), I believe it is not just interesting but important to delve into this early history of European contact with Oceania so that we can then better appreciate the relationships we have today with the land and the indigenous people.
Within the HAB’s cartographical collection, there are nine copperplate prints which (attempt to) map on the coastal borders of the numerous island nations in Oceania. By examining these maps in chronological order, we will be able to illustrate the gradual shifts in understanding of political and geographical borders, in toponymy (or how place names have developed), and in cartographical practice. These maps were published from around 1700 to the year 1820 in several notable European cities including Amsterdam, London, and Weimar. It is also worth noting that the two earliest maps printed in Amsterdam were not written in Dutch, but rather either entirely in Latin (K 3,9) or in French and Latin (K 3,66). Thus, we get a keen sense of the internationality of cartography where Latin was seen and used as the universal language of science and where French was highly valued by the social elite and France had become a growing global competitor in trade and shipping.
To begin, let’s first turn to the earliest two maps from the early 1700s and 1730 respectively. Though we might expect the cartographer’s failings to chiefly be the absence of certain small islands, it is in fact Australia’s coastline and New Zealand’s very presence which sticks out immediately. Comparing Images 1 and 2, both illustrate the cartographers’ clear doubts as to what the exact coastal borders of Australia are since European explorers had not yet travelled along the Australian east coast until 1770 when James Cook travelled around New Zealand and then up north along the east coast. In fact, in the third oldest map from 1775, we can see this sudden change: the full Australian coast has been mapped out (albeit with Tasmania now joined to the Australian mainland) and the cartographer has even included the route taken by Cook in 1770 (the yellow dotted line) and by Abel Tasman in 1642 (the green dotted line). Thus, this simply highlights the importance of Cook’s voyage for European awareness of Oceania’s major geographical borders.
To return to Image 2, New Zealand is distinctly one-dimensional and joined to the Australian mainland whilst Tasmania is also notably absent. Similarly in Image 1, the northern part of Australia is greatly enlarged as the Australian mainland is merged with the island of New Guinea. When considered together, they don’t necessarily reflect how cartographers really conceived of Australasia but rather how they were forced to make uncertain interpretations based on whatever knowledge they had at hand. This was a fundamental problem for contemporary cartography in trying to map an area of the world still largely shrouded in mystery to Europe.
On a more minor yet equally comical note, sometimes even cartographers make mistakes, as can be seen in the bottom-left corner of Image 4. This map makes a nice clear distinction between land and sea, with land in an opaque white and the sea in a washed-out colour. Yet somehow, the so-called St Peter’s IslandsThese islands may today correspond to islands in the Nuyts Archipelago, South Australia, particularly St Peter Island and its neighbour Goat Island. appear to have found themselves quite far from any shoreline. Maybe the map was not fully finished, or the cartographer made a slight slip-up — we can’t know for certain. Either way, a pair of islands have successfully made it onto land for us to enjoy now in 21st century Wolfenbüttel.
Australia’s shape does not only swell and bulge but there also appears to be particular confusion between the two names ‘New Holland’ and ‘New South Wales’, as well as what exactly they refer to — a country, a region, or some-where in between. The name ‘New Holland’ was coined by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman — the first European to encounter the Australian mainland. It was first used to refer to the general area of the theorised ‘Terra Australis’ i.e. Oceania and only later would refer solely to Australia. In the previous four images, the cartographers have consistently referred to the main island as New Holland and (where present) the east coast as New South Wales. The later five maps can be split into two categories:
- New Holland = main island; New South Wales = east coast
- New Holland = western half of Australia; New South Wales = eastern half
This confusion might have arisen from the establishment of a British colony called New South Wales. In 1770, James Cook claimed in the name of the British Crown the Australian east coast — seen for the first time on record by a European. In 1788, this claim was more concretely asserted by the foundation of a penal colony where on the 7th of February (Australia Day) Admiral Arthur Philip officially proclaimed authority as the first Governor over all of Australia east of the 135th meridian east, as Images 8 and 9 reflect. As a result, there remained some uncertainty as to what the other half was called and what the whole mainland should be called. Thus, New Holland acted as a place holder for the whole island as well as for the yet uncolonized Western Australia.
In Images 5, 8, and 9, we also have another interesting glimpse into contact between Europeans and Indigenous peoples through another name for Australia: Ulimaroa. First given by the Swedish cartographer Daniel Djurberg in 1776, the name is of ambiguous meaning but was adapted from the Māori word ‘Olhemaroa’, referring perhaps to Grand Terre in New Caledonia or Australia itself.For more on this debate, see Pearce, Charles E. M, and Pearce, Frances M. Oceanic Migration : Paths, Sequence, Timing and Range of Prehistoric Migration in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Springer, … Continue reading
Nevertheless, this name was widely popularised and can be found in many European maps until around 1820. If we turn our gaze south-east of Australia and towards the main islands of New Zealand, we can see two other unusual names with similar stories to tell. In the most recent five maps from 1795 to 1820, we can read ‘Eaheinomauwe’ and ‘Tävai-Poenammoo’ for the North and South Islands respectively. These names can be traced back to Cook’s original map where he recorded anglicised versions of Māori names for the North and South Islands. He did, however, give many places English names on his map. For the former, ‘Eaheinomauwe’ comes from ‘either He Mea-hī-nō-Māui (the things Māui fished up) or Te Ahi-a-Māui (the fires of Māui) – referring to Māui having brought fire to the world and the volcanic nature of much of the island.Rāwiri Taonui, ‚Tapa whenua – naming places – Names from Polynesian mythology‘, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, … Continue reading For the latter, ‘Tävai-Poenammoo’ comes from the name ‘Te Waipounamu‘ (the water(s) or place of greenstone) and it is a name still used today to refer to the North Island. Hence, these small references are quite powerful reminders of the indigenous people’s connection to their land – recognised fleetingly by these transliterated names.
As our voyage through maps comes to an end, this final focus on indigenous-colonizer relationships proves to be particularly poignant with growing demand within New Zealand and Australia for greater constitutional recognition of the unique rights of indigenous peoples to the land and even debate as to whether the name ‘New Zealand’ should be changed.For more on the debate around ‘New Zealand’ and the Māori name ‘Aotearoa’, see the Te Pāti Māori’s petition presented on the 3rd of June 2022 and the following article about this … Continue reading These maps are truly visible representations that borders are not just geographical but political, creating effects which reach far beyond their shores. The cartographer’s role has not changed since the 17th century and must simply face new challenges in mapping out the whole Earth and the depths of its oceans. Thus, they continue to carry the responsibility of revealing worlds beyond our line of sight.
If you want to find out more about New Zealand’s long and tumultuous history, I highly recommend ‘The Aotearoa History Show’ — a YouTube series of 15-minute videos produced by RNZ (Radio New Zealand), covering from the arrival of Māori to New Zealand up until modern political history:
Heitzmann, Christian. Europas Weltbild in Alten Karten : Globalisierung Im Zeitalter Der Entdeckungen. 2006.
Burschel, Peter. Seewege und Küstenlinien : Maritime Welten in der Herzog August Bibliothek. 2021.
|By referring to Oceania, I want to highlight an important distinction between the terms ‘Oceania’ and ‘Australasia’. Whilst in common parlance they are used as synonyms, Australasia technically refers to one of the four regions of Oceania, comprising of Australia, New Zealand, and some neighbouring islands. However, the other three regions of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia should not be excluded from our discussion as they too are equally important to the geography and culture of Oceania and should not be forgotten about. The name ‘Australia’ has also historically been used to refer to the continent, and not solely the country or land. For this reason, ‘Australia’ will only ever refer to the mainland island unless there is explicit reference to this continental meaning.
|These islands may today correspond to islands in the Nuyts Archipelago, South Australia, particularly St Peter Island and its neighbour Goat Island.
|For more on this debate, see Pearce, Charles E. M, and Pearce, Frances M. Oceanic Migration : Paths, Sequence, Timing and Range of Prehistoric Migration in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Springer, 2010. p. 155
|Rāwiri Taonui, ‚Tapa whenua – naming places – Names from Polynesian mythology‘, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/tapa-whenua-naming-places/page-2
|For more on the debate around ‘New Zealand’ and the Māori name ‘Aotearoa’, see the Te Pāti Māori’s petition presented on the 3rd of June 2022 and the following article about this petition:
RNZ News. “Petition Aims to Change Official Name to Aotearoa.” RNZ, 14 Sept. 2021, www.rnz.co.nz/news/te-manu-korihi/451477/petition-aims-to-change-official-name-to-aotearoa.