This beautifully engraved chart was published in Zee Atlas, the comprehensive pilot book produced by well-known Amsterdam publisher Abraham Goos. It is centered on Southeast Asia with parts of Australia, extending to an area from east India and Cape Comorin to Japan and Korea. It is oriented with east at the top, and divided by three prominent vertical lines marking the Tropic of Cancer (≈23°N), the equator (0°), and the Tropic of Capricorn (≈23°S).
This chart stands out among 17th century maps of Southeast Asia for its importance and quality, attested to by the fact that it was copied by both John Seller and Frederick de Wit. Furthermore, the de Wit plates were later acquired and re-struck by both Louis Renard and R. & J. Ottens.
Southeast Asia in the 17th century was marked by the rise of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), formed in 1602 when several Dutch firms competing for the Indies trade were consolidated into a single global corporate power. This chart represents the advanced cartographic knowledge known to Dutch VOC vessels, three of which adorn the map, sailing the waters of the Indian Ocean.
For its part, the VOC sponsored the influential exploratory voyages of Abel Tasman, the first known European explorer to reach the islands of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) and New Zealand, and to sight the Fiji islands. The unfinished Australia on our chart (labeled Nova Hollandia) is based on information compiled during Abel Tasman’s second voyage of 1644. Setting out from Batavia on 30 January, 1644, Tasman and his crew sailed along the south coast of New Guinea with the goal of mapping eastern Australia. For some reason, he turned back before the Torres Straights, and instead mapped the north coast of Australia, starting with the Gulf of Carpentaria, shown in detail on Goos’s chart.
As for New Guinea itself, many of the place names are linked to one of the most famous 16th century voyages of exploration, that of a rival to the VOC, the Jacob Le Maire/Willem Schouten expedition of 1615-6. Financed by Jacob’s father Issac, a former VOC shareholder who left the company in disgrace, this expedition had two main objectives: to search for Terra Australis, the immense continent thought to exist somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, and to break the VOC monopoly on the western trade route to the East Indies. With Schouten as the main navigator, the expedition reached the north coast of New Guinea in 1616, en route to the Moluccas and Java.
As seen on our map, many of the places names given by Le Maire and Schouten were chosen to commemorate places or people. This includes the personal eponym Willem Schouten Eylandt (Biak Island, modern-day Indonesia), as well as the coastal designation of a C. van goede hoop (Cape of Good Hope), meant to celebrate the approaching end of the expedition. However, adjacent to Willem Schouten Eylandt, are two small islands with indigenous place names: Moa and Arimoa. These represent today’s modern Insumoar in the Wakde Islands (site of a WWII Japanese air base that was captured by the Americans), and Nirumoar, in the Kumamba Islands.
Overall, an exceptional display of Dutch mapmaking.