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New light on the origin of the Tasman-Bonaparte map.

The purpose of this article is to trace the origin of the Tasman-Bonaparte map and its prototype (Fig. 1.).

I first became aware of the existence of the map in the early 1950s when I noticed a numbered facsimile copy in an Auckland shop offering antique items; I bought it with an accompanying booklet. Later during a visit to Sydney I was permitted to view the original map.

A surviving treasure of Dutch decorative cartography, the map has been held in the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney since 1933 following its presentation to the Trustees of the Mitchell Library by Princess George of Greece (Marie) who inherited the map after her father Roland Bonaparte died in 1924. Although Bonaparte was no more than the owner of the map for a period it has become customary to refer to the map as the Bonaparte map.

The historic value and the origin of the map has been a contentious subject among scholars since the map was brought to light in the mid-nineteenth century. At least one historian dismissed the Bonaparte map as being a 'cartographic monstrosity' and valueless. (1)

Views on the creator of the map have varied widely; from Abel Tasman to a Frenchman living in Batavia. The date of creation has been given by some historians as 1644; by others as late in the seventeenth century. Marcel Destombes considered the map was made about 1695, a view shared by Gunther Schilder. (2)

The map's true worth was summed up in a short passage written by Andrew Sharp in 1968:

   there can be no doubt of the unique value of the part of it showing
   the track of the 1644 [Tasman] voyage, which includes large tracts
   of previously undiscovered coast and could have come only from a
   chart of the voyage. (3)

Schilder emphasised the value of the map when he wrote in 1976:

   The map is,--of great importance, for it is one of the few sources
   for Tasman's second voyage, of which no journal is extant.... it is
   one of the most famous and most beautiful maps ever executed by a
   Dutch cartographer. (4)


The title within the map reads (translated):

  Map--These lands were discovered by the Company's explorers except
  for the northern part of New Guinea and the west end of Java. This
  work thus put together from different writings as well as from
  personal observation by Abel Jansen Tasman, A.D. 1644, by order of
  His Excellency the Governor-General Antonio van Diemen. (5)

An inscription within the Australian mainland reads (translated):

  Company's New Netherland/In the east the great land of New Guinea
  with the first known South land being one land and all joined
  together as can be (seen) by this dotted track by the yachts
  Limmen, Zeemeeuw and the quel d'Bracq. A. D. 1644. (6)

An inscription above Tasmania reads (translated):

  Antonio van Diemens Land/this is sailed and discovered with the
  ships Heemskerck and Zeehaen under command of the honourable Abel
  Tasman in the year A. D. 1642, the 24 November. (7)

An inscription beside the New Zealand west coast reads (translated):

  Statenland this is sailed and discovered with the ships Heemskerck
  and Zeehaen under command of the honourable Abel Tasman in the year
  A. D. 1642, the 13 December. (8)

Drawn on Japanese paper, the map measures 730 x 950 mm and portrays some of the Dutch discoveries in the south-west Pacific area and coastlines charted. The mixture of projections relates to the prototype being an assembly of several maps drawn on different projections. The result of Tasman's two voyages, 1642-43 and 1644 are shown with the tracks of the ships and small illustrations of the named vessels (Heemskerk and Zeehaen on the 1642-43 voyage and for the 1644 voyage Limmen, Zeemeeuw and Bracq). The map delineates the western and southern coasts of Australia accidentally discovered by Dutch voyagers when sailing from the Cape of Good Hope to Java between 1616 and 1628.

Not included are the discoveries in the Gulf of Carpentaria by the Duyfken in 1606 and the Pera and Arnhem in 1623. Willem's River, the location of the second landfall of Willem Jansz on the coast of Australia, appears between Eendracht Land discovered in 1616 and De Witt's Land discovered in 1628.

The map is adorned with sketches including drawings of ships, sea monsters, compass roses surmounted by fleur-de-lis, and loxodromes in red, yellow and black. The colouring includes traces of gold in the compass roses and fleur-de-lis, on the degrees and on the coast of Van Diemen's Land. The arms of the city of Amsterdam are located above the date 1644. An inset map in the upper left-hand corner is drawn to half the scale of the main map and shows the course of the first-voyage ships from Batavia to Mauritius.

The sweeping curve running from eastern New Guinea to Tasmania giving a hypothetical east coast to Australia was a reasonable addition after 1643. By sailing north from his discovery of part of New Zealand Tasman proved that Australia did not extend indefinitely to the east.


No documentary evidence is known about the map previous to 1843 when it was disclosed as being in the collection of maps held by the van Keulen chartmaking and book selling firm in Amsterdam. It is unknown when the map was acquired by the firm but my suggestion is after the collapse of the Dutch East India Company in 1799.

When Gerard Hulst van Keulen, the last of the van Keulens died in 1801, his widow operated the business until her death. Jacob Swart who joined the firm in 1823, became proprietor a few years later and continued trading under the van Keulen name.

In 1843 Swart became the first owner of the map to publicize its existence. He referred to it in the periodical, Verhandelingen en berigtren betrekkelijk het Zeewesen en de Zeevaartkunde, as being in his collection. (9) In 1854 Swart again referred to the map in the introduction in the first part of Tasman's journal he was publishing in the same journal; (translated):

  ... Among many hand drawn maps by early sailors and hydrographers I
  find [in the van Keulen collection] a chart whereon the two voyages
  of Tasman are laid down.... Perhaps it was drawn up under the eye
  of Tasman and handed in by him to the High Government of Batavia
  with one of his reports. (10)

In the final part issued in 1859 Swart added a black and white lithographic copy of the Bonaparte map. In 1860 he published the parts of Tasman's journal in a volume titled Journaal van de reis naar het onbekende Zuidland, in den Jare 1642, door Abel Jansz. Tasman, but in the book he appended the same map in colour with the title: 'Map of the voyages of Abel Jansz. Tasman performed in 1642 and 1644'. (11)

When Jacob Swart died in 1866, he was succeeded by his son, Jacob Swart Junior. Then in 1885 the curtain was drawn on the van Keulen firm when their possessions were sold at auction. Through a successful bid by Frederik van Scheltema proprietor of Frederik Muller and Company, another Amsterdam bookseller, the map came into the possession of the Muller company. This firm employed as an assistant a young bookbinder, Anton Mensing who later became a partner in the firm and when van Scheltema died, Mensing became the owner of Muller and Company.

The map then remained hidden until 1891 when it was listed as item 2154 in the Muller sales catalogue, prepared in French, Geographie, Cartographie, Voyage. (12) The entry in the catalogue consisted of a large amount of historical information and reviews of books on Tasman's voyages.

Muller's catalogue entry 2154 caught the eye of a French gentleman living in Paris, Roland Bonaparte who was interested in Tasman's voyages, and science. Later the same year Mensing negotiated the sale of the map to Bonaparte. For the rest of his life Bonaparte kept the map concealed from examination by scholars.

In summary, documented ownership of the map from 1843 had been, the van Keulens, Jacob Swart, Jacob Swart Jr., Muller/van Scheltema, Muller/Mensing, Bonaparte, Princess George of Greece and finally the Mitchell Library in the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.


Of interest in a study of the Bonaparte map is a manuscript map, known as the Bowrey map, held in the British Library (Fig. 2.). (13) The map was drawn by an English sea captain, Thomas Bowrey who spent about twenty years trading between ports in the Bay of Bengal, Sumatra, Bantam and Java; (14) in 1684 he was in Batavia and it is likely this was not his first or last visit. During one of his visits to the eastern headquarters of the Dutch East India Company he was shown a map displaying the results of the two voyages of Tasman and was apparently given permission to copy it. (15) Bowrey's map shows some of the same names, the same coastlines, and several unusual features as are in the Bonaparte map.

A feature in the Bowrey map that requires a brief mention is the sweeping curve representing a hypothetical east coast of Australia as it is in the Tasman-Bonaparte map. In my opinion the curve, drawn in pencil, is an addition made after 1859 when Swart's map, mentioned above, was first published. Thus there is no basis to the idea that the curve was part of a prototype on which the Tasman-Bonaparte map was modelled.

Obviously there is a strong link between the Bonaparte map and the Bowrey map but the large number of differences can only be accounted for by the fact that they stem from separate prototypes prepared in Batavia. Evidently Bowrey was given access to an early draft map.


Before continuing with a discussion of the Bonaparte map and its prototype it may be helpful if some basic details of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie--VOC) are given. (16) The company, founded in Amsterdam in 1602, became over a relatively short period the largest trading enterprise the world had known.

The company structure consisted of six chambers in port cities: Amsterdam, Delft, Rotterdam, Enkhuizen, Middelburg and Hoorn. Delegates of these chambers convened as the Heeren XVII (the Gentlemen Seventeen). By far the largest chamber, the Amsterdam Chamber had thereby the decisive voice.

An eastern headquarters of the company was established on the site of ancient Jakarta in 1619 and named Batavia. This provided a base with a governor-general and a council that enabled the Dutch conquerors of parts of Southeast Asia to exploit the spices and other treasures of the East. During the time of Tasman's two voyages the Governor-General at Batavia was Anthony van Diemen. Abel Tasman, an employee of the company and discoverer of parts of New Zealand and parts of Australia in 1642-43 and 1644 sailed from and returned to Batavia.

In Amsterdam at the time of Tasman's voyages a leading mapmaker Joan Blaeu held the position of official cartographer of the company. This was a confidential position as the company maintained strict secrecy on data including charts and journals of new discoveries that related to its sphere of interest. (17) Blaeu had been appointed by the Amsterdam Chamber. He died in 1673 but the firm remained the official cartographer until Isaac de Graaff was appointed to the position in 1705. De Graaff was followed by Johannes van Keulen. (18) Succeeding members of the van Keulen family held the position of official cartographer until the Dutch East India Company was dissolved in 1799.


According to F. C. Wieder a leading twentieth century cartographic historian the use of Japanese paper on which the Bonaparte map was drawn gave an indication that the map was made in the East. (19) This curious view was reinforced by G. C. Henderson a Pacific historian writing on behalf of Wieder and himself in a report to the Chief Librarian, the Mitchell Library, after the two scholars had examined the map in the British Museum in 1933. (20) However, evidence that Japanese paper was known in Amsterdam in the seventeenth century is provided by a number of extant etchings and engravings created on Japanese paper by Rembrandt during his career from 1626 to 1665. (21)

The decorative aspects of the Bonaparte map including the coloured loxodromes, the use of gold, drawings of sea monsters and other artistic embellishments belong to a style perfected by professional mapmakers and artists in Amsterdam in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

A belief that the Bonaparte map originated in Amsterdam does not mean that only Amsterdam mapmakers prepared decorative maps. Draughtsmen were employed in Batavia for copying and making charts and some were also artists as is demonstrated by many of the drawings in Tasman's State Archives Journal preserved in the Hague. (22) This was some years before a hydrographic office was established in Batavia. (23)

Undoubtedly either the original or a copy of the map ordered by van Diemen was received in Blaeu's office as all charts and journals were from overseas. Since Blaeu received Tasman's journal and associated charts at about the same time or possibly earlier he had no use for the van Diemen composite map which in reality was a publicity piece.

Acknowledgement of the following perceptive comment by Wieder on van Diemen's intention, allows several pieces in the overall puzzle of the Bonaparte map, to fall into their correct place. Wieder wrote:

   We find--that it is dated 1644 and bears the coat of arms of the
   city of Amsterdam, which may indicate that the map was destined for
   the Amsterdam chamber of the East India Company. (24)

Tasman's two voyages of discovery were important achievements under van Diemen's leadership and are recognised today as being among the great navigational accomplishments in the history of oceanic exploration. Van Diemen's summary of the two voyages plus the depiction of other Dutch discoveries in the southwest Pacific no doubt impressed the councillors of the Amsterdam Chamber. It is not difficult to understand that they commissioned an artist to prepare an embellished copy of van Diemen's map.

The careless copying of names indicates that the artist had little or no knowledge of cartography and little if any understanding of the Dutch language or names. He could have been a Frenchman as Wieder suggested but living in Amsterdam and not Batavia. (25)

If the completed artwork was displayed or held by the Amsterdam Chamber there is no reason to believe that it was not held in their possession at the time of the demise of the Dutch East India Company on the last day of 1799. Although Gerard Hulst van Keulen was at the time official cartographer of the company it is improbable he had access to items after the company became bankrupt. More than likely he made a successful bid at an auction sale for a group of items; this might account for the Bonaparte map being marked as 'No. 7'. (26)


Sharp's view on the prototype provides a reasonable explanation; he believed that the Bonaparte map stemmed from a prototype map carelessly assembled in Batavia in 1644, from authentic maps and charts including charts of Tasman's voyages of 1642-43 and 1644. (27) A large part of the western and southern coasts of Australia derive from Hessel Gerritsz's printed chart of 1628 (Fig. 3.) or a map modelled on Gerritsz's chart. Sharp considered the compiler at Batavia was a draughtsman but not a cartographer and not Tasman or any of his officers. (28) As well Sharp mentioned evidence of uncertainty and improvisation in secondary mapmaking in Batavia in or about 1643-44; also apparent were signs of a lack of understanding of the difference between the Mercator and the plane square projection. (29)


The facts reviewed, the comments by earlier cartographic historians quoted and the explanations given in this article consolidate a view that the Tasman-Bonaparte map was prepared in Amsterdam by an unknown professional artist in or about 1645. Impressed with van Diemen's achievements, and the map, the councillors of the Amsterdam Chamber commissioned an artist to make an embellished copy. At present known as the Tasman-Bonaparte map the copy remained in the care of the Amsterdam Chamber until 1799 when the Dutch East India Company ceased operations.


(1) S.P. l'Honore Nabor, 1920-21, in Tijdsch. v. h. Kon. Ned. Aards. Genoots. 31:676.

(2) Marcel Destombes, 1941, Cartes Hollandaies, Saigon, pp.77-79; G. Schilder, 1976a, Australia unveiled, Amsterdam, p.354.

(3) Andrew Sharp, 1968, The voyages of Abel Janszoon Tasman, Clarendon, London, p.318.

(4) Schilder, 1976a, op. cit., p.354.

(5) P. Jones (ed.), 1948, The Tasman map of 1644, Sydney: The Trustees of the Public Library of NSW, p.15.

(6) Ibid., p.24.

(7) Ibid., p.24

(8) Ibid., p.24.

(9) Verhandelingen en berigtren betrekkelijkhet Zeewesen en de Zeevaartkunde, 1843, iii:239-40.

(10) Verhandelingen 'Journaalvan TasmansRois', 1854, ii:75-79.

(11) J. Swart, 1860, Journaal van de reis naar het onbekende Zuidland, in den Jare 1642, door Abel Jansz. Tasman, Amsterdam.

(12) Geographie, Cartographie, Voyage, 1891, Amsterdam, Item 2154, pp.189-193.

(13) British Library, Sloane collection 5222.12. N.W. Closet 16.

(14) A biography of Bowrey can be found in R.J. Howgego, 2003, The Encyclopedia of Exploration to 1800, Horden House, Sydney, pp. 144 & 149.

(15) That Bowrey was interested in chart making is borne out by the large number of extant charts that carry his name.

(16) During preparation of this section and other sections with content relating to the Dutch East India Company I mainly consulted the website: andG. Schilder, 1976b, 'Organisation and evolution of the Dutch East India Company's Hydrographic Office in the seventeenth century', in Imago Mundi, 29:61-78.

(17) See Schilder, 1976b, op. cit., p.72.

(18) See The Van Keulen cartography: Amsterdam, 1680-1885, written & comp. by Dirk de Vries ... [et al.], 2005, Canaletto, Alphen aan den Rijn.

(19) F.C. Wieder(ed.), 1933, Monumenta Cartographica, Amsterdam, iv:139.

(20) [G.C. Henderson], [25 May 1933], 'The Bonaparte map', an unsigned 8p. typed report on the examination of the map by F.C. Wieder & G.C. Henderson. Mitchell Library, State library of NSW, Sydney. Ref. At. 34 1/1. p.2.

(21) In a personal communication the Curator of Western Art, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio, confirmed that they held a number of Rembrandt prints on Japanese paper.

(22) General State Archives of the Netherlands, Aanw. 1a afd. 1867. No. AIII. An English translation of Tasman's SAJ journal and reproductions (b/w) of the drawings is included in Sharp, op. cit.

(23) Schilder, 1976b, op. cit.

(24) Wieder, op cit., p.139.

(25) [G. C. Henderson], op. cit., p.2.

(26) Jones, op. cit., p.25

(27) Sharp, op. cit., p.319.

(28) Sharp, op. cit., p.319.

(29) Sharp, op. cit., p.319.


DESTOMBES, Marcel, 1941, Cartes Hollandaies, Saigon.

Geographie, Cartographie, Voyage, 1891, Amsterdam.

[HENDERSON, G.C.], [25 May 1933], 'The Bonaparte map', Mitchell Library, State library of NSW, Sydney. Ref. At. 34 1/1. HOWGEGO, R.J., 2003, The Encyclopedia of Exploration to 1800, HordenHouse, Sydney.

JONES, P. (ed.), 1948, The Tasman map of 1644, Sydney: The Trustees of the Public Library of NSW.

L'HONORE NABOR, S.P., 1920-21, in Tijdschriftvan het Koninklijk Nederlandsch Aardrijkskundig Genootschap, 31:676. Schilder, Gunter, 1976a, Australia unveiled, Amsterdam.

--, 1976b, 'Organisation and evolution of the Dutch East India Company's Hydrographic Office in the seventeenth century', Imago Mundi, 29:61-78.

SHARP, Andrew, 1968, The voyages of Abel Janszoon Tasman, Clarendon, London.

SWART, J., 1860, Journaal van de reis naar het onbekende Zuidland, in den Jare 1642, door Abel Jansz. Tasman, Amsterdam.

Verhandelingen en berigtren betrekkelijk het Zeewesen en de Zeevaartkunde, 1843, iii:239-40.

Verhandelingen 'Journaal van Tasmans Rois', 1854, ii:75-79.

VRIES, Dirk de, Gunter Schilder, Willem MORzer Bruyns, Peter van Iterson & Irene Jacobs, 2005, The Van Keulen cartography: Amsterdam, 1680-1885, Canaletto, Alphen aan den Rijn.

WIEDER, F.C. (ed.), 1933, Monumenta Cartographica, Amsterdam.

Brian N. Hooker, Brian N. Hooker, FRGS, a New Zealander, has made a special study of the discovery and early cartography of NZ, Australia and the Pacific Islands. His earlier research has been published in journals in NZ, the UK, US and France.
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Author:Hooker, Brian N.
Publication:The Globe
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EUNE
Date:Oct 1, 2015
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