Story: Early mapping

Page 1. Early mappers: 1642–1800

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Abel Tasman

From the 16th century, world maps often showed an imagined southern land mass at the bottom of the globe, to balance the known land in the north. In 1642 the Dutch seafarer Abel Janszoon Tasman was sent by the Dutch East India Company to find this southern land.

Two charts were produced from his voyage. Tasman charted the coastline from his landfall on the west coast of the South Island to Cape Maria van Diemen at the north of the North Island. His pilot, Frans Visscher, made a general chart of their travels, now only known from a copy made in 1666. Visscher’s chart shows a gap in the coastline around Cook Strait, while Tasman’s shows it as a bay. The first printed map to include Tasman’s discoveries was the 1646 world map published by Johan Blaeu.

James Cook

More than 120 years later, in 1769, the English navigator and cartographer James Cook set out to observe the Transit of Venus from Tahiti and then headed south towards latitude 40° to look for the southern continent.

From his work on the Labrador and Newfoundland coasts, Cook had gained a reputation as an accurate maritime surveyor. Reaching New Zealand in October 1769, he and his crew travelled around the coasts in the Endeavour, preparing the first complete outline of the country. They proved that it was not part of a larger continent, and at certain places they also carried out more detailed surveys, producing large-scale charts.

Cook and his men obtained information from Māori. Te Horetā te Taniwha of Ngāti Whanaunga later described how an old chief, probably Toiawa, drew a chart in charcoal on the deck of the Endeavour. The chart, which has not survived, depicted the Coromandel peninsula, Hauraki Gulf, Great Barrier Island, and as far north as North Cape.

Missed the point

A chart made by Māori chief Toiawa showed Cape Rēinga, where it is said the spirits of the dead leap off from this world. Toiawa lay on the deck as if dead, and then pointed to Cape Rēinga, but the concept was apparently not understood by Cook and his men.

An accurate map

Cook’s chart of New Zealand remained the basis for subsequent maps for nearly 80 years. It was not published by the British Admiralty until 1816, although his outline of New Zealand had been included in other world maps and atlases, and appeared in John Hawkesworth’s Account of the voyages undertaken …. in the southern hemisphere in 1773. He had made only two major errors: ‘Banks Island’ on the Canterbury coast is actually a peninsula, and he thought Stewart Island was a peninsula.

Too far east

On his first voyage, Cook carried lunar tables so he could calculate his longitude. Even a relatively inaccurate longitude was only reached after lengthy calculation. On his second voyage he carried four of the recently invented chronometers and commented that he had originally positioned the whole of New Zealand too far to the east.

Cook made two other voyages to the South Pacific, in 1772–75 and 1776–79. But the only addition he made to his original chart was a detailed survey of Dusky Sound, in March–May 1773.

Other British charts before 1800

Captain George Vancouver, who had been a midshipman on Cook’s Resolution in 1772–75, revisited Dusky Sound in the Discovery in 1791 with Lieutenant William R. Broughton (in command of the Chatham). They produced charts of their respective anchorages, Anchor Island Harbour and Facile Harbour, which were later published by the Admiralty.

They added to Cook’s exploration by discovering that Breaksea Sound split into two arms, now known as Vancouver Sound (northern) and Broughton Sound (southern).

After leaving Dusky Sound the two ships became separated. Broughton charted some islands, the largest of which he named Knight’s Island. Vancouver found the same islands, and named them The Snares, as they are known today. Broughton also became the first European to find and map the Chatham Islands.

Malaspina’s visit

Cook’s account of Dusky Bay inspired Alessandro Malaspina, the Italian commander of two Spanish ships, to visit in 1793. The weather prevented the ships entering Dusky Sound and they moved north to anchor off Doubtful Sound. This sound was partially explored by the chief navigator, the Spaniard Felipe Bauza. A copy of his chart was subsequently published by the British Admiralty in 1840.

How to cite this page:

Melanie Lovell-Smith, 'Early mapping - Early mappers: 1642–1800', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/early-mapping/page-1 (accessed 22 October 2017)

Story by Melanie Lovell-Smith, published 24 Sep 2007