National Library acquires rare atlas

A seminal atlas by the first British Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, of particular significance for Australia and the Pacific, has been acquired by the National Library of Australia.

James Cook is known to have had a copy of the atlas on board the Endeavour for use in the Transit of Venus and Southern Hemisphere explorations.

Curator of Maps at the National Library, Martin Woods, said when it appeared, the Atlas Coelestis, or Atlas of the Heavens, set a new standard in accuracy.

“It contained more stars than previous atlases, it utilised a very precise grid and its star positions were based on telescopic observations which Flamsteed had painstakingly checked and re-checked over the course of his 43-year career as the First Astronomer Royal of England,” Dr Woods said.

“The Atlas Coelestis is one of the ‘big four’ star atlases to come out of Europe’s Golden Age of celestial cartography, a period which spanned roughly 1600 to 1800 and which coincided with the European discovery, charting and early settlement of Australia,” he said. “We are delighted to now have it in the National Library collection.”

The new acquisition will complement  the National Library’s edition of the Uranometria by Johann Bayer, published in 1603 and the first star atlas to show Southern Hemisphere observations.  Both are being considered for inclusion in the Library’s new Treasures Gallery which is scheduled to open in September next year.

Curator of Maps Dr Martin Woods is available for interview.
High-res images of the atlas are available.

Media Contact:
Sally Hopman, Media Liaison Manager, 02 6262 1704 or 0401 226 697
shopman@nla.gov.au