By Kerry Blackburn

There is so much to explore in the 1.6 million items in the Maps Collection. And with all pre-1900 maps digitised, closer analysis can reveal fascinating details. One map that led me to learn more of its story is the 1633 map translated as ‘Exact delineation of the Straits of Magellan, and the Newly Found Strait of Le Maire’

Antique map displaying a relatively small land mass shaped similar to a sideways tilting U
Hendrik Hondius, Freti Magellanici ac novi freti vulgo le Maire exactissima delineatio, 1633, nla.obj-230694826

By Dutch publisher Hendrik Hondius, it depicts European knowledge of this part of South America in the century from the 1519–1522 voyage of Ferdinand Magellan to the 1615–1617 voyage of Jakob Le Maire and Willem Schouten. Gerhard Mercator’s 1569 world atlas is co-attributed. Place names along the Patagonian coast also reference English naval commander Francis Drake who passed through Magellan’s strait during his own circumnavigation of 1577–1580.

The map shows the Straits of Magellan, Le Maire Strait and the southern tip of Patagonia, while the coastlines of Tierra del Fuego are incomplete. Three decorative cartouches frame the map’s title and information about the area. The mountainous terrain is shown pictorially, as are the ‘new south sea’, galleons, sea monsters and penguins (Pingnini aves). The map is overlaid with rhumb lines (emanating from the compass rose), which on a true navigation chart would be used for plotting the course of a ship.

In the south-eastern corner of Patagonia, Hondius refers to Patagonian giants, up to 10 feet tall, a belief stemming from the 1520s publication of the account of Magellan’s voyage and included in subsequent maps. The myth persisted until the 1760s when British Captain John Byron, in his circumnavigation of the globe in HMS Dolphin in an attempt to find the ‘southern continent’, described the Tehuelche Indians, native to the Patagonian area of Argentina, who are typically tall, some close to seven feet but not giants.

The Magellan Strait is a 560 km long, 3–32 km wide channel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans that separates the mainland of Patagonia from the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego. The labyrinth-like strait now has names like Famine and Tortuous Passages describing its topography.

The map was acquired by the Library from the great benefactor Sir Rex Nan Kivell as part of his 861–strong collection of maps and charts.

Magellan’s journey

Just over 500 years ago, in 1520, Ferdinand Magellan (1480–1521) became the first known European to sight and traverse the South American strait that now bears his name, and then to cross the Pacific Ocean. In 1522, not long after his death, the remaining ship in his expedition, Victoria under the command of Basque navigator Juan Sebastián del Cano, completed the first circumnavigation of the world.

Portuguese-born Magellan sailed under the Spanish flag after his proposals for a new route from Europe to the Spice Islands (Moluccas) to avoid the dangerous easterly route around the Cape of Good Hope were rejected by the Portuguese monarch. There was a bonus for Magellan: the government of any lands discovered during the expedition was to be vested in him and his joint captain, and he would gain a share of the net profits from the expedition. By the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), all newly discovered and undiscovered lands east of a line of demarcation were assigned to Portugal; all that lay west belonged to Spain. Magellan proposed to prove that the Spice Islands lay within the Spanish hemisphere.

The flagship Trinidad with consorts San Antonio, Concepción, Victoria and Santiago left Spain in September 1519, carrying 270 men. The expedition was beset by opposition from powerful Spaniards and Portuguese; the Spanish captains mutinied at San Julián, Argentina, on Easter day 1520 (Magellan quelled it, executing one and leaving another ashore); and Santiago ran aground near the Santa Cruz River.

However, on 21 October 1520, Magellan entered the passage that would prove to be the channel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It took 38 days to find their way through the labyrinth with its unpredictable tidal currents and winds; and San Antonio deserted and returned to Spain. But when the ‘Sea of the South’ (later, the Pacific Ocean) was sighted, Magellan reportedly cried with joy. He named the passage the Strait of All Saints but the Spanish king changed the name to honour Magellan.

The first crossing of the Pacific Ocean saw many deaths on Trinidad, Concepción and Victoria—their crews tortured by thirst and scurvy, feeding on rat-fouled biscuits and eating the leather off the yardarms – before, after 99 days, they made landfall at Guam. Magellan sailed on to the (now) Philippines where he was killed in a fight with the Mactan Islanders.

After Magellan’s death Trinidad and Victoria reached the Spice Islands. Only Victoria remained seaworthy and Juan Sebastián del Cano, a participant in the earlier mutiny, took command. On 8 September 1522, with 18 European survivors and a few Moluccans, ‘weaker than men have ever been before’, reached Spain, the first circumnavigation of the world.

Del Cano received from the king an augmentation to his coat of arms; a globe with the inscription Primus circumdedisti me (‘You were the first to encircle me’). Three years later, in 1525, Del Cano led an ill-fated second crossing of the Pacific. He died at sea in the Pacific Ocean in 1526.

History credits Magellan with the first circumnavigation of the world – he was in command for most of the journey and the uncharted parts; he journeyed under the most difficult conditions, relying on celestial navigation, basic instruments and rutters (hand-drawn landmarks and coastlines); and confirmed that the Earth was a sphere.

Despite its navigational challenges, and many lives lost, the Straits of Magellan remained an important route sailing from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans until the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914.

Le Maire and Schouten’s journey

Nearly 100 years after Magellan’s epic expedition, in June 1615, Dutch merchant Jakob Le Maire (c. 1585–1616) in the 40-metre long Eendracht and navigator Willem Schouten (c. 1567–1625) in the even smaller, 30-metre long Hoorn, set out to search for a route to the Spice Islands that bypassed the exclusive routes of the Dutch East India Company and to investigate the possibility of trade with the unknown south continent. Their voyage was equipped by Le Maire's father Isaac for the Australische Compagnie (Australian or South Company). Isaac was the first president of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) but had been expelled and prohibited from trading in VOC territory.

Arriving in southern Argentina, the crews set about cleaning the ships’ hulls with burning grass. Hoorn caught fire and the ship exploded when the flames reached the gunpowder room. Her crew survived and all continued on Eendracht.

The south bank of the Strait of Magellan, Tierra del Fuego, was assumed to be part of Terra Australis but, instead of sailing through the strait, in January 1616, Le Maire and Schouten ‘discovered’ the passage between Tierra del Fuego and Estados (Staten) Island, naming it the Strait of Le Maire. It was reported that Le Maire’s proposal for its naming was accepted after ‘our men had each of them three cups of wine in signe of ioy for our good hap … [and] by good right it should rather have been called Willem Schouten Strait, after our Masters Name, by whose wise conduction and skill in sayling, the same was found’.

Rounding what they realised was the southernmost tip of America, Schouten named it Kaap Hoorn (Cape Horn), after his lost ship, itself named after the port city of Hoorn from where financial support for the voyage was derived, and they sailed into the Pacific. They reached Batavia in October 1616, but the Dutch governor refused to believe their story of a new passage and, fearing a new westward route might end the privileged position of the VOC, impounded their ship and cargo and sent them home. Le Maire died en route but the diaries and maps of their voyage were published and proved valuable to later explorers.

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