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Melchisedech Thevenot: Hollandia Nova Terre Australe

Map: AUNZ2638
Cartographer: Melchisedech Thevenot
Title: Hollandia Nova Terre Australe
Date: 1672
Published: Paris
Width: 20 inches / 51 cm
Height: 15 inches / 39 cm
Map ref: AUNZ2638
Melchisedec Thevenot was a French traveller, scientist, inventor, writer and diplomat. Born to wealth and privilege, he served as French ambassador to Genoa in 1647 and to Rome in the 1650s. In 1684, eight years before his death, he became Royal Librarian to Louis XIV.

In 1663, he published the first part of his “Relation de divers Voyages Curieux”, a bound collection of accounts of multiple journeys, both maritime and terrestrial, which shaped the geography of the world. The work was finally completed posthumously in 1696 after it had grown to four volumes. The completed version was illustrated with eleven maps, of which this map of Australia is the most well-known and influential. This map is the first commercially available map of focusing on Australia. Geographically, it is based on Joan Blaeu’s map of 1659. Blaeu was the official geographer to the VOC or Dutch East India Company and he had by far the best the best access to the most accurate information on the region at the time. Blaeu’s map of 1659 was actually of the East Indian Archipelago including Australia and it integrated the information from all of the principal Dutch voyages to Australia from the first made by Willem Janszoon in 1605-6 to Abel Tasman’s two voyages of 1642-3 and 1644. These last voyages surveyed much of the coast, found the southern tip of Tasmania, which he named van Diemen’s Land, after the Dutch Governor General of the Dutch East Indies in Batavia. During these same voyages, he discovered a small section of the west coast of New Zealand. Before his map of 1659, Blaeu had also included a large Australia on his double hemisphere wall map of 1648 and there is a fine depiction of a map the East Indies and Australia inlaid in the marble floor of the Amsterdam Town Hall. It also shows Tasman’s surveys although it speculates that Tasmania and Australia and New Guinea are connected, a theory which lasted until Flinders and Bass found the Bass Straits in 1798-99.

Of particular note is the scale line drawn prominently in the centre of the map. This is drawn 135 degrees east, which is also the furthest western limit of the old Treaty of Tordesillas, which established Spanish dominion in the Pacific. It is notable that the continent has been clearly divided into two separate entities; west of this line, is “Nova Hollandia” with several notes of Dutch activity and the achievements of the their explorers; east of the line is “Terra Australis” and has been left vague. This was also coincidentally, a Spanish possession according to the Treaty of Tordesillas. Spain and France had just concluded the Franco-Spanish War of 1635-59 and it has been speculated that Thevenot, by making this deliberate division, was encouraging the fledgling French East India Company to occupy and settle a region which until recently had been enemy territory. It is to be noted that when the British were establishing New South Wales in 1788, this same border was used to delineate its western border and the name New Holland for the western half of the continent survived for several decades.

The influence of this map was enormous, with this model being used to depict the continent until Cook’s surveys published in the 1770s; however, the provocative possible geo-political division was omitted almost immediately.

The book was very popular and was issued several times throughout Thevenot’s lifetime and posthumously. This has led to several different versions or “states” of this map. Some of the differences are very small, such as typographic errors on the middle scale and the earlier versions do not have the compass rose, rhumb lines or the Tropic of Capricorn. The last version of the map bears Tasman’s route.

Our version of the map is believed to be the second “state”, with the rhumb lines, compass rose and the typographic error on the scale corrected. It was issued c.1672. [AUNZ2638]