'So Geographers in Afric-Maps'

BY 1510 PORTUGUESE voyages round the Cape of Good Hope on the route to India had revealed the general shape of Africa but, with the exception of Ethiopia, the continental interior remained largely unknown for nearly three hundred years. In the eighteenth century mapmakers were still using traditional sources such as Ptolemy's Geography, dating from c. AD 150, in its original form. The first stage in the transformation of the map was the work of the French geographer Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville, who on his large four-sheet map of Africa, 1749, swept away the speculative features and was content to leave large areas of the interior blank. This became the model for later eighteenth century maps of Africa.


Sebastian Münster's revised version of Ptolemy's Geography, supplemented with up-to-date maps, was one of the best sellers in the sixteenth century. It included this 'new' map of Africa featuring the course of the Nile, with its source in the Mountains of the Moon (Montes Lunae), here not named. Crowns and sceptres denote kingdoms, and Hamarich is named as the seat of the christian king, Prester John, of medieval fame. The map, 'Africa XVIII Nova Tabula' from Münster's Geographia Universali (Basle, 1540) is a woodcut with the names printed typographically from stereotypes. (By courtesy of The British Library)


In 1632, Philip III of Portugal (Philip IV of Spain) ordered the Viceroy of the 'State of Oriental India', the Count of Llnhares, to send him 'the description of all the coasts, harbours and anchorages of the State'. Linhares commissioned the official chronicler, Antonio Boccaro, to write the text and his secretary, Pedro Barreto de Resende, a Knight of the Order of St. Benedict of Aviz, to depict the fortresses and settlements. The second part of the Book of the State of Oriental India includes plans of the Portuguese fortresses from the Cape of Good Hope to the fortress of Chaul. The island base at Mozambique, reproduced here from a later expanded version of the book, entitled Livro do Estado da India Oriental, 1646 was described by the Dutchman Jan Huyghen van Linschoten in his Itinerario, 1595, as 'a very great and safe haven'. The post of Captain of Mozambique (whose residence can be seen within the fortress walls) was highly lucrative on account of the gold dust collected along the coast, especially at Sofala, and the trade in African slaves to India and the Orient. (By courtesy of The British Library. Sloane MS. 197 fol.95v-96)


This map of 'Tafel Bay' (c. 1660) by Johannes Vingboons, is an early copy of the first detailed Dutch map of the Dutch East India Company's colony at the Cape of Good Hope. The colony was established by Jan van Riebeeck in 1652, and the ship flying the Dutch flags shows where the fleet, carrying him and the colonists, harboured. Vingboons' map was presumably designed to record the scene for the benefit of one of the directors of the Company. As yet, there is no indication of Cape Town but the marshland ('Weyland'), and hilly country ('Berghachtigh Land), suitable for pasture and settlement, are indicated. Such information was essential if colonisation was to be efficiently undertaken. Another larger version of this map is preserved in an atlas in the Algemeen Rijkarchief in The Hague. (By courtesy of The British Library. Add. MS 34184, fols.12v-13)

  • 1-6-1986

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