In Wales, 2018 has been designated the ‘Year of the Sea’ and this, our third maritime themed blog of the year, concerns the earliest chart of the Welsh coast in the Library’s collection. It dates from 1590 and displays the Bristol Channel compiled by Dutch hydrographer Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer (1534-1606). The Dutch were foremost European hydrographers and cartographers, with Leiden, Antwerp and later Amsterdam becoming centres of chart as well as map production.
Waghenaer was a navigating officer and later a collector of marine dues. His practical seafaring experiences and his contacts with seamen and harbour officials proved advantageous in compiling his pilot guide to European coastal waters. Waghenaer’s text was based on traditional 16th-century navigation publications, but his charts added an innovative component, making this the world’s first published pilot guide.
The success of the Teerste Deel vande Spieghel der Zeevaerdt (The First Part of the Sea Mirror) of 1584 emanated from Waghenaer’s pioneering chart compilations, their fine engraving and their practical, bound presentation in a single volume. The charts show coastal panoramas and illustrate cliffs and land profiles viewed from the sea signifying that the charts were initially prepared at sea, compass intersections being used to plot prominent coastal features.
Accuracy of coastal configuration was however often lamentable, there being a tendency to exaggerate significant features whilst extensive tracts of topography appear to have been imprecisely drawn from sight. It has been argued that these distortions were excusable since such charts were primarily intended for pilotage at the approaches to important harbours and not for general navigation. In this respect Waghenaer was simply continuing a long-standing chart making tradition.
The success of this first volume encouraged Waghenaer to publish a second part in 1586 with Latin text. Other translations ensued. When the atlas was shown to Queen Elizabeth and her Privy Council, such was its impact that it was decided to translate the 1586 edition into English, a task allotted to Anthony Ashley (1551-1628), Clerk to the Privy Council. In 1588 The Mariner’s Mirrour first appeared in its anglicized manifestation and this too proved instantly popular. The guides became known to the British as ‘Waggoners’, a generic moniker for sea atlases and charts which persisted long after the obsolescence of The Mariner’s Mirrour and its replacement by new Dutch charts. Waghenaer subsequently issued smaller and more practical formats.
This post is also available in: Welsh