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Image Historical map of the world, 1646

TLF ID R5350

This is a highly decorative hand-coloured map of the world set in two circular hemispheres and showing America, 'TERRA AUSTRALIS INCOGNITA', Europe and Africa. The map measures 49.2 cm x 59.1 cm, was printed in Amsterdam and dates from 1646. It is the work of Hendrik Hondius (1573-1650) and his brother-in-law Jan Jansson (1588-1664), two important 17th-century publishers and cartographers. The map contains many illustrations, including portraits of Geradus Mercator, Jodocus Hondius, Julius Caesar and Claudius Ptolemy, as well as representations of the four elements of earth air, fire and water.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset shows the geography of the world as it was thought to be in the 17th century - in particular, it reveals that most of the northern hemisphere was well understood and explored, including the coastline of North America; in contrast, the southern hemisphere has been less well mapped, with 'TERRA AUSTRALIS INCOGNITA', Latin for 'unknown southern land', used to label the landmass that, since classical times, had been thought to exist in the southern hemisphere.
  • It includes dates and names in Latin alongside many of the charted areas, which provide additional details about discoveries - these include the information that the American continent was allegedly discovered by the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus in 1492; the map also records 'Nova Anglia', meaning New England, on the eastern coast, which had been explored by the Englishman Sir Francis Drake in 1579, although the exact details of Drake's voyage are still debated; California, depicted as a separate island, can be seen on the western coast.
  • It shows part of the coast of northern New Guinea, and possibly the western coast of Cape York, both of which had first been mapped in 1600 after explorations by Portuguese or Spanish sailors in 1526-67 - Portuguese seaman Luis Vaez de Torres had sailed through Torres Strait in 1606, although this map does not make that discovery clear; by 1646, when this map was published, much of New Guinea's geography was still unknown; this was also the case for other islands in the southern hemisphere, including New Zealand, which had only been charted four years earlier, in 1642, by Abel Tasman (1603-59).
  • It includes colour portraits of a number of important cartographers and historical figures - these include Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE), Jodocus Hondius the Elder (1563-1612, a famous Flemish cartographer), Claudius Ptolemy (87-150 CE, who collated much of the known information about the geography of the world) and Geradus Mercator (1512-94), who was an important and influential Flemish cartographer; in 1569, Mercator devised a new way of mapping that allowed maps to become much more accurate.
  • It shows the rich decorations and illustrations used in maps at the time - many features such as those shown here were added to maps in Europe in the 17th century, including detailed colours, pictures of ocean creatures, and illustrations of the allegorical figures of the four elements of earth, air, fire and water; these figures are used in literature and art to convey a symbolic or metaphorical meaning; the four elements are part of ancient Greek philosophy, which held the view that every object in the universe was made up of earth, air fire and water.
  • It uses Mercator's technique of map projection, which he devised in 1569 - Mercator developed a system that preserved angles and allowed compass points to be marked as straight lines; this was particularly important for nautical charts, on which it was necessary to plot routes that took into account not just distance but also direction; maps using Mercator's projection present increasingly distorted land areas with distance from the equator, clearly apparent on this map in the Americas; the distortion occurs because it is not possible to represent a spherical shape such as the Earth on a flat surface.
Year level

4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • history;
  • studies of society and environment
  • History/Historical knowledge and understanding

    Other details

    • Content provider
    • Copyright holder
    • Organisation: National Library of Australia
    • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of National Library of Australia
    • Author
    • Date of contribution: 1646
    • Name: Hendrik Hondius
    • Remarks: cartographer
    • Author
    • Date of contribution: 1646
    • Name: Jan Jansson
    • Remarks: cartographer
    • Publisher
    • Date of contribution: 29 Jun 2011
    • Organisation: Education Services Australia
    • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
    • URL:
    Access profile
    • Colour independence
    • Device independence
    • Hearing independence
    Learning resource type
    • Image
    • Microsoft Internet Explorer - minimum version: 6.0 (MS-Windows) - maximum version: 8.0 (MS-Windows)
    • Firefox - minimum version: 3.0 (MS-Windows)
    • Safari - minimum version: 3.0 (MacOS)
    Operating systems
    • MacOS - minimum version: X
    • MS-Windows - minimum version: 2000 - maximum version: Vista
    Platform requirements
    • Initial load time may exceed 10 seconds on a dedicated 256 kbps due to the use of rich media content.
    • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2011, except where indicated under Acknowledgements