Geographia di Francesco Berlinghieri, 1482 (printed by Nicolo Todescho)

    This map represents the vision of Ancient Greek mathematician, astronomer and geographer, Claudius Ptolemy, who believed the Indian Ocean was landlocked. Writing in his Geographia in the 2nd century AD, he suggested there was an unknown landmass – “Terra Incognita” – at the bottom of the world. There are no surviving copies of Ptolemy’s diagrams, but his detailed descriptions (which include a list of coordinates for more than 8000 places) formed the basis of early European maps in the 15th century. Franscesco Berlinghieri translated Ptolemy’s work into Italian and drew updated maps based on these writings.

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    Americae sive novi orbis, nova descriptio, 1579 (Abraham Ortelius)

    This famous Dutch map was one of the first to focus solely on the Americas. Like many other Dutch charts from the 16th century, it is extremely decorative and detailed, using colour and pictures to label features. It also shows the 16th century belief that Tierra del Fuego, at the tip of South America, was part of a block of land that stretched right around the bottom of the world up to New Guinea. In 1520 Ferdinand Magellan sailed through the Magellan Strait, but he didn’t realise Tierra del Fuego was just a group of islands.

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    Sacrae geographiae tabulam ex antiquissimorum cultor, 1593 (Benedict Arias Montanus)

    This two-hemisphere map of the world was published as an illustration inside a 16th century bible. It shows how the descendants of Noah repopulated the Earth after the Great Flood. The panels of text in Latin and Hebrew list the descendants, starting with his three sons Japheth, Ham and Shem, and the countries that they and their kin founded. Antarctica doesn’t feature at all, but some lines appear to finish mid-sea, showing how little was known about the Southern Ocean at the time.

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    Orbis terrarum typus de integro multis in locis emendates, 1594 (Petrus Plancius)

    After its publication in 1594, this Dutch map would remain influential for a century. It was incredibly accurate, documenting recent discoveries around South-East Asia and the Arctic. It was also the first map to present allegorical images of the four continents on elaborate pictorial borders. A southern continent named ‘Magallanica’ stretches across the base of the map from ‘Polus Antarctica’ to New Guinea. This vast landform would be repeated in maps over the next 40 years, until Abel Tasman’s voyage defined Australia’s lower coastline, separating the higher land from an Antarctic continent.

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    Nova totius terrarum orbis geographica, 1639 (Pieter van den Keere)

    In this beautiful example of a Dutch map, a great southern landmass named ‘Magallanica’ or Terra Australis Incognita stretches along the bottom of the world up to New Guinea and South America. The two poles have been drawn in separate spheres at the bottom of the map. Another feature is the ornate border, which has illustrations representing the planets of the Solar System, the four seasons, the seven ancient wonders of the world, and the four elements.

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    Polus Antarcticus, 1657 (Hendrick Hondius)

    Printed in Amsterdam in 1657, this is one of the four states of the Polus Antarcticus map. It is the earliest chart to concentrate on the Antarctic landmass, rather than on the rest of the world. It shows Tasman’s discoveries from his first voyage with outlines of Nova Hollandia (Australia) and Nova Zeelandia (New Zealand), and the idea of a southern continent is suggested by a series of lines and island groups. Typical of Dutch cartography in the 17th century, it is decorated with large vignettes depicting scenes from South America and the Pacific.

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    Hemisphere meridional, 1710 (Pierre Moullart Sanson)

    This is a French map, typically less decorative, and more sparse and scientific than the Dutch examples. It concentrates solely on the southern hemisphere, outlining what was known at the time – Van Dieman’s Land, an incomplete Australia, and a tentative outline of Terres Magellaniques, which appears to be attached to New Zealand.

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    A map of the southern hemi-sphere showing the discoveries made in the Southern Ocean up to 1770, 1772 (James Cook)

    Captain James Cook sketched this map on 6 February 1772, marking in yellow ink the path he would take on his second voyage south. On the back is written, “Captain Cook’s opinion of the rout the Resolution and Adventure ought to take to explore the Southern Ocean, humbly submitted to the consideration of the Earl of Sandwich.” Between 1772-75 he travelled 100,000km, sailing south of the Antarctic Circle three times. His voyage proved that the southern landmass was neither as big nor as habitable as once thought. While he didn’t discover Antarctica, he did discover a series of islands along the Scotia Arc.

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    Planisphere Babinet, 1864 (Jacques Babinet)

    This map, created by French physicist and astronomer Jaques Babinet, shows a very different 19th century perspective of the world. He used a homalographic projection, focussing on the area covered by the countries, rather than a particular angle. The lines of latitude are straight lines, while the meridian lines are elliptical. It’s also a political map, highlighting the territories that had been colonised by European countries at that time.

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    Antarctica and the south polar regions, 1933 (Richard Byrd)

    The nature of polar exploration changed once it became possible for aeroplanes to fly over the Antarctic and do surveys from above. American aviator Rear Admiral Richard Byrd was a keen explorer who conducted several aerial expeditions to map the Antarctic. He was also the first explorer to reach the South Pole by air. This map is the product of his second expedition.

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    Antarctica, 1939 (Edward Bayliss)

    This is considered the world’s first reliable map of Antarctica, and it’s also the first to show the Australian Antarctic Territories. The 1929-1931 British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE), led by Sir Douglas Mawson, claimed the land that later became the Australian Antarctic Territory (AAT). In 1936, the Australian government formally took possession of the land, and in 1939, Edward P Bayliss, chief cartographer of the Australian Department of the Interior, created this map.

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Gallery: Putting Antarctica on the map

By AG STAFF | December 1, 2011

A new exhibition of historic charts at the State Library of NSW revisits how explorers put Antarctica on the map.