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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

The de la Rochette Chart

The de la Rochette Chart

The British Government's action in approving what is known as the de la Rochette (or Faden) chart (which was first published in 1803, a second edition following in 1817) lent official colour to a suggestion that portion of the eastern coast of the North Island was discovered by the Portuguese about 1550 A.D. Against the outline of New Zealand appears this note: “New Zeeland: Discovered and named by Tasman 1642, but whose eastern coast was known to the Portuguese about 1550.” East Cape is shown on the chart as “Cabo da Fermoso, 1550.” Opposite Cook Strait, on the eastern side, is the legend: “Gulf of the Portuguese, 1550” whilst, on the other side, are the words: “Gulf of 1642, by the Dutch.”

page 11

Several important improvements appear in the 1817 issue. Stewart Island, which was shown in 1803 as a peninsula, is plainly delineated and it and Foveaux Strait are given the designations which are still in use. On the face of the chart there is the following text: “Chart of the Indian Ocean. Improved from the chart of M. d'Apres de Mannevillette. With the Addition of a Part of the Pacific Ocean, as well as of the Original Tracks of the Principal Discoverers or other Navigators to India and China, and which, it has been admitted, give a Chronological Indication of Successive Discoveries. By L. S. de la Rochette (London). Published by W. Faden, Geographer to the King and to H. R. H. the Prince Regent.”

Three much older charts upon which the de la Rochette map appears to have been based are of historic interest as much to the people of Australia as to those of New Zealand. If it could be shown that they were derived from first-hand information, the honour of discovering at least portion of the eastern seaboard of Australia and of the islands to the east of it in the sixteenth century would require to be awarded to the Portuguese. It is held (Transactions of the Historical Society of Australasia, Vol. 1, p. 89) that the Dauphin chart of the French must have been compiled between 1530 and 1536 A.D. on account of two facts—(1) that it shows the Straits of Magellan, the existence of which had not become known in Europe until del Cano published the results of Magellan's voyage in 1523 A.D.; and (2) that in one of the upper corners of the map the arms of France appear with the crown open, whereas, if the map had been made in 1536 A.D. or later, the crown would have been shown arched over. In addition, the map also carries the arms of the Dauphin Henry (afterwards Henry II of France) who was born in 1518 A.D.

The map that was drawn in 1542 A.D. for King Henry VIII of England by John Rotz, the hydrographer, was, it is plain, based upon the Dauphin chart, or upon the material from which that chart was compiled. It contains some fresh details in regard to some portions of the globe, but nothing new in the case of the part held to represent Australia. Like the Dauphin chart, Desceliers' chart is of French origin. It is labelled: “Faicte a Arques par Pierre Desceliers pbre Lan, 1550.” Its outline of Jave (supposed to be Australia) also bears a close resemblance to that which appears on the Dauphin chart. This land is represented as being inhabited by elephants, camels with swanlike necks, and men with dogfaced heads. No particular attention need, of course, be given to the ornamentation, seeing that, in those days, map-makers were allowed considerable license.

Published by the Geographer to the King, the de la Rochette page 12 chart bears an inscription: “Approved by the Chart Committee of the Admiralty.” Admiral Edgell (Hydrographer to the British Admiralty) informed the writer (8/3/1938) that the Chart Committee which assisted de la Rochette consisted of British naval officers, at the head of whom was Captain T. Hurd, R.N. Probably, however, the personnel was changed from time to time, since war conditions might have required the services of some of the officers at sea. He added that the copper plate of the de la Rochette chart passed into the hands of the Hydrographic Office; that the chart became known as “Admiralty chart, No. 748”; and that it was not withdrawn until 1856, when it was superseded by up-to-date charts. The chart was, therefore, in use by the British Admiralty for just over half a century. None of the Portuguese legends on it appear on the large scale Admiralty chart No. 1212: “New Zealand: Explored by Captain James Cook in 1769–70,” which was published on 30 April, 1816. Copies of both these valuable charts were forwarded to the writer by Admiral Edgell.