Published in 1728 in the first and only edition of the Atlas Maritimus and Commercialis, this map of Bermuda  — part of a set of four sea charts composed of Bermuda, Barbados, Antigua, and Boston, Massachusetts — is considered to be “among the rarest depictions of the Island,” according to Bermudian cartographic historian Jonathan Evans. Though today the Atlas Maritimus is regarded as a historically significant overview of world trade during a rapid period of development of the British Empire’s trading power, at the time of its publication it failed to compete commercially with the popular Mount and Page English Pilot atlas, and its publication was thus limited to one edition, making the maps included therein extremely rare. Not only is the chart of Bermuda contained in the Atlas Maritimus one of the scarcest of all extant depictions of the island, it is further distinguished by its strikingly positioned compass alignment, with the island rotated on its axis so that the eastern section is at the top of the page, perhaps a result of the latest scientific advances in cartography being made part of the Atlas Maritimus’s maps. The map is also differentiated from others by the unconventional positioning of the compass rose on land, with part of the circle left out so as not to obscure the depiction of the coastline; additionally, the traditional fleur-de-lis north-pointer is removed from its orb and placed out at sea on a rhumbline. All of these elements taken together, along with the status of the accompanying chart of Boston Harbor as one of the earliest printed maps of the Boston area, provide the basis for a unique public offering of demonstrable historic and cartographic value. 

The Atlas Maritimus reflects a collaborative effort on the part of several of the foremost scientific and cartographic minds of the period, including John Senex, Sir Edmund Halley, Nathaniel Cutler, and Steven Parker, with portions of the text attributed to Daniel Defoe, the renowned author of Robinson Crusoe. John Senex, who designed the project and brought it to fruition, (and is believed to have engraved most of the maps) is regarded by many historians as an “18th Century Renaissance Man,” working at times as an inventor, surveyor, engraver, bookseller, and publisher of maps, atlases, and globes. He began his career as a bookseller’s apprentice and developed into one of the most important cartographers of the period, becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and the Official Geographer to Queen Anne of Great Britain. Senex first gained fame with the publication in 1714 of his English Atlas, one of the most successful atlases of the early 18th century, remaining in print until the 1760s. His relationship with Sir Edmund Halley and William Whiston (Issac Newton’s onetime assistant and a Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University) was such that he became the engraver and publisher of several important scientific maps, notably Halley and Whiston’s maps of the Eclipses of 1715 and 1724, and his connection with both men provided him with the most current scientific data for his terrestrial and celestial globes, as well as a 1715 wall chart of the solar system, showing the orbits of the planets as well as Halley’s comets. By publishing the works of many of the key figures in the groundbreaking scientific world of the 18th century, Senex became the “publishing champion” of the new scientific method, quite literally helping to usher in the modern world’s understanding of science. Noted cartographic historian Laurence Worms has called him “the greatest globe maker of his day, and the website (specializing in antique cartographic artifacts) has stated that “rarely, Senex’s maps are offered for public sale.” (italics added) Though Senex had several noted cartographers working with him on the production of the Atlas Maritimus, his two principal associates appear to have been the cartographer Nathaniel Cutler, responsible for the maps’ sailing directions, and Sir Edmund Halley, one of Britain’s most eminent astronomers and natural philosophers of the latter years of the 17th and first half of the 18th centuries. As a student at Oxford, Halley had travelled to St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean on behalf of King Charles II and the East India Company to establish a chart demarcating the positions of the southern stars. The star chart he subsequently published earned him a Fellowship to the Royal Society. His studies in the early 1680s regarding the nature of comets led to the discovery of their elliptical orbits, including the orbit of the comet which would eventually bear his name. In 1687, he oversaw the publication of, and wrote the Latin preface for, his friend Issac Newton’s masterpiece, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, to that point in time the most important book published in the field of physics. Halley also developed a strong interest in cartography, and one of his earliest maps was a chart of the trade winds, the first such meteorological chart of its kind. Following two voyages back to the South Atlantic Ocean in 1698 and 1699, Halley published A New and Correct Chart Showing Variations of the Compass in the Western and Southern Oceans (1700),the first printed map to show “isogonic lines,” which enabled navigators to adjust for the differences on their compasses between “True North” and “Magnetic North,” a significant navigational enhancement. It is widely believed that Halley — who by the time of the publication of the Atlas Maritimus had been named Britain’s Astronomer Royal — played a central role in the development of the Atlas’s charts.   

The Atlas Maritimus is divided into two parts: the first, designed as a guide to British global commerce, provides a geographical examination of the world as it relates to trade and navigation, including the tradable commodities of each country. (In the section, An Account of the Trade of Great Britain, a notation on exports states: “From Bermuda: Cedar and Cedar Boards. Sloops built here.”) The maps of the Atlas Maritimus are contained in its second part, referred to as A General Coasting Pilot, and are historically attributed to the combined efforts of Nathaniel Cutler and Sir Edmund Halley, amongst others. The Atlas Maritimus differed from the English Pilot in several respects: first, the English Pilot  was strictly a mapmaking endeavor; it did not delve into the spheres of history and commerce, areas that were crucial to the Atlas Maritimus enterprise (and which are ascribed to Daniel Defoe). Also, the contents of the entire globe were condensed into a single volume by the Atlas Maritimus, rather than the five comprising theEnglish Pilot, which did not cover the south and west coasts of America, as did the Atlas Maritimus. Moreover, the Atlas Maritimus was enhanced by the latest scientific developments in the fields of navigation and cartography, including a system invented by Senex and others called “globular projection,” but, despite what are viewed today as the theoretical merits of its scientific underpinnings, many of the charts ended up being too complex for viewers to discern. In the end, the Atlas Maritimus — irrespective of its remarkable cartographic pedigree — was simply too far ahead of its time.

Written May 2018 by Brian Flon, author of "Hell's Kitchen Requiem" (2014), available as an e-book at Amazon, iTunes, and Barnes & Noble.

© The Lusher Gallery, LLC July 2018.  All rights reserved.  No portion of the material described herein may be reproduced in whole or in part without the prior written consent of The Lusher Gallery LLC.