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

British Admiralty Comment

British Admiralty Comment

According to D. Bonner Smith, F.R.His.S. (Librarian to the British Admiralty), to whom the author was indebted for amplifying the information supplied by Admiral Edgell, the historian Burney, in 1803, drew the attention of the British Admiralty to the fact that the Dauphin chart (1530–36 A.D.) and Pierre Desceliers' chart (1550 A.D.) had come into the possession of the British Museum authorities. The Rotz map (1542 A.D.) had previously been acquired for the museum. Burney was of the opinion—based upon the information which these charts afforded—that there were reasons for supposing that the eastern coast of New Holland (Australia) had been seen in the sixteenth century, and had added: “But they are not sufficient to authorise the insertion of any part in a chart of the discoveries made previous to 1579 A.D.”

Commenting on these ancient charts, Mr. Bonner Smith said:

“Documentation for these charts is wanting; it is not known who, if anyone, voyaged down to Australia and supplied the material for them. The interpretation to be placed upon them is, I think, also a matter of difficulty. Burney thought that these charts indicated only the east coast of Australia when he described them in 1803. I think that they are the authority for all of de la Rochette's legends on the Faden chart of 1803 and 1817, which would seem to indicate that the suggestion was then current that some of the legends applied to New Zealand and not all of them to New Holland (Australia). De la Rochette may have misread Burney and interpreted part of his eastern coast to mean that of New Zealand, whereas Burney meant the whole of it to apply to New Holland.”
page 13

On the land mass which appears to represent Australia on the ancient charts, there is no sign of the real Cape York Peninsula. The eastern coastline starts at Sumbava Island and wanders in a south-easterly direction across the site of Australia until it dips beyond where New Zealand lies, ending in 60 deg. S. latitude. A remarkable feature is that the middle section is shown with a bulge as in the case of Australia. The islands that have been claimed to represent New Zealand are in too low a latitude.

As there were but few lands to discover in the South-west Pacific, it must be regarded as a striking feature of the sixteenth century charts that those shown are limited to the major islands which appear to represent Australia and New Zealand. There is a “Coste dangereuse,” or “Costa pesillentia,” or “Costa pergosa” on the north-east section of the “Jave la Grande” of the Dauphin chart; on the “Londe of Java” of Rotz; and on the “Jave” of Desceliers. This fact is held by some investigators to prove that at least one very early navigator gained a fleeting glimpse of the Great Barrier Reef. Near the latitude of 30 deg. S. on the eastern seaboard, there is a stretch of coast which is named “Coste des Herbaiges,” or “Costa des Ervas.” It answers in situation to Botany Bay—a name which, it would seem, Cook did not bestow while he was there, and which might have been suggested, later, by Banks.

Whilst the storm over the so-called “French-Portuguese” charts was at its height, some of the critics admitted that it was difficult to account for some of the features delineated on the outline of the major land mass. Even so, they preferred to believe that any near-coincidences did not arise from knowledge gained by voyagers, but were the fruits of lucky conjecture. Burney (History of the Discoveries in the South Sea: 1803) parried any such suggestion by pointing out “that it is not easy to imagine that all of the many instances of similitude … that are to be found in the general outline of this land [Jave la Grande] were produced merely by chance.”