Greek and Roman philosophers had predicted the existence of a great southern landmass some 2000 years ago. As the earth was a sphere, they believed there must be a huge continent to the south to counterbalance the continents in the north.
Originally postulated by Aristotle, Ptolemy then expanded this notion of Terra Australis Incognita - the unknown southern land.
It would take until the 18th century before this mysterious continent was finally located, charted and later named Australia. Explore the State Library's incredible maps, journals, drawings and books to understand how the pieces of our continent were gradually put together.
Voyages of Discovery - the Great South Land is made possible through a partnership with the Bruce & Joy Reid Foundation.
The process of cartography or map making has developed over thousands of years. The evolution of maps in European history reflected the growing public interest in the geography of the world and the new discoveries made on ambitious voyages of exploration.
Advances in mathematical sciences and navigation techniques increased the accuracy of territorial surveys, permitting explorers to reach distant and mysterious places.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, these world maps became an important tool for imperial European powers to develop lucrative trade routes and extend their political influence beyond the equator.
The Spanish and Portuguese were very active in expanding their empires in the 16th century, followed closely by the Dutch who made important discoveries in the Pacific regions in the 17th century. By the 18th century, France and England had also become powerful political rivals and empire builders, helping to piece together the final unknown aspects of Terra Australis Incognita.
A long held fascination with the undiscovered Southern Continent inspired authors to imagine and write about this mythical land. As a literary and philosophical genre, imaginary voyages to Terra Australis Incognita were almost as popular in their day as authentic travel accounts, featuring utopian landscapes and curious inhabitants.BOTERO'S MONSTERS
Italian Giovanni Botero (1540-1617) was one of the many writers inspired by this uncharted region.
Botero's Le Relationi Universali (1618) included fifteen woodcuts of imaginary monsters that he believed likely to inhabit the lands to the east and south. These evolutionary fantasies, partly the work of artist Hans Burgkmair, were a wild mix of man and beast.NA JOSEPH HALL
Mundus alter et idem (1643) by Joseph Hall gave another account of the mythical south, and was the earliest imaginary utopia, or dystopia, to be specifically set in Terra Australis Incognita. Far from an ideal world, Hall's imagined land full of gluttons, bandits and snobs was intended to satirise the status quo of England at the time.
A map, accompanying his 1643 edition, by accomplished engraver Pieter van der Keeve, portrayed a deliberately exaggerated southern continent as large as all the continents north of the equator combined.NA NEW DISCOVERIES
As the years progressed and knowledge of the South Land improved, imaginary voyages were taken over by more sophisticated travel writing and utopias tended to be set in more realistic frameworks.
By the end of the 18th century, exploration had proven the extent of the region and mythical stories of the missing southern continent disappeared.
Europeans had been searching for rich new lands in the Southern Hemisphere long before Captain James Cook arrived on the east coast of Australia in 1770.
In a quest to advance Catholicism and discover new sources of natural resources and precious metals, early Spanish explorers opened up many parts of the world to European settlers. They are considered the first Europeans to discover Vanuatu and what is now known as the Torres Strait.PEDRO FERNANDES DE QUEIRÓS
In December 1605, Portuguese captain Pedro Fernandes de Queirós (Quirós in Spanish) led a two-ship Spanish expedition in search of the Great South Land. They reached the largest island of Vanuatu in May 1606 and attempted to settle it as a Spanish colony, naming it Australia del Espiritu Santo.
Separated during a storm, Queirós sailed on to Mexico, leaving the remaining party on their south-westerly course. On the 27 June, having reached 20.5 degrees latitude with no land in sight, Luis Vaes de Torres, second in command, sailed north for Manila, taking the expedition through what is now known as the Torres Strait and along the southern coast of Papua New Guinea. They reached Manila in May 1607.PRADO Y TOBAR
One vigilant sailor, Don Diego de Prado y Tobar, took great care to keep track of what was ultimately the first European voyage through the strait between Australia and New Guinea. The journey proved that New Guinea was an island and not a northern projection of the Great South Land as some geographers had thought.
Although the Spanish didn't find the expected southern continent, they were the first European expedition to land on several islands that are now part of Australia. Prado's manuscript is also significant for his use of the name Australia to describe this missing continent.QUEIRÓS MEMORIALS
Queirós wrote many petitions or 'memorials' to King Philip III of Spain, requesting another expedition to the South Land. He was eager to secure the region's fabulous wealth for Spain and convert its peoples to the Catholic faith. Queirós was finally given the opportunity in 1614, however died at Panama in 1615 before he could set sail.
The State Library has the world's pre-eminent collection of Queirós presentation memorials, holding 13 of the 14 known memorials in the Mitchell and Dixson Libraries.
The most significant exploration of Australia in the 17th century was by the Dutch. Commissioned by the world's largest trading company at the time, the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Campaignie or VOC), Dutch explorers charted much of the Southern Hemisphere in search of its famed riches.
Dutch sailors made their first landfall on Australian shores in 1606. By the time Captain Cook arrived nearly 170 years later, the Dutch had charted all but the south-eastern coastline of the continent they called 'New Holland'.WILLEM JANSZOON
In 1605 Willem Janszoon (c.1570-c.1638) was sent on the ship Duyfken to discover the 'great land Nova Guinea and other unknown east and south lands' for the powerful Dutch East India Company (VOC).
Janszoon charted parts of New Guinea's south coast, sailed past the entrance to Torres Strait and landed on Cape York Peninsula, believing it was a continuation of New Guinea. Whilst some accidental encounters with Australia's western coast followed, it wasn't until the voyages of Abel Tasman that a clearer picture of the Great South Land emerged.ABEL TASMAN
In 1642 Abel Tasman (c.1603-1659) was commissioned by Anthony van Diemen, the head of VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) in Batavia (now Jakarta), to explore the southern oceans and find profitable new trading markets for the Company.
With his two ships Heemskerck and Zeehaen and a crew of 110, Tasman charted the southern coasts of Tasmania (which he named Van Diemen's Land), the west coast of New Zealand, parts of Tonga and Fiji and the north coast of New Guinea. It was a remarkable voyage, however Tasman didn't find the famed riches sought by the Company.
On his second voyage in 1644, Tasman unsuccessfully tried to chart a passage to the rich trading markets of South America. Although he charted the south west coast of New Guinea and much of Australia's previously unknown northern coastline, this exploration was also deemed unsuccessful.
The Tasman Map is one of the few documentary sources relating to the second voyage. Drawn on delicate Japanese paper, the map combines the results of Abel Tasman's first and second voyages with those of earlier Dutch navigators, revealing a surprisingly accurate general outline of the Australian coastline.
In recognition of the Tasman Map's significance, a stunning marble mosaic reproduction forms part of the floor of the historic Mitchell Library vestibule at the State Library of New South Wales.THE HUIJDECOPER JOURNAL
Tasman kept journals on board during both these voyages. The full journal of his first voyage of 1642-1643 was lost, but two abridged versions survived. The State Library holds one of these edited copies, the Huijdecoper manuscript, compiled sometime between 1643 and 1647.
The journal of the second voyage was also lost, however no copies are known to exist.
Disappointed that Tasman had failed to find rich trading routes, the Dutch turned their attention to America. This left the way clear for the British Empire to begin their explorations further south.
Fanciful notions of the far South Land were also common in the English imagination. Successful explorers were held in high-esteem, as many longed to discover the untold treasures that lay beyond the equator.
Whilst English exploration of the Southern Hemisphere began in 1577 with the voyages of Francis Drake, it wasn't until the late 18th century that expeditions finally revealed the true extent of the region and the final pieces of Terra Australis Incognita.FRANCIS DRAKE
Francis Drake is one of England's most renowned navigators. In 1577 he was chosen to lead an expedition intended to pass around South America through the Strait of Magellan and to explore the coast that lay beyond.
Drake returned to England in September 1580 having circumnavigated the world, his ship laden with gold, silver and spices plundered from the Americas. Though he didn't find the Great South Land, his expedition would pave the way for further English voyages in the following centuries. The Queen personally boarded Drake's ship the Golden Hind to bestow a knighthood in recognition of his achievements.WALLIS AND CARTERET
In 1766 the British Admiralty officially took up the search for Terra Australis Incognita, sending out Captain Samuel Wallis (1728-1795) in command of HMS Dolphin, accompanied by Philip Carteret in HMS Swallow.
Although Wallis failed to find the mythical continent, he discovered a string of Pacific Islands including Tahiti in June 1767, which he named King George the Third's Island after the English sovereign. He charted and accurately recorded the longitude of the Tahitian islands, thus determining Tahiti as the destination for James Cook's first Pacific voyage.
Wallis is known to have made at least 40 drawings on the voyage, many of them offshore coastal views of the islands he encountered. In most of these drawings, his ship HMS Dolphin is prominently positioned in the foreground, while native canoes can often be seen in the surrounding waters. A skilled artist, Wallis' drawings add greatly to existing accounts of the voyage.ALEXANDER DALRYMPLE
Alexander Dalrymple's overriding passion in life was determining the existence of a Great Southern Continent.
At the age of fifteen, Dalrymple joined the British East India Company, and was posted to Madras, India. He travelled widely in Asia over the next thirteen years, visiting China and the East Indies, where he became passionately interested in trade, geography, astronomy, charting and exploration. He trawled libraries and offices looking for any information and charts related to discoveries in the Pacific and the history of European trading in the region.
Using the knowledge he had gathered about the history of exploration in the Pacific, Dalrymple started to build his own hypothesis about the Great South Land. When he returned to London from South East Asia in 1765, Dalrymple used his sources to compile a book entitled An account of the discoveries made in the South Pacifick Ocean, previous to 1764 outlining his belief in the existence of this missing southern continent and analysing the discoveries made on previous voyages to the South Pacific, primarily by the Dutch and Spanish.CRITICISM OF THE ENDEAVOUR VOYAGE
Dalrymple's book was read with interest by those mounting the 1770 expedition to view the Transit of Venus in Tahiti. Joseph Banks, members of the Royal Society and the Admiralty took Dalrymple's research into account, particularly when issuing Captain James Cook's expedition with secret instructions to seek the Southern Continent after their scientific observations in Tahiti.
Dalrymple was desperate to be given charge of the expedition and his exclusion from the party remained a source of bitter resentment for the rest of his life.
Dalrymple returned to Madras for the British East India Company in 1775, despite having been dismissed by them four years earlier for being difficult and demanding. He became the Company's hydrographer in 1779 and published hundreds of charts.
He remained argumentative however, entering into many heated disputes over the correct names and locations of various Pacific Islands. In 1786, he also published A serious admonition to the publick, on the intended thief-colony at Botany Bay, convinced that the new penal colony was a cover for illegal trade in defiance of the British East India Company's charter 'of exclusive trade and navigation'.
Dalrymple's arguments were ignored and the British government went ahead with the plan to establish a colony in Botany Bay.
Dalrymple was appointed the Admiralty's first Hydropher in 1795. He continued in this role until his death in 1808 and is credited with the development of Admiralty Charts. Issued by the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, these nautical charts were constantly reviewed and updated in order that comprehensive and accurate maps of the world's oceans exist.
Dalrymple's legacy lives on in thousands of printed charts and maps, many of which are now held in the State Library of New South Wales.
Captain James Cook's three epic voyages to the South Seas between 1768-1779 would transform the way Europeans viewed the Great South Land and the Pacific Ocean.
Born in Yorkshire in 1728, Cook joined the merchant navy in the coastal town of Whitby at about 17 and spent his apprenticeship and early career working on trading ships along the English coast and in the Baltic. After 10 years in the merchant navy, Cook entered the Royal Navy, and showed an aptitude for surveying, mapping and navigation. The Royal Society, keen to send British ships to the Pacific for research and exploration purposes, soon noticed his talents.THE ENDEAVOUR VOYAGE
Captain James Cook was given command of the Endeavour in 1768 and set sail from Plymouth in August of that year on an expedition mounted by the Admiralty and the Royal Society.
The main aim of his voyage was to chart and explore the Pacific Ocean, and to observe and record the transit of Venus across the sun in April 1769 from Tahiti. The second goal of the journey was to chart the coastlines of the islands visited in the South Pacific and to take detailed scientific observations about the land, its flora and fauna and the local indigenous peoples.
However, there was also a final and secret aim of this expedition - to locate and claim the Great South Land.
The secret instructions, which Cook carried with him, were orders from the British Admiralty to seek 'a Continent or Land of great extent' and to take possession of the country 'in the Name of the King of Great Britain'.
After sailing up the west coast of New Zealand, proving that it did not form part of a large southern continent as Abel Tasman had proposed, Cook sailed west and reached the southern coast of New South Wales in April 1770. He sailed north, charting the coastline and claimed the east coast of New Holland for Great Britain at Possession Island on 22 August 1770.JAMES COOK'S JOURNAL
Cook described his discoveries and experiences in his logbook, and copies were required to be sent back to the Admiralty at various ports to report on the expedition's progress. The Mitchell Library holds the copy sent to the Admiralty from Batavia.JOSEPH BANKS
A group of 'gentlemen scientists' and artists travelled on the Endeavour in order to record, observe and collect plants, specimens and cultural items from the various peoples encountered.
The scientific work was financed and directed by a wealthy young gentleman botanist, Joseph Banks. Banks contributed to the expedition from his personal fortune and outfitted the scientists with a fine reference library, collecting equipment and ample space on board ship to store specimens and work.BANKS' ENDEAVOUR JOURNAL
The journal kept by the then 25-year-old Banks on board HMS Endeavour is one of the Library's most significant manuscripts. His original observations of the land and people, plants and animals contribute significantly to our understanding of Australia before European settlement. For the rest of his life, Banks influenced almost every aspect of Pacific exploration and early Australian colonial life, actively supporting the proposal of Botany Bay as a site for British settlement.
The Library holds an extensive collection relating to Sir Joseph Banks including correspondence about Australia sent or received by Sir Joseph Banks over a thirty year period. His letters reveal his prodigious natural history networks, his place at the centre of a widespread, energetic and productive world of science, exploration and politics and his interest and engagement with colonial NSW.JAMES ROBERTS' JOURNAL
Sixteen-year-old James Roberts was a servant to Sir Joseph Banks on the Endeavour voyage.
His journal includes a list of the officers and ship's company on board Endeavour. The list shows the name and 'quality' (rank or occupation) of each person, with remarks on promotions and dates of death until August 1771. The journal also recorded weather observations, position of the ship and events on board.SYDNEY PARKINSON
Sydney Parkinson was the botanical illustrator and natural history artist on board the Endeavour. He created hundreds of sketches and paintings during the three years voyage, many of which survive. His most famous works are the botanical drawings used to illustrate Banks' Florilegium.
Parkinson died at sea in January 1771 after contracting dysentery.THE SEARCH CONTINUES
Although Cook's Endeavour voyage visited and claimed the east coast of New Holland for Great Britain, many still believed that the legendary Great South Land was yet undiscovered.
Captain Cook's second Pacific voyage (1772-1775) aimed to establish whether there was an inhabited southern continent in what we now know as Antarctica. Two ships, Resolution and Adventure, were fitted out for the expedition.MAPPING THE ROUTE
In 1772, before setting out, Cook created a map showing the discoveries made in the Southern Ocean up until 1770 and sketched out his proposed route for the upcoming voyage. It included the tracks of Abel Tasman in 1642, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville in 1767, Samuel Wallis (HMS Dolphin 1766-68) and Cook's own Endeavour voyage of 1770, as well as ships of the East India Company.WILLIAM HODGES
The images below come from a collection of drawings, paintings and sketches held in the Mitchell Library. Most are by William Hodges, official artist aboard the Resolution, and Henry Roberts who sailed with Cook on his second expedition to the Southern Ocean from 1772 - 1775. The album was once owned by Cook's widow, Elizabeth.
The pictures document the people and landscapes the expedition encountered - from tropical Tahiti to the stark icebergs of the Antarctic. The very still, dramatic images belie the inherent danger of exploring in such high Antarctic latitudes, and dispel the perception of Pacific voyages as only journeys to idyllic paradises.WALES AND BAYLY
William Wales and William Bayly were the astronomers on board Resolution and Adventure. Their work involved navigational measurements, particularly to do with longitude. This was a relatively new navigational calculation devised in 1761, dependent upon the measurement, with a sextant, of the angular distance between the moon, sun and seven selected stars.
The astronomers were also well equipped with other navigational equipment, including chronometers for each ship. These timepieces were used to keep time at sea.
Wales' journal records the measurements and details of the voyage on board the Resolution. He kept a log of the ship's course, the wind and weather, along with a detailed and lively account of life on board and ashore.
His journal recounts the scenery and people of New Zealand, Easter Island, Tonga, Tahiti and the Society Islands, New Caledonia and Norfolk Island. Wales also writes of the ice islands encompassing the ship as the Resolution crossed the Arctic Circle, retrieving chunks of ice for drinking water and the stunning Aurora Australis that appeared in the evening sky.METHODS FOR PRESERVING HEALTH
During the 18th century, scurvy and disease were terrible problems for those at sea for any length of time. Captain James Cook employed various methods during his second voyage to maintain the health and longevity of his crew.
He ensured a ready supply of vegetables, fruit and fresh water for the men whenever possible, and prevented their undue exposure to the elements. Maintaining the cleanliness of the ship, as well as the crew, was also of great importance. Despite three years spent circumnavigating the globe, not one of his crew died of scurvy during the voyage.CROSSING THE ANTARCTIC
In January 1773, Cook made his first crossing of the Antarctic circle. By February 1775, he had completed a high latitude circumnavigation of the Antarctic region, proving that the continent was neither as large nor as habitable as once thought.
The ships returned to Plymouth on 29 July 1775 and the continent we now know as Australia was finally recognised as the Great South Land.PUTTING IT TOGETHER
Robert Sayer was a noted publisher of maps in London at the time of Cook’s discoveries. In 1775, he sold an engraved double-hemisphere map of the world that could be dissected into 62 pieces to form a jigsaw puzzle.
The map shows the routes of several notable explorers, including Queirós, Wallis, and 'the track of Cook'. This is one of the earliest published maps showing Cook's circumnavigation along the East coast of Australia and exploration into the Southern Ocean.
Cook's third and final Pacific voyage (1776-1779), was as important for exploration of the North Pacific as the earlier two had been for the South. Following his successful discovery of the South Land, this voyage aimed to find a northwest passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Again, Cook commanded Resolution while Charles Clerke led Discovery. Leaving England in 1776, Cook first sailed south to Tahiti to return Omai, a Tahitian man, to his home. Omai had been taken on Cook's second voyage and had been an object of curiosity in London.JAMES KING'S JOURNAL
Cook sighted the Hawaiian islands in January 1778, becoming the first European to land there. They were named the 'Sandwich Islands' after the fourth Earl of Sandwich, Lord of the Admiralty.
After a year spent among the islands of the South Pacific, Cook sailed north to explore the northwest coast of America to the Arctic Circle. James King served as second lieutenant on this voyage, recording his observations from the voyage in his log and journal.COOK'S DEATH
Cook decided to return to Hawaii in 1779, a decision that would result in his own tragic death at Kealakekua Bay. Whilst initial relations between the Europeans and the Hawaiians had been friendly and peaceful, the genial atmosphere broke down after a series of thefts from the European stores.
Tensions came to a head on the night of the 13 February, when the Discovery's cutter boat was stolen. The following morning Cook, Lieutenant Molesworth Phillips and nine marines went ashore and attempted to take hostage Terreeoboo, the Hawaiian King.
This strategy of Cook's was intended to force the Hawaiians to return the cutter. However in the confusion, shots were fired and one of the high-ranking chiefs, Kalimu, was killed. The crowds on the shore responded in anger.
As Cook and the marines returned to their boats, they were attacked on the beach. Cook fired his gun and killed a Hawaiian warrior. In return, he was struck on the head by a club and speared by an iron dagger.JAMES BURNEY'S JOURNAL
First lieutenant on the Discovery, James Burney, recorded in his diary that 'the whole affair, from Capt'n Cook leaving the Resolution to the return of the boats, happened in the short space of one hour'.DAVID SAMWELL
In 1786, David Samwell, surgeon on the Discovery, published an account of Captain Cook's death in Hawaii.
'He was beloved by his people, who looked up to him as to a father, and obeyed his commands with alacrity. The confidence we placed in him was unremitting; our admiration of his great talents unbounded; our esteem for his good qualities affectionate and sincere.'
As well as an account of the tragic events, his book included an admiring character sketch of Cook himself and a medical description of the introduction of venereal disease to the Sandwich Islands.COOK'S MEMENTOS
James Cook’s widow, Elizabeth, treasured keepsakes of her husband long after his death. They included everyday items such as shoe buckles and drinking glasses, as well as mementoes of his travels, such as an unfinished waistcoast made of tapa cloth collected by Cook in Tahiti.
Many of these items were purchased by NSW Agent-General Sir Saul Samuel and sent back to Sydney to be added to the collections of the Australian Museum. In 1955 these items were transferred to the State Library of NSW to become part of the Mitchell Library's collection.
The Age of Discovery lasted from around the 15th to the 17th centuries. Exploration by the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French, German and British powers led to the rise of European colonies in far-flung parts of the world and opened up lucrative trade routes between the New World and the Old.
During this time, scientific methods of ocean navigation were refined and perfected. Sailors were trained in the use of scientific instruments, such as astrolabes, quadrants, octants and sextants.ARITHMETICAL TRIGONOMETRY
The term plane sailing refers to a basic method of navigation based on trigonometry, which is used to calculate short distances assuming the sea’s surface is flat (a plane).
Many young boys destined for a life at sea were trained in trigonometry, astronomy, meteorology and draughtsmanship as well as the use of the compass, parallel rules, octants and telescopes. These skills enabled sea captains and navigators not only to plot and set an accurate course using both scientific instruments and their observations of the skies, but also to create detailed nautical charts of the areas of sea and coast they explored.A NAVAL EXPOSITOR
As ships and the nautical industry grew in importance and became more sophisticated, understanding the terminology used on board ship was vital. Dictionaries and encyclopaedias of nautical terms became popular, not just for those involved in the industry, but for students and the general public interested in these voyages of discovery.THE FINAL PIECES
Exploration over several centuries by the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French, German and British powers led to the rise of European colonies in far-flung parts of the world and opened up lucrative trade routes between the New World and the Old.
It was the English explorer, Matthew Flinders who ultimately named our continent Australia on his map of 1804. In this naming, he was utilising an ancient term that had described the imagined southern landmass, Terra Australis Incognita. When Captain James Cook returned from his exploration of the southern Pacific Ocean and reported that no huge southern continent existed, the name Terra Australis or Australia was then applied to the continent of New Holland.