A Draught of the South Land: Mapping New Zealand from Tasman to Cook. Paul Moon. 2023

A Draught of the South Land: Mapping New Zealand from Tasman to Cook. Paul Moon. 2023

Moon, Paul. 
A Draught of the South Land: Mapping New Zealand from Tasman to Cook
The Lutterworth Press. 
ISBN 9780718897215. 
240 pages. 

From the first known visit of a European navigator, Abel Tasman, in 1642, until the arrival off the coast of New Zealand by James Cook in 1769, and the subsequent publication of his work, New Zealand was depicted as just a few lines on various published maps.  Paul Moon is a noted historian with a strong track record.  In his latest publication he describes the evolution of various ideas and theories about the possibility of a southern continent that Tasman’s basic coastline suggests.  In this detailed account Moon takes the reader through the story of the efforts of various cartographers to put New Zealand on the map.  The narrative then moves to the story of Cook and his charting of the islands of New Zealand.

Professor Paul Moon is an accomplished historian from the University of Auckland.  His academic record in his field is exemplary.  This latest work is a splendid and appropriate addition to his body of work.  This is no dusty academic paper, though the detail it contains and the extensive bibliography (running to 24 pages) will undoubtedly make it an essential resource for those studying this subject.  The narrative moves swiftly along aided by Moon’s extremely readable text and his colourful turn of phrase. 

Moon does not just dive into his topic; he sets the scene with chapters on the development of cartography, and one about the Dutch East India Company (known by the initials VOC from its Dutch name).  Moon suggests that “Exploration has always been an appetite that grows with the eating”, as states and companies sought to discover opportunities for expansion or commerce.  “Maps”, says Moon, “did not just plot the course of Dutch commercial expansion”.  He notes that they led the way.  The early history of the mapping of New Zealand is entwined with the history of the VOC.

The 17th century map-maker Hessel Gerritsz is introduced at the start of the book, along with the confidentiality agreement that he had with the VOC, and the heavy penalties he faced should any information be published without the approval of the VOC Directors.  Gerritsz died 10 years before Tasman’s expedition was launched.  Presciently, the directors had recruited Willem Janszoon Blaeu and his son, Joan, who managed a team of cartographers to work on the ever-growing cartographic resources.  All of them worked under conditions of great secrecy.

Tasman’s history with the VOC is related with his rise from sailor to captain, and then to his position in command of two small ships Heemskerk and Zeehaen in an expedition from Batavia to the fabled South Land.  The expedition was hastily put together, sailing initially to Mauritius, where they stored up and repaired their ships.  The Governor of the island gave Tasman a collection of maps and charts, some useful, some not!  They included a chart of the “South Sea” based on Gerritsz’s 1622 work.

Tasman anchored off Farewell Spit on the north­west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It was here that “the commencement of the long catalogue of misunderstandings and misplaced efforts at bridging a vast cultural gulf that separated the two peoples“ occurred.  Four of Tasman’s men were killed by the Māori, leading to a hasty departure.  His experiences at “Murderers Bay” (now Golden Bay/Mohua) deterred Tasman from landing as he sailed northwards, and the sight of Māori when he arrived at Three Kings Islands/Manawatāwhi, with the aim of replenishing his stocks of water and food, led to the fleet sailing away from New Zealand.

Tasman’s instructions required the production of detailed maps and descriptive texts, although Moon notes that Tasman’s records were somewhat sparse.  The data were handed over when the ships finally returned to Batavia, and were despatched to the Netherlands soon afterwards.  It was Joan Blaeu who first published Tasman’s sketchy New Zealand coastline.  It was also Blaeu who replaced Tasman’s “Staten Land” with “Zeelandia Nova”, the name later being anglicised to ‘New Zealand’.

Moon turns his attention to England, noting that in the latter part of the 17th century, the partial map of New Zealand “remained Stagnant”, though mention of New Zealand (including Tasman’s encounters with the locals) started to appear.

Various depictions of New Zealand appeared in English maps of the late 17th and early 18th centuries.  Some were little more than straight lines, others fancifully crinkled, falsely suggesting greater knowledge.  Moon notes that there were “so many incarnations of images of New Zealand” that the source of the information from which cartographers drew their own images is impossible to determine.

The Royal Society had been founded in 1660, and a hundred years later proposed an expedition to the Pacific to observe the transit of Venus.  Making it clear that the Society had no funding for the venture, it sought some from the government.  King George III enthusiastically backed the idea, with the British Admiralty organising the expedition, and the Royal Society hiring astronomical observers to accompany it.

The story of the machinations involved in setting up the ships, and the personalities involved, are well-known to Captain Cook Society members.  They are well-covered in the book, as is the story of Endeavour’s arrival off the east coast of New Zealand, and the subsequent encounter with Māori (like Tasman’s, a “typically clumsy” interaction between two cultures).

In December 1769, a French expedition under the command of Jean-Francois Marie de Surville was off the northern-most coast of New Zealand, fighting a severe storm that was also battering Cook.  The two ships passed reasonably close to each other, and it is a matter of some speculation discussed in other publications, particularly that of Mike Lee,1 as to whether they would have been able to see each other had the weather been more clement.  Although the visit was short and interrupted, efforts were made to chart the coast of New Zealand and four coastal charts of parts of the North Island still exist.

After the storm, Cook sailed around the north of the island, and down the west coast, mapping and commenting about the coastline as he did so.  As he met local people, he was assiduous in determining local names for features; the Māori were obviously knowledgeable about areas other than their immediate locality.

On his return to England, Cook learned that the Admiralty had realised that it was impossible to maintain strict secrecy over the results of the voyage and had decided to publish widely the information contained in the charts and journals.

Twenty seven of Cook’s original drawings have survived.  Nineteen of these are completed maps with colourwash, placenames, ships’ tracks, and lines of latitude and longitude.  Three of the drawings are draft charts that literally illustrate how Cook went about producing his maps.  Moon describes in readily understandable terms the techniques that Cook would have used in producing these drafts.  “Mapping New Zealand was”, how­ever, “very much a joint venture”, with many of the ship’s officers contributing to the slowly developing knowledge and depiction of the country. 

John Hawkesworth was tasked with producing the official account of the voyage.  The result was seen in some circles as disappointing, given that only four small, but detailed, maps of parts of the country, and a map of New Zealand as a whole, were included.

In his conclusion, Moon notes that “it was with the publication of Cook’s map in 1773 that [the form of New Zealand], which had remained fluid for around 130 years was finally fixed”.

This is a comprehensive and readable book that will be welcomed by Cook enthusiasts and map collectors alike.

Larry Robbins


  1. Lee, Michael.  Navigators & Naturalists: French Exploration of New Zealand and the South Seas (1769-1824).  David Bateman Limited.  2018.  Reviewed in Cook’s Log.  2019.  Vol. 42, no. 2  Pages 39-42

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 12, volume 46, number 4 (2023).

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