A new acquisition by the National Library in Canberra sheds light on how seafarers survived without modern navigational equipment.
The great southern land had yet to be mapped, but the southern skies had already been extensively charted when Captain James Cook was sailing across the Pacific Ocean.
A rare version of the celestial atlas he had on board the Endeavour has been added to the National Library’s map collection.
We continue to marvel at modern sailors, even though they take to the seas with all manner of GPS technology, communications devices and electrical gear.
Imagine doing it with only the stars for guidance.
The atlas Cook used in his transit of Venus and southern hemisphere explorations was drawn by the first British Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed.
Curator of maps at the National Library, Martin Woods, says when it appeared, the ‘Atlas Coelestis’, or ‘Atlas of the Heavens’, set a new standard in accuracy.
“It contained more stars than previous atlases, it utilised a very precise grid and its star positions were based on telescopic observations which Flamsteed had painstakingly checked and re-checked over the course of his 43-year career as the First Astronomer Royal of England,” said Dr Woods.
“The ‘Atlas Coelestis’ is one of the ‘big four’ star atlases to come out of Europe’s golden age of celestial cartography, a period which spanned roughly 1600 to 1800 and which coincided with the European discovery, charting and early settlement of Australia.”
The National Library already possesses a copy of ‘Uranometria’ by Johann Bayer, an atlas published in 1603 that was the first star atlas to document the skies of the Southern Hemisphere.