Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Great Unknown

One of our favorite maps in the collection is woefully incomplete. "The General Chart Showing the Track of H. M. Ships Hecla & Griper," from William Parry's Journal of a Voyage for the Discovery of a North-West Passage (London: John Murray, 1821) has huge blank spaces. There are no sea monsters or interesting decorative elements to fill in the Great Unknown, just empty space with an imposed grid of latitude and longitude.

The map demonstrates how little was known of the polar regions at the time. Some theorized they would find an open Polar sea while others anticipated ice filled channels leading to the Bering Straits.  Competing theories advanced the idea that land would block the way through.

Seeing this map makes the perilous journeys seeking a Northwest Passage all the more real. Not only were the explorers headed into ice with wooden hulled sailing vessels, they also had no idea what to expect as they charted the unknown.

To see the map, ask for Stef G650 1819 P151.

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