Mapping Sentiment and Expectations: Itinerary Maps and Western Visions of Spanish America

by Jordana Dym

After pulling most of South and Central America into imperial orbit in the sixteenth century, Spanish authorities spent three centuries attempting to keep European rivals away. As a result, many Europeans’ initial views of the region derived largely from seafaring travelers’ maps of Spanish America that depict the region as a destination to be experienced around the edges, by ‘cruising,’ ports along the coasts and organizing extraction of knowledge and resources. The expectations first set up in coastal cartography from the centuries of conquest, colonization, and extraction (1500-1750) are redeployed, reimagined and repurposed by passengers and cruise lines as cartographic tropes three hundred years later (1800-1930). The social imaginaries of the modern period, through humor, personalization and illustration powerfully perpetuate rather than dismantle ‘imperial eyes’ visions of the region.

Carte reduite pour l’intelligence dun Voyage de la Mer du Sud,…

Carte reduite pour l’intelligence dun Voyage de la Mer du Sud,… Amédée Frézier. 1716. Image courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Amédée Frézier sailed in 1712-1714 on the St Joseph for the French government on a mission of reconnaissance (or espionage, depending on your point of view) with orders to measure and map harbors and defenses along South America’s Pacific Coast. On his return, his travel account opened with this map opposite the title page testifying to the mission’s imperial ambitions. Frézier’s scientific bona fides are displayed in his signature as a military engineer (ingénieur ordinaire du roi), while the dominating compass rose, magnetic variation lines, and voyage tracks highlight France’s marine capabilities. Combined with Frézier’s meticulously measured harbor plans and relief views of the coastline included in the volume, the cartography communicates France’s potential to challenge Spain on its American soil, if needed.

[Chart Showing the Track of the Yacht "Sunbeam" in The trades, the tropics, & the roaring forties. Lady Annie Brassey, 1885.]

In the nineteenth century, the sun rarely set on the British empire or its globetrotting subjects as cruising changed from navigational requirement to leisure activity. This folding map introduces Annie Brassey’s third account of a family trip on their private steam-assisted three-mast schooner, “Sunbeam,” following their eleven-month circumnavigation (1878) and shorter Mediterranean travel (1880). Mapmaker Eric Weller’s ‘track chart’ built from Sunbeam’s log shows each day’s position along the 14,000 miles sailed. The trail starts with husband and captain Tom’s ‘lonely’ sail (with a crew of 29) from Malta to pick up the family in Madeira and continues with the cruise to and around the Caribbean and back to England. In this transitional map-chart, the portolan focus on the ocean, in which the Americas are less destination than stopping point, relegates land to the edges. Almost an afterthought, the historically evocative illustrations—including a compass rose, sea monsters, and sailing ship and the four vignettes of Caribbean residents placed in the largest available white space (in Africa)—visually recall maps of the age of discovery, a theme framed explicitly in the frontispiece and dedication. Lady Brassey and the Sunbeam take their place alongside noted navigators and scientists from Columbus to Darwin on a journey that may be the first private vessel’s leisure cruise to the Caribbean.

Chart South American Cruise on ye Good Shippe "Laconia"

Please note that this image's quality is intentionally reduced. To view the image, click here.

By the twentieth century, popular cruises attracted leisure travelers content to put into major South American ports and do a bit of sightseeing. ‘Sea charts’ for these passengers could adapt to provide an ad hoc history lesson while entertaining. Prepared to promote a 130-day cruise on the Cunard RMS “Laconia,” this 1927 map ignores contemporary marvels, including the recently-opened Panama Canal (1914) and Franconia’s recent navigational accomplishment, the first 22-port around-the-world cruise (November 1922 - March 1923). Instead, the planned route appears alongside the tracks and activities of Columbus (3d voyage, 1498), Magellan (1520), Drake (1577), Cook (1768) and the route of the “plate shippes” bringing silver from Peru through Panama to Spain.

Showing South America open for entertainment, the map casually combines fact and fiction, history and commerce, in well-researched but eclectic “pictorial illustrations after ye early cartographers”. Early map references abound: Patagonian giants, ‘men without heads,’ and Amazons roam land while ‘ye flying fishes,’ galleons, Neptune and ‘sea monsters’ fill the seas’ blank spaces. Warren C. Shearman, a collector of historical English and American rare books, maps, and manuscripts, is credited with the pictorial illustrations.

The vessel (pictured below) later, tragically, shared many galleons’ fate; she was sunk at sea in conflict, bombed by a German U-boat as she transported Italian POWs in the South Atlantic during World War II.