by Dr. Jaime C. Laya
A Chart of the China Sea and Philippine Islands… by Robert Carr (1734) shows the shoals, reefs, and islands on Luzon and Palawan’s west coasts, including those within China’s nine-dash line. Other maps and charts detail coastlines of major islands, Manila Bay, Subic Bay, and principal ports and add profiles of mountain ranges as viewed from the sea. The Sulu Archipelago and Zamboanga shorelines were surveyed extensively during the 19th century, probably in connection with Spanish military campaigns in Mindanao (“Moro War”).
The British were busy during their occupation of Manila in 1762 to 1964 not only in fighting (per British sources) and looting (per Spanish sources) but also in survey work. William Nichelson’s exceptionally large and detailed Chart of Manila Bay (London, 1764) shows water depth at hundreds of spots from the China Sea beyond Corregidor and along the Cavite coastline all the way to Manila, Bulacan, and Pampanga.
Nichelson’s chart also provides practical tips. A line connecting “a rock with a hole thro‘ it” on the northwestern tip of Corregidor and the steeple of the Cavite church avoids San Nicolas Shoal off Ternate and is good for “a large Ship’s Anchoring in Cavite Road.” It also shows a fresh water source on Corregidor (“Horadada Sta. Amalia”), states that the island’s semaphore flashes white and red signals every 10 seconds, and that there are “High Trees at the Entrance of Rio de Cano [a Cavite river], by which it may be known.”
Similarly, the 1821 New Chart of the China Sea by J.W. Norie (London, 1807) is so helpful as to suggest a route to Canton for “Leaky Vessels during the strength of the S.W. Monsoon [habagat],” the Palawan Passage which is “best when late in the season” and the alternative route through the Sea of Mindoro to be used “after the middle of November during the N.W. Monsoon [amihan].
Older maps have decorative compass roses, rhumb lines, and flourishes like Coats of Arms and allegorical figures; galleons, Chinese junks, pirate ships; mermaids, and fantastic sea monsters; saints and cherubs; terrain, flora, and fauna (crocodiles were a favorite); natives and their boats.
The 1734 Murillo-Velarde map stands out with 12 vignettes, consisting of scenes of rural and urban life and maps of Guam, Manila, Cavite, and Zamboanga. Manila was cosmopolitan with Spaniards (one shaded by an umbrella-bearer), Chinese, Armenians, Indians, Africans. A rural scene, however, shows a python (sawá) hanging on a tree, hauling up its baboy damó lunch. The smaller 1744 edition has San Francisco Javiér on a seashell pulled by seahorses. He was thought to have visited the Philippines and is shown holding a cross that he had lost at sea and that was retrieved by a large crab.
It was a long and interesting journey from Pigafetta to the Treaty of Paris. Go see the exhibit, but if your eyes are anything like mine, bring a flashlight and magnifying glass to enjoy all the intriguing details.
Notes: (a) “Mapping the Philippine Seas” is at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila within the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas compound on Roxas Boulevevard from March 14 to April 29, 2017. The exhibit contains 165 maps lent by private collectors, most of whom are PHIMCOS members, and by the GSIS Museo ng Sining. The Selden Map is an official reproduction courtesy of the Bodleian Library, Oxford University; (b) A compass rose is a figure that points North, East, South, and West and intermediate points; and (c) A rhumb line is a navigational tool drawn in maps describing an arc crossing all meridians of longitude at the same angle, i.e. a path with constant bearing as measured relative to true or magnetic north; and (d) a Globe gore is a part of a map that is meant to be attached to a ball or globe thus creating a globular rather than a flat map.
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