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CHINA, TAIWAN, KOREA and JAPAN: A Map of the Sea Coasts of China from Tonquin to Corea, also of the Islands of Japon.



A rare and unusual map of coastal China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan made by the Scottish adventurer and privateer Alexander Hamilton.

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This rare and curious map of coastal China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan was made by Alexander Hamilton, a larger-than-life Scottish adventurer, privateer and pirate-hunter, who spent 35-years in Asian waters as an affiliate of the English East India Company (EIC).  The map is of a very unusual style that was seemingly influenced by the sea charts made by the ‘Thames School’ of cartographers in London who operated in the second half of the 17th Century and were closely associate with the EIC (as a long time EIC affiliate Hamilton was almost certainly familiar with their work).  The coastlines are delineated in a somewhat stylized manner, with major ports and cities of interest labelled, while the interior is mostly left intentionally blank.  The large quarter compass rose is a signature feature of manuscript sea charts, such as those done by the Thames School.

China’s coasts are shown from southern Guangdong, labelled here as ‘Quantung’, northwards, with the ‘Canton R.’ and ‘Maccoa’ (Macao) labelled, along with the old Portuguese names for various coastal features.  Further north, is Fujian, labelled here as ‘Foquin’, which features the port of ‘Amoy’.  Further north still, is labelled ‘Chequian’ (Zhejiang) with ‘Limpo’ (Ningbo) and ‘Xantung’ (Shandong), while ‘Nankin’ (Nanking) appears in the interior.

Taiwan is labelled a ‘Formosa I’, while the city of Taoyuan is labelled as ‘Teywan’.

Korea is shown in partial outline, seemingly as a peninsula, and is labelled as ‘Corea unknown’.  Indeed, during this period the Joseon Dynasty of Korea absolutely forbade Westerners from visiting their country, making it one of the last major coastal nations to remain an almost complete enigma to Europeans.

Turing to Japan, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu are easily identifiable to the modern observer, although Hamilton makes a mistake common to many contemporary Westerners in misidentifying Kyushu as ‘Chicoco’ (Shikoku, which is here labelled as ‘Tonsa’).  Major cities are labelled, such as ‘Nanguesaak’ (Nagasaki), ‘Osacca’ (Osaka) and, of course ‘Jedo’ (Yedo, modern Tokyo), which is pictographically represented.  Hokkaido is partially depicted, far distant from the northern tip of Honshu and is labelled as ‘The Coast of Eso unknown’.

Captain Alexander Hamilton (fl. 1688 – 1733) was a Scottish adventurer, merchant, privateer and pirate-hunter.  He spent the years 1688 to 1723 largely based out of India, but often sailing throughout the Indian Ocean, Southeast and East Asia.  The present map appeared in the first edition of his highly entertaining and informative memoir of his time in Asia, written while he was in retirement in Scotland, A New Account of the East Indies: being the observations and remarks of Capt. Alexander Hamilton, who spent his time there from the year 1688 to 1723, trading and travelling, by sea and land, to most of the countries and islands of commerce and navigation, between the cape of Good-hope, and the island of Japon, 2 vols. (Edinburgh, J. Mosman, 1727).

In his book, Hamilton recounts his early years as privateer off of the Barbary Coast and the West Indies.  In 1688, he arrived to Bombay, then the main British base in India, and indeed all of Asia.  He was briefly pressed into military service by the EIC during Child’s War (1686-90), the Company’s ill-fated contest against the Mughal Empire.  After that, he went out on his own as a free agent merchant mariner and privateer, scouring the seas for opportunities, based out of the port of Surat (Gujarat).  He made frequent trips to Southeast and East Asia and traded out of Canton, China, sailing as far as Nagasaki, Japan.  The EIC authorities were impressed by his skills, and in 1717 they appointed him to become the Commander of the Bombay Marine, where he spent the next six years suppressing the fierce pirates of the Konkan Coast.  In 1723, he returned home to Scotland to write his memoirs and is last recorded as being active in 1733.

The present map is quite rare, as is Hamilton’s A New Account of the East Indies.  We cannot trace another example of the map appearing individually on the market during the last 20 years.

References: Walter Lutz, Japan: A Cartographic Vision, no. 75, p. 219.

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