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Papua New Guinea / German Colonization: Die deutschen Besitzungen in West-Polynesien. Entworfen von Bruno Hassenstein.



A very rare broadside that is one of the earliest maps to show the new German colonial ‘Besitzungen’ (possessions) in New Guinea, created by the eminent cartographer Bruno Hassenstein from the best sources newly arrived from the field, and published by Justus Perthes, Germany’s leading map house.


Colour lithograph (Very Good, just some light toning), 46.5 x 56 cm (18.5 x 22 inches).


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New Guinea was first encountered by Spanish mariners in the 16th Century, but its reef-guarded coastlines, impenetrable jungle and the hostility of some its indigenous peoples (including Head Hunters!) ensured that it was one of the last non-polar places on Earth to be colonized by Europeans.  While Europeans occasionally reconnoitred and traded along its coasts over the succeeding centuries, they avoided setting down roots.

This all changed in the 1880s, during perhaps the most comprehensive period of colonialism, when various European powers were obsessed with claiming every square inch of the globe.  In 1883, the British colony of Queensland, Australia, declared Papua (the southeastern quarter of the island) to be a part of the British Empire, and proceeded to set up outposts that would form the basis of British New Guinea.  This move was reluctantly and belatedly embraced by Westminster, which dreaded the cost of carrying the colony.  The Dutch claim to the western half of New Guinea (later Irian Jaya) was considered secure, even if little was done to advance it on the ground.

Meanwhile, Germany, which had only been unified in 1871, began to project its power all around the world, with private trading companies gaining a fixed presence in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region.  It was not long before these players turned their gaze towards the islands of New Britain and New Ireland, adjacent to the coasts of northeast New Guinea.  Notably, from 1876 to 1883, the Hamburg firm of Hernsheim & Co. founded several trading posts on the northern part of New Britain’s Gazelle Peninsula.  Further bases were established near the northern tip of New Ireland.  The trade in tropical commodities (notably palm products), which were very much valued by Germany’s highly industrialized economy, was brisk and lucrative.

The German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was initially opposed to Germany gaining overseas possessions, believing them to be costly distractions to the nation’s ambitions in Europe.  However, as many of the main investors in Africa and New Guinea were also his leading political supporters, he reluctantly agreed to authorize Germany to make certain lands ‘schuztgebeit’ (protectorates), colonies in all but name.  He insisted, however, that private concerns should bear the responsibility for administering and paying for the colonies.

On November 3, 1884, The Germans moved by stealth to formally declare northeastern New Guinea and the adjacent islands of New Britain and New lreland, etc., to be a schutzgebeit called Deutsche Neuguinea.  The colony was to be governed by a private chartered company, the Deutsche Neuguinea-Compagnie (German New Guinea Company).

This move angered the Australians, who resented the German presence in their neighbourhood, although Whitehall was ambivalent, so allowing Berlin’s designs to proceed.  This is where the present map enters the scene.

The map is one of the first to depict the new German ‘Besitzungen’ (possessions), published in early 1885, not long after news of Germany’s formal claim to the area was made public.  It was created by the eminent cartographer Bruno Hassenstein from the best sources newly arrived from the field, and published by Justus Perthes, Germany’s leading map house.  Perthes maintained privileged ties to the German government and overseas commercial concerns, so often had the beat on breaking carto-geographic news.

The well composed map shows that many of the coastal areas of New Guinea to be well mapped, although its interior remained an almost complete enigma (and it would remain so for many years to come!), while the coasts of New Britain and New Ireland beyond the areas close to the German settlements were still ill defined.  However, the topographic details that are known, such as rivers, headlands and mountains, are executed with great care.

Areas claimed by Germany are coloured in orange, by Britain shaded in pink and by the Netherlands, coloured green.  The map shows that no German posts had yet been established on New Guinea proper, while the numerous outposts in northern New Britain northern New Ireland are named and underlined in orange.  The inset, ‘Die deutschen Faktoreien in Neu-Britannien’, on the right side, details the German settlements on the Gazelle Peninsula, while the inset along the ‘Europäischer Kolonialbesitz im westlichen Polynesien 1885’ depicts the area within its greater context.

The present map was separately issued as part of series of cartographic broadsides of German colonies, called the ‘Justus Perthes’ Kolonial Karten’; it is No. 3 of the series.  The broadside was composed by Bruno Hassenstein (1839 – 1902), a highly esteemed specialist on colonial cartography and a protégé of the legendary mapmaker August Petermann; long associated with the Perthes firm.  Capping a career in which he revealed many of the most important African explorers’ discoveries, in 1891, Hassenstein was awarded the Karl Ritter Medal, Germany’s highest geography prize.


A Note on Rarity

The present broadside is very rare.  We can trace only around half a dozen or so institutional examples, while we are not aware of any sales records.



Shortly after the present map was issued, the Germans renamed their quarter of New Guinea proper as Kaiser-Wilhelmsland, after Wilhelm II, and rechristened the islands to the north as the Bismarck Archipelago, with New Britain being renamed Neupommern (New Pommerania) and New Ireland as Neumecklenburg (New Mecklenburg).

Over the succeeding years, many of the German commercial firms invested in New Guinea made good profits from tropical commodities; however, in realizing Bismarck’s fears, the German government soon found itself on the hook for much of the colony’s defense and administrative costs.  Deutsche Neuguinea suffered from chronic labour shortages which prevented the colony from being a great success, while the Germans’ relations with the native tribes deteriorated as time wore on.

In 1914, at the beginning of World War I, Australian forces quickly seized control of German New Guinea, placing the zone under their military governance.   The Treaty of Versailles (1919), which ended the war, placed North East New Guinea under Australian guardianship, via a League of Nations mandate.  The Australian regime progressively extended their control over parts of the island, although much of the interior remained under the practical auspices of indigenous powers.

During World War II, New Guinea and its associated islands saw much fighting between Australian and Japanese forces, with the former being victorious and reasserting its control.  Under Australian administration the two zones of eastern New Guinea were united to form ‘Papua New Guinea’ in 1949.  Papua New Guinea gained its independence from Australia in 1975.

References: Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin: Kart. R 23850; University of Chicago Library: G8160 1885.H3;  OCLC: 933255727, 243694321, 246594616.  Cf. Robert Linke, ‘The influence of German surveying on the development of New Guinea’ (Session Paper), XXIII FIG Congress (Munich, Germany), October 8-13, 2006.

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