National treasure on show at SA Maritime Museum

A ‘national treasure’, Arnold Colom’s Zee-atlas, will take pride of place in the South Australian Maritime Museum’s new exhibition First Voyages:  Exploring the Southern Coast from Wednesday 28 August.

The extremely rare Dutch atlas will join other priceless artefacts already showcased in the exhibition including the first European charts of Australia, souvenirs from James Cook’s Endeavour voyage, and the plaque Matthew Flinders left at Memory Cove to mark the loss of members of his crew.   

The Zee-atlas, ofte water-wereldt, or Sea atlas of the water world was created by Arnold Colom (1624 to 1668) who was an engraver living in Amsterdam.  It is embossed in gold and bound in vellum, with eighteen stunning hand-coloured maps.  They include one of the earliest charts of the Indian Ocean and Western Australia.  The National Library of Australia lists this volume as one of the nation's treasures.

The Zee-atlas was not successful when first published.  Colom fell behind in his rent, and was forced to give the map printing plates to his landlord and rival publisher, Nicolas Visscher, as security.  Visscher published his major work, Atlas minor sive geographia compendiosa in 1690.  

On loan from the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia, it will be installed in the Museum just as the Dutch tall ships arrive in Port Adelaide on Wednesday 28 August.  Those visiting the tall ships event and the Museum’s own Festival of Maritime Trades on Saturday 31 August will be among the first to see this cartographic masterpiece.