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Le Passage du Nord-Ouest et la Mer de l'Ouest dans la Cartographie française du 18e Siècle, Contribution à l'Etude de l'Oeuvre des Delisle et Buache

Lucie Lagarde
Imago Mundi
Vol. 41 (1989), pp. 19-43
Published by: Imago Mundi, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1151128
Page Count: 25
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Le Passage du Nord-Ouest et la Mer de l'Ouest dans la Cartographie française du 18e Siècle, Contribution à l'Etude de l'Oeuvre des Delisle et Buache
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Abstract

This is a study of the contribution of French cartographers to the problem of the North-West Passage and the Western Sea. This Western Sea, drawn as a gulf in the Southern Sea (or Pacific Ocean) to the north of the Californian peninsula, was created by the cartographers Claude (1644-1720) and Guillaume Delisle (1675-1726) and was based upon the native accounts contained in the Jesuit "Relations" of 1669. Adjoining the region of lakes and river, this sea would have permitted easy access to the Southern Sea. The Delisles had never shown the Western Sea on their printed maps, yet they were shown on their manuscript documents. Thanks to the action they brought in 1710 against the cartographer Nolin, one may infer in all probability that it was a political reason which caused them not to publish their invention. One of their informants, Father Jean Bobé (1654-1735), published himself an account of the Western Sea which was accompanied by a very curious map. Until his death in 1726 Guillaume Delisle continued his researches into the cartography of these regions, but he was unable to prove the truth of his hypothesis. His brother, Joseph-Nicolas Delisle (1688-1768), who had returned from Russia in 1747, brought an apochryphal letter from Admiral de Fonte to the attention of the Royal Academy of Science: this indeed concluded that there was a possibility of a passage by water from the Pacific Ocean to Hudson Bay. This letter had been published in London in 1708; from 1735 onwards it gave rise to English expeditions to these regions. Joseph-Nicolas Delisle, who was convinced of its authenticity, published commentaries and maps (1751, 1753). He linked the discoveries of de Fonte to his brother Guillaume's drawing of the Western Sea and thus traced a supposed coastline of western America for the whole length of the Pacific Ocean. His nephew Philippe Buache (1700-1773) tried, in his turn, to prove the reality of the discoveries of de Fonte in his "Considérations Géographiques," 1753-1755, which was accompanied by eleven maps. Buache's nephew, Jean-Nicolas Buache de La Neuville (1741-1825), took up the argument: he insisted that La Pérouse had also sought this passage in 1786. Finally, Vancouver, after three expeditions (1792-1794), was able to confirm that there was no such passage.

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