A good map can take you just about anywhere

Has there ever been a more evocative name than the Summer Isles? Islands where summer lasts for many months, and where a month or so of cool rain serves only to enhance the rest of the year? No matter that the name is really a corruption of Sir George Somers, who commanded the ill-fated Sea Venture in 1609, and no matter that the name was rejected centuries ago. When people ask why I collect Bermuda maps, I try to explain that it is because these maps keep me in touch with that enchanted place of incredible beauty. I cherish the memories of more than 30 visits over the past 42 years. I cherish the topography, the temperature, and the tempo of life. I don�t pay much attention to friends who smile and talk knowingly about the psychopathology of map collecting.

[Map images courtesy of the author.]
Figure 1. G. Blaeu�Mappa Aestivarum Insularum alias Bermudas...Amstelodami. First printed in 1630, this is considered by some to be the finest map of Bermuda.

Collecting maps is an addictive hobby for many people. A few years ago, frustrated by the rising prices and short supply of Bermuda maps, I proposed that their popularity was due simply to the large number of people who have visited Bermuda and have recognized that there is something magical about this very civil place that gives one the impression of being in a large, well-tended garden. In addition, I proposed the somewhat metaphysical reason that the island�s shape just happens to approach that of a logarithmic spiral�a shape that is pervasive in nature and that has for centuries been associated with the golden section (also called the divine proportion), which is the ratio of 1 to 1.618�a concept that has influenced ancient, medieval, Renaissance, and modern architecture and art, and which is believed by some to be a universal measure of beauty. Whatever the reasons, maps of Bermuda are becoming increasingly scarce. In 1979 I saw the 1682 Bermuda map of van Keulen in Chicago and did not buy it because the price was $500; last year I saw a copy in London priced at the equivalent of about $13,000� roughly a 26-fold increase in 20 years. I wish my investments had done so well.

Like much of the world, Bermuda has been mapped for many purposes. There have been maps to show property ownership, types of commerce, navigation routes, tourism sites, and meteorological and oceanographic studies. There have been maps of great artistic beauty, as well as maps of conspicuous ugliness. In essence, the mapping of Bermuda has been a microcosm of the progress, triumphs, and failures of cartography.


Old maps reveal much about early exploration, and when exploration is discussed, it is inevitable to ask who did it first and when. While scholars long believed that the Spanish explorer Juan de Bermudez did not sail the Atlantic until after 1511, it is now known that Bermudez discovered Bermuda during an obscure voyage in 1505. The untitled map appears for the first time in Legatio Babilonica of Peter Martyr (published in 1511) where �la bermuda� (printed upside down) is shown adjacent to an island in its northeast corner.

This map is not illustrated in any of the three editions of Margaret Palmer�s indispensable Printed Maps of Bermuda, a fact that has caused considerable confusion since Palmer, a highly respected authority, said that Giacomo Gastaldi�s 1548 map was first. The references to �significant dates� in each edition of Palmer all include the line: �1511 Bermuda appears in Legatio Babylonica [sic] by Peter Martyr.� Without saying so, Palmer appears to recognize Martyr�s map, but was unable to reconcile it with her belief that Bermudez did not sail the Atlantic until some time after 1511. Today, however, there seems to be little doubt that Martyr�s 1511 map came first and that Gastaldi�s 1548 map was second.

[Map images courtesy of the author.]
Figure 2. The island that isn�t there. Introduced in 1626 by John Speed, this extra �Bermudas Insul� off the north coast of Bermuda was copied by at least 14 cartographers almost to the beginning of the 19th century.

The first written record of Bermuda, by Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Vald�s in his 1526 La Natural Historia de las Indias, appeared in a compilation of the first three books on America written in English, published about 1555. The passage refers to a voyage Oviedo took in 1515:

In the yeare. A thousand fyue hundreth fiftene...I sayled aboue the Iland of Bermuda otherwise cauled Garza [Heron], beynge the furtheste of all the Ilandes that are founde at thys daye in the worlde....

Oviedo rambled on in the tedious style of the time about the ship being unable to set ashore �certayne hogges for increase,� a practice aimed at providing fresh food should the ship ever come that way again. He told of flying fishes attacked from the water by �gylte heades� and from the air by �seamewes� and cormorants, but otherwise did not say much.

Few 16th century maps showed Bermuda as more than a featureless blob. It was a place spoken of as �The Isle of the Devils,� with deadly ship-killing reefs. Beside the Martyr and Gestaldi maps, only three others, all by Girolamo Ruscelli, show Bermuda. The first of these, dated 1561, was closely based on Gastaldi�s map, but his later maps (1574 and 1599) were decorated with a sailing ship, a sea monster, and several additional islands. And none showed Bermuda in its proper location.

Bermuda was so often misplaced on sea charts that today some people actually collect maps showing �floating� Bermudas. One recent analysis of the 1561 Ruscelli map points out that some scholars believe the Spanish purposely misrepresented the location of Bermuda and other islands to confuse rival adventurers. Another reason may have been that, prior to the development of an accurate nautical chronometer, the accurate determination of longitude at sea was impossible. Early sailors could easily determine latitude by measuring the altitude of the noonday sun and relating it to its known position for that day, but even approximating longitude at sea was difficult until relatively recent times. As pointed out by Dava Sobel in her 1995 best seller, Longitude,

For lack of a practical method of determining longitude, every great captain in the Age of Exploration became lost at sea despite the best available charts and compasses....(t)hey all got where they were going willy-nilly, by forces attributed to good luck or the Grace of God.

[Map images courtesy of the author.]
Figure 3. This extraordinary map, Le Isole Bermude by Antonio Zatta, appeared in the titlepiece of Zatta�s 1778 Le Colonie Unite dell America Settentrle.

But even after the problem of determining longitude accurately was solved, national pride and force of habit stood in the way of the designation of a single prime meridian. At one time or another the ancient Greek geographers insisted on the farthest land then known to the West (The Canaries); the Arabians took the farthest side of Africa to the West; a majority of Europeans used Ferro (Isle de Fer, or Hierro, as the Spanish, who own it, prefer), the most westerly of the Canaries; some used the Azores; and the French used Paris. Not to be left out, in 1809 William Lambert proposed to our Congress that the United States should have a First Meridian of its own since the calculation of longitude from the meridian of a foreign nation implied a degrading dependence unworthy of the freedom and sovereignty of the American people and their government.

In the latter half of the 18th century, Nevil Maskelyne, England�s fifth astronomer royal, moved the prime meridian to Greenwich, seven miles from the center of London. Using his Nautical Almanac, sailors began to calculate their longitude from Greenwich, and in 1884 the International Meridian Conference in Washington, DC, voted to declare the Greenwich Meridian the prime meridian of the world. Finally a reliable chronometer had been built and a single meridian agreed upon, enabling sailors to know precisely where they were.

Over the years, Bermuda maps have indicated longitude from the Isle de Fer, from Washington, from Paris, from London, and lately from Greenwich. Many maps, particularly those of the 17th century, have no indication of longitude for Bermuda.

After Oviedo�s 1526 mention of Bermuda, the next written account was that of Henry May, who was aboard a French warship that was wrecked there in December 1593. May lingered for only the five months it took him and the other survivors to build an 18-ton cedar ship, in which they sailed to Newfoundland. From there he made his way to England in August 1594, and published an account of his adventures, describing Bermuda as a group of many islands rather than the single island as had been previously supposed.


A few years later, the wreck of Sir George Somers� Sea Venture set in motion a profound turnabout in the fortunes of Bermuda. On July 28, 1609, an expedition of nine ships carrying about 500 colonists sent by the Virginia Company of London to the colony in Jamestown, Virginia, encountered a violent storm (very probably an early-season hurricane). The flagship foundered off the east end of what today is St. George�s Parish. This inauspicious event led to the British colonization of Bermuda in 1612, when the Virginia Company sent Richard More, a ship�s carpenter, to establish a seat of government�thus making Bermuda the oldest English settlement now surviving in the Western Hemisphere. Since that time Bermuda has not been without human inhabitants, although on several occasions the population dropped to two or three persons.

Admiral Sir George Somers, Captain Christopher Newport, and Sir Thomas Gates, leaders of the expedition, were on board the Sea Venture when it was wrecked. They and their fellow Adventurers, as they were called, quickly constructed two small ships and in May 1610 continued on to starving and destitute Jamestown, where Somers, perhaps remembering the abundant food in Bermuda, volunteered to return there and establish a permanent colony.

Before he left for Jamestown, Somers and his first lieutenant drew a map of Bermuda. Some accounts say two maps were drawn, but only one has survived. The surviving map was never published except on a 1979 Bermuda commemorative stamp, and the only known copy is said to be kept in the basement of the city hall in Hamilton, Bermuda.

In 1613, the Virginia Company sold its Bermuda rights to a sub-company, �The Governor and Company of the City of London for the Plantation of the Somer Islands.� It later became known simply as �The Bermuda Company,� and in 1618 sent Richard Norwood to Bermuda to make a survey aimed at dividing Bermuda into eight Tribes (Parishes) with each Tribe divided into 50 Shares�so that each of the shipwrecked Adventurers was to be apportioned one to ten shares. This survey, together with a second survey carried out by Norwood in 1662, form the basis for today�s real estate titles in Bermuda.

The first map of Bermuda based on the Norwood survey, by Captain John Smith in 1624, showed local scenes as well as the ten forts built to defend the island, and was published in Smith�s Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles.The Bermuda map showed the Tribes as delineated by Norwood, but the list of Adventurers and their Shares in the Tribes appeared in a separate list on pages 188-89.

In comparison with what was soon to come, the map of John Smith was a poor effort. The next map, that of John Speed, published first in 1626 in A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World, and in subsequent editions until 1680, set the pattern for at least 16 maps published over the next two centuries. Curiously, the map itself bore the name of Abraham Goos, the engraver, rather than that of Speed. But it is the Blaeu map of 1630, with its wonderful Neptune-dominated cartouche filling most of the empty sea to the north of the island, which stands out as one of the great maps of Bermuda (see Figure 1). It is so grand a map that it is often used to illustrate Bermuda maps in general�a sort of cartographic tour de force that emerged almost overnight and which many feel has not been surpassed.

At least six details introduced in the Speed map (and also present in the illustrated Blaeu map) are useful in assessing derivations of a number of future maps: (1) a tiny �island,� which does not exist (see Figure 2), close to the north shore and shaped like Bermuda; (2) outlines of Hispaniola (lower left), Virginia (upper left), Cape Cod (center), and New England (right) along the edges (some think that flanking the tiny island with these land-masses was supposed to help orient users and give some indication of the relative size of Bermuda); (3) list at the bottom of the map of the Tribes (Parishes) and individual Shares, with a seal at each end; (4) paragraph in the lower center that says, in Latin and/or English, �About midsomer 1616, five persons departed these Islands in a Smal open boat of some 3 tunn and after 7 weeks arived all safe in Ireland, ye like hath Scarce bene heard of in any age�; (5) cartouche design; and (6) overall size.

The maps of John Speed (published between 1626 and 1680), Guiljelm Blaeu (1630-1672), H. Hondius (1633-1642), J. Jansson (1647-1666), J. Ogilby (1670-1673), Pieter van der Aa (1729), and P. Schenk & G. Valk (1707-1740) are similar in most of the above respects. All of these six attributes are important features of their maps. The Jansson map is known to be simply a reissue of the Hondius plate with Jansson�s name replacing that of Hondius. A century later, the Shenk and Valk map appears identical with the Hondius/Jansson maps, except that it is slightly smaller in the horizontal dimension. All three have identical cartouches. The van der Aa and the Ogilby are but smaller versions of the Speed, with the addition of an elaborate cartouche featuring Neptune, a naked lady, two angels, and a mermaid in the former; and Neptune, several mer-persons, a monster, and Europeans trading with dark-skinned natives in the latter. The van der Aa is probably based on Ogilby, which, in turn, is based on the Speed.

Three maps, smaller even than the Ogilby and the van der Aa, but also certainly based on the Norwood survey, were the Cloppenberg Mercator (1630), the Mercator (1635), and the De Sauzet (1734). None of these maps includes the list of the Tribes and individual Shares, or the paragraph in the lower center telling of the five persons who departed Bermuda in the small open boat. Cartouches on these maps are minimal.

Finally, what is probably the last remaining recognizable vestige of the Norwood survey�the tiny island that isn�t there�cropped up almost to the 19th century, in spite of the fact that none of the other six attributes remained. The second map of Herman Moll (printed between 1729 and 1763), showing Bermuda on a sheet with Providence Island, includes the tiny island�as does that of Homann Heirs (1737-1772), Le Rouge (1746), Crepy (1767, a reissue of the Le Rouge map), and the Zatta (1778-1785).

All of the maps listed here as descendents of the Norwood survey identify the tiny island that isn�t there as �Bermudos Insul. alias Sommer Islands� (or some variant of that) in very small type, notwithstanding the fact that the large map just below obviously is Bermuda. Myths die slowly, and misinformation endures.

Overall, the mapping of Bermuda barely crept along during the 16th century. In the first half of the 17th century, mapmakers seemed to burst forth in a cascade of color and imagination. A slow slip into mediocrity then followed in the 18th and 19th centuries. The advent of cold and spiritless engravings in the latter part of the 19th century certainly accentuated the decline. There are exceptions, of course. In the 18th century there were such gems as the Norwood/Speed derivatives; the �large� van der Aa (1707-1728); the handsome Bowen (1747-1773), with its vertically oriented Bermuda on a sheet with St. Kits; the modest Bellin (1763-1764); and the lovely Zatta (1778) (see Figure 3). The 19th century, however, produced little that stirs the heart, exceptions perhaps being the delicate maps of Tallis (1851), Weller (1857), and Fullerton (1860).


In the 19th century, when the British Empire was expanding and the strategic location of Bermuda relative to trade routes was becoming recognized, tourism began to grow. When this great cash-crop began to flower, the direction of Bermuda�s mapping changed from exploration and geography to the cultivation of tourism. As was said about the coming of the Tennessee Valley Authority to the South, tourists were a lot easier to pick than cotton and they brought in a lot more money.

The first book addressing Bermuda tourists specifically was published by a steamship company in 1875 and aimed at those who would come to Bermuda seeking a winter resort, reflecting the taste of that time rather than what is generally expected today. Included was a locator map (a feature still commonplace today) showing the position of Bermuda in relation to the east coast of North America, together with a small outline map of the island with roads and major attractions. This booklet presaged an era of more extensive guidebooks that not only held detailed maps, but also included descriptions of the island�s weather, history, government, tourist facilities, and other features.

Maps were very much an important feature of these books. Some were more useful than others, but all are historically important. Stark�s Illustrated Bermuda Guide, first published in 1890, went through several editions. Bushell�s Handbook: Picturesque Bermuda published 30 editions between 1895 and 1939. Another guidebook, Rider�s Bermuda, was first published in 1922. Bell�s Beautiful Bermuda: The Standard Guide to Bermuda was first published in 1902 and subsequently revised and reprinted at irregular intervals, at least until its 10th edition in 1947. Although copyright notices are confusing, the Bell volumes were apparently written/edited for the most part by Euphemia Young Bell, but were copyrighted either by Frank R. Bell or John D. Bell�probably because ladies of that generation did not commonly engage in business. Euphemia Bell�s maps not only appeared in the Beautiful Bermuda series, but were issued separately, usually in folders carrying local advertisements, until about 1959.

The Bermuda Trade Development Board began publishing maps for tourists in the early 1920s, initially in conjunction with advertising material for Bermuda businesses. Its successors, the Bermuda Department of Tourism and Trade Development (in the early 1970s), and the Bermuda Department of Tourism (by 1973), continued the practice. Today, I am able to recognize at least seven different map series, based on format and content. A number of the maps were undated, although estimates can be made based on comparisons with other maps and what I know relative to the dates of construction and commercial activities on the island. I believe these maps, as a group, to be the most important 20th century maps of Bermuda.

Series I (The Booklets) were published from the late 1920s until about 1950. They were distinct because the maps appeared as foldouts in 15 20 cm booklets that presented information on the island�s hotels and attractions. These booklets are sometimes difficult to date, and if dates are not given, a best-guess estimate is made by checking if certain hotels are present or absent, whether the railroad was in place or had been dismantled, whether the airport had been built, and what style clothes people were wearing.

Series II (Golden Compass Maps), named for the golden compass hanging from the top center, were the first of the well-known Handy Reference Maps that have become indispensable for all visitors, especially those who rent bicycles, motor-assisted bicycles, and motor scooters. I believe this series began in the early-to-mid 1950s, but the early maps in this series were not dated. Later maps that I have seen in this series have date codes indicating 1961, 1963, and 1965. The series apparently ended in the mid-to late 1960s.

Series III (City Street Directory Maps), named for the Poughkeepsie, NY, company that printed them, appeared about 1965 and continued until about 1983. Early maps in this series measured 64 31 cm, but the 1983 edition measured only 59 31 cm.

Series IV (Island Press Maps), named for the Bermuda company that printed them, were published between about 1977 and 1983. These maps were similar to Series III, but placed the list of accommodations at the bottom instead of at the side, making the maps higher rather than broad.

Series V (Bermuda Press �A� Maps). I hesitate to call this a �series� because I know of only one edition, printed by the Bermuda Press Ltd. in 1985 with the print code AAL/7864/7.85/BP1MIL/5734. It is possible that the 1985 map belongs to this series, but I have not seen others. Predominantly dark blue and pink, the map itself, in shades of green, is artistically fine. However, I suspect that the series was not continued because the map may have been difficult to read in poor light (as on a motor-bike at night).

Series VI (Bermuda Press �B� Maps) was printed from about 1987 until about 1998. These maps (predominantly pink and blue) were quite variable in certain details, but had enough continuity that they might be called one series. In the first maps of this series, �Bermuda� was printed at top center in an outline font that did not give a strong presence. The type face used beginning in 1988 was much bolder.

Series VII (Bermuda Press �C� Maps) is just beginning; I have seen only two examples (1999 and 2000). This map seems to take on the attributes of the latter-day web pages, though it is easier to deal with. Information is truly packed into this 51 36 cm map, and it is hard to imagine a tourist�s question that is not answered. The cover fold is also radically changed from the past, incorporating a photograph of Gibbs Hill Lighthouse.

Some 20th century Bermuda maps have been published by retail businesses in conjunction with their advertising brochures. The Your Key to Bermuda series, published annually by H.A. and E. Smith Ltd. since about 1925, is a nice example. The maps vary in artistic rendition, but doubtless have been appreciated by many over the years. A quite handsome, but undated, map was published in the mid-1920s by Trimingham Brothers, apparently in conjunction with the Bermuda Trade Development Board. The approximate date of this map may be determined by the general map style as well as the absence of both the railroad and Kindley Airfield. Another similar joint production was a map published in 1956 by Trimingham Brothers and the Bermuda Trade Development Board.

Today, Bermuda maps are not limited to paper. The World Wide Web is an expanding home for these maps, placed there by the Bermuda government, businesses, and individuals. When I first looked for Bermuda maps online in 1998 and downloaded examples, the sites were comparatively simple and easy to navigate. Maps were abundant. In only three years, however, many of the sites have become so complex to navigate that the maps, if still there, are hard to find. Who owns these images, and who is authorized to permit downloads and copying, is often a murky question, as it is for much of the material found on the Internet. In some cases, maps that were once truly beautiful have given way to cluttered maps with internal links allowing one to click on a map detail and go directly to more detailed information. The path from grace to clutter on the Web parallels the evolution of printed maps over the past three centuries, but the trend has taken place much faster.

And, of course, mapping has slipped rapidly and smoothly into the new realm of satellite imagery, including such diverse activities as studies of Gulf Stream meanders, hurricane tracking, cloud cover plotting, ocean temperatures, warfare, and finding the best routes for racing sailboats. Access to many of these images is made possible by a number of private companies and government agencies, and a simple search of terms such as �satellite image� will lead to dozens of Web sites� many with free access to their data.

Sadly, if technology pundits have their way, we may not even need maps anymore in today�s gadget-filled world. With just a push of a button on a GPS receiver, sailors and duffers alike can now uplink to satellites to find out exactly where they are. But to my mind, nothing can beat the thrill of poring over old maps, especially those of Bermuda.

Additonal Resources:

Palmer, Margaret. The Mapping of Bermuda: A Bibliography of Printed Maps & Charts 1548-1970, third edition (edited by R.V. Tooley). London: Holland Press Cartographica, 1983.
Sobel, Dava. Longitude: The Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.
Su�rez, Thomas. Shedding the Veil: Mapping the European Discovery of America and the World. Singapore: World Scientific, 1992.

To fully appreciate maps it is necessary to see them, preferably in color. A new Cosmos Club Web site features a large selection of Bermuda maps from the 16th century to the present. These color images may be seen at

[photo of C.W. Hart, Jr.]

C.W. Hart, Jr. (CC �77) has taught college, been a ghost-writer for physicians, consulted on water pollution issues, and served as curator/research scientist at the Smithsonian Institution. Now retired, he designs and makes silver and gold jewelry and collects maps of Bermuda.

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