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Francois Valentyn: De Groote Siamse Rievier Me-Nam ofte Moeder der Wateren

Map: SEAS5178
Cartographer: Francois Valentyn
Title: De Groote Siamse Rievier Me-Nam ofte Moeder der Wateren
Date: 1727
Published: N/A
Width: 29 inches / 74 cm
Height: 12 inches / 31 cm
Map ref: SEAS5178
Superb two sheet map of the River Menam or the modern Chao Phraya River with an early reference to Bangkok. Based on documents held by the Dutch East India Company.

This large two sheet map tracing the course of the River Menam or the modern Chao Phraya River is arguably one of the most important early maps of Thailand.

It formed part of Francois Valentijn’s extraordinary history of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) “Oud en Nieuw Ost-Indien.” It was compiled between 1724-26 with Valentijn being given unprecedented access to VOC archives. The final work was in five parts and often issued in eight volumes, copiously illustrated with both maps and engravings, with many of the former of paramount importance as either the earliest or very early cartographic records of locations where the VOC were active.

The VOC were notorious for their secrecy and their tight business security so it was a great surprise that Valentijn’s work was ever published. When it did appear commercially, it changed many previously held European preconceptions about parts of Africa, Asia and the Far East.

“De Groote Siamse Rievier Me-Nam ofte Moeder der Wateren” is highly significant for several reasons: it is the most accurate map of the Chao Phraya River to that time; it is the first map to show Thailand north of the then capital Ayutthaya; it is the most accurate rendition of Ayutthaya of the time and the detailed key on the lower part of the map shows the extraordinary international nature of the Siamese Court of the period. There are references not only to French, Dutch and Portuguese “encampments” or “campos” but also to Chinese, Japanese, Burmese (Pegu), Makassaran and Malaysian “campos” established close to the capital.

Detailed academic studies of this map have shown that it was based on three separate sources. The southern section of the map (on the left) has been tracked down to manuscript maps present in the archives of the VOC; Company employees travelled regularly between the Gulf of Thailand and Ayutthaya and would continually update their existing maps. The source for the central region of the map is believed to have been local Siamese maps as much of the information was unknown to Europeans before this map and many of the names are transliterated Siamese words. The northern part of the map is the most remote and least detailed but even the attempt to show any information north of Ayutthaya on that date is remarkable as no European is recorded to have travelled to those regions previously. In the text of the work, Valentijn states that the River Menam sources from Lake Tsjamay, also Chiang Mai, the mythical “Mother of Rivers”. This was supposedly a vast lake in the Asian highlands sourcing several major rivers in the continent. This theory first originated on mid 16th century Venetian maps by Giacomo Gastaldi and persisted into the 19th. The other large river shown beneath the cartouche of this map is the Upper Mekong. It is currently thought that the most likely sources for maps of this area would have been the Siamese military of the period.

This extraordinary compilation of sources resulted in a superb map of the Chao Phraya for the early 18th century reader and a cornerstone for any modern collector of Thai or early south-east Asian maps. [SEAS5178]