As regular readers of this blog will have noticed, our team is very interested in the circulation of nautical knowledge throughout the Early Modern period. Following in the footsteps of the posts recently published by my colleagues Nuno Vila-Santa and Silvana Munzi, today I bring you the story of a map based on Dutch information, but drawn by a native of Antwerp in Brazil at the service of Philip III of Spain. Let us start by getting to know the author better. As I was saying, Gaspar de Mere was born in Antwerp sometime in the sixteenth century. Also at an uncertain date he moved to Pernambuco, where he stayed for at least two decades working on the sugar business; indeed, he managed to set himself up as a Senhor de Engenho in Cabo de Santo Agostinho. But his luck changed at the beginning of the seventeenth century, due to the conflicts between the Hispanic Monarchy and the United Provinces and suspicions of illegalities in his sugar dealings. This led to an order being issued for De Mere to be arrested and taken to Lisbon. Such an order would never have been executed, as the accused remained in Brazil throughout the 1610s decade.
Meanwhile, the expeditions led by Joris van Spielbergen and Jacob Le Maire had crossed with impunity the Strait of Magellan and the waters south of Cape Horn, prompting Philip III to collect updated information about the Fuegian channel. To this end he turned to Luís de Sousa, governador-geral of Brazil, ordering him to send an expedition to the Strait of which, if it ever took place, no records have survived. But the governador did not leave his monarch empty handed. Somehow, he had managed to obtain the invaluable rutter compiled by Jan Outghersz, but he still needed someone to translate it… And here enters the picture again Gaspar de Mere, holding the linguistic skills needed to produce a Portuguese translation of the Dutch pilot’s work. Fruit of such an unusual collaboration is the real protagonist of our story: this spectacular map of the Strait of Magellan, signed in 1617. [José María Moreno Madrid]