Hessel Gerritsz (c. 1581, Assum, North Holland – buried September 4, 1632, Amsterdam) was a Dutch engraver, cartographer and publisher. Despite strong competition, he is considered by some “unquestionably the chief Dutch cartographer of the 17th century” 
He started in Alkmaar as an apprentice to Willem Jansz Blaeu, who was ten years his elder. Gerritsz moved with Blaeu’s workshop to Amsterdam, where he married Geertje Gijsberts of Alkmaar in 1607. They had eight children. Geertje would die before 1624, when Hessel remarried. By 1610 he had a printing workshop on his own. Many of his engravings and maps made it into the atlases of Blaeu, Janssonius, and others.
Gerritsz produced a world map in 1612 that included the discoveries of Queirós and specifically indicated “Austrialia del Espiritu Santo”, now known to be Vanuatu, but for long thought to be part of the “South land”. The map was very influential on Dutch and French representions of the South Pacific in the 17th and 18th century, and was together with Queirós' publications influential in establishing the name “Australia”. In 1613 Gerritsz wrote and published a “History of the land named Spitsbergen”, describing the discovery, early voyages and whaling activities on these islands. This volume also showcases Gerritsz’ considerable talents as an engraver (see for example his depiction of a walrus with its calf). The same year he edited a map of Russia prepared by the future Feodor II of Russia as tsarevich, and re-edited it in 1614 with some additions and corrections; it was reproduced by the Blaeu firm until 1665. Another example of an engraving is his often reproduced 1619 posthumous portrait of the playwright Bredero.
Official cartographer of the VOC
His fame as cartographer grew rapidly to the point that on 16 October 1617 he was appointed the first exclusive cartographer of the Dutch East India Company (the VOC), probably the most strategic position a cartographer could have in those days. He got the position on recommendation of Petrus Plancius, chief scientist of the VOC, who did not get along with the senior Willem Blaeu (Blaeu and Gerritsz remained friends). Gerritsz kept this post until his death, after which the position was held by the Blaeu family, starting with Willem Jansz, until 1705.
All charts and logs from returning VOC merchants and explorers sailors had to be submitted to Gerritsz and thanks to the wealth of new information several breakthrough maps came from his hands. In return Gerritsz’ charts accompanied all VOC captains on their voyages.
Mapping of Australia
In 1618 Gerritsz produced a chart of the Indonesian islands, far better represented than on earlier efforts, and, for the first time, the (Northwest) coast of Australia. In 1622 he bundled many of his maps in a map book for the VOC. This map book included a 1622 map of the Pacific, probably the "Map of the Great South Sea" that Abel Tasman consulted extensively on his voyage around Australia and to New Zealand in 1642. In 1627 Gerritsz made a map, the Caert van't Landt van d'Eendracht, entirely devoted to the discoveries of the West Australian coastline. Australia is called “Eendrachtsland”, a name given by Dirk Hartog after his stay on its coast in 1616, and which would be in use until the end of the 17th century.
Gerritsz’ interest in the New World was so extensive that, unusual for a cartographer in his position, he joined on a 1628/29 voyage to Brazil and the Caribbean. He contributed the maps of Joannes de Laet’s Beschrijvinghe van West-Indiën ("Description of the West Indies”) published in 1630. Especially his map of Florida, based on French and Spanish sources, became influential (e.g. for 200 years after, Florida would be known as “Tegesta” as Gerritsz had named it).
In 1632 Hessel Gerritsz died; he was buried in the Nieuwe Kerk on September 4. Willem Janszoon Blaeu would take his place as cartographer of the VOC in January of the following year.
- Johannes Keuning "Hessel Gerritsz" (1949) Imago Mundi Vol. 6, pp. 46-66.
- Mercedes Maroto Camino Producing the Pacific: Maps and Narratives of Spanish Exploration, Rodopi Publishers 2005
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hessel Gerritsz.|
- Hessel Gerritsz maps at the National Library of Australia
- VOC maps and drawings
- Hessel Gerritsz’s Map of the Pacific
- Hessel Gerritsz – father of Australia mapping