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A Landmark Rarity in the Mapping of Hawaii:
The First Extant Chart of Honolulu

Honolulu/ Hawaii. KOTZEBUE, O. Von [St. Petersburg, 1816 (1823)]
Title in Cyrillic. 45 5/8 x 25 ½ inches
Few faints stains, else fine condition, especially for its size.

   $32,000


Extremely rare and a fine example. “The earliest known plan of Honolulu,… it stands out as one of the finest examples of a harbor chart to come out any of the major exploratory voyages of the early 19th century, and as one of the most impressive maps ever made of Honolulu“(Fitzpatrick). Also, this carefully prepared work was part of the beginning of the accurate, systematic mapping of Hawaii.
The chart appeared only in the atlas that accompanied the very rare Russian edition of Kotzebue’s account of his voyage; it was not a part of the much less rare German and English editions. “Consequently, it has escaped the notice of many scholars and the general public” (Fitzpatrick). Shortly after this chart was made, with the coming of the whaling industry, the landscape of Hawaii would soon be much altered by the increasing European presence there. This chart is thus all the more valuable for its depiction of the Honolulu area at the time it was inhabited almost exclusively by its native population.
Kotzebue personally supervised the surveys on which this chart was based during his visit to Hawaii between November 1816 and October 1817; the chart bears a date of 1816. “Based on sound and careful surveying practices, these maps [Kotzebue also produced a chart of southeast Oahu] are notable because they reflect the impressions of an astute observer of geography. Indeed, Kotzebue’s narrative and these two charts reveal much about the geography of Honolulu at a time when it was on the brink of a transition from an insignificant Hawaiian locality to a westernized village.” In particular, on the land area of this map can be seen the cultivated fields and irrigation systems of Hawaiians’ sophisticated agricultural practices that made Oahu the most proficient of the Hawaiian islands in food production. This was a major reason that among the Hawaiian islands, Oahu was the preferred re-provisioning stop for European voyagers and also why it eventually became the most developed island of the Hawaiian group. This chart also reveals another source of Oahu’s abundance of food that resulted from the ingenuity of Hawaiians: At upper left and lower right are enclosed fish ponds that utilized reefs to entrap sea fish.
Although Honolulu harbor was sighted by a number of European mariners before Kotzebue, most did not even recognize it as a harbor at all, not to mention an excellent one. Perhaps due to his hands-on experience of actually charting the area, Kotzebue from the very first not only realized its virtues as a harbor but also envisioned the world class port it would grow to be: “If this place were in the hands of the Europeans, they would certainly employ means to make this harbour the finest in the world” (Kotzebue’s narrative).


itzpatrick, G. The Early Mapping of Hawai’i , pp. 46-54, pl. 25; Suarez, T. Early Mapping of the Pacific, pp. 158-160, figs. 152-153; cf. Lada-Mocarski, Bibliography of Books on Alaska, No. 79.

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