Had an email yesterday querying the statement in my title block: Luca Antara is provided etc etc. Was it a denial of those who believe Luca Antara is/was a part of Australia mapped in the early 1600s by Portuguese from Malacca or the Moluccas? Not at all, I said; rather, the sentence is there because of a felt analogy to the process of writing. But it sent me back to the source ...

I chose the quote at random: when I was setting up this site, I opened my copy of Eredia's Description of Malaca and my eye fell upon that sentence. It seemed apt. But I hadn't investigated its provenance. What it is, is J.V. Mills, the British civil servant who made the English translation of Eredia's book in 1920s Malaya, summarising the arguments of an earlier scholar, the Victorian R.H. Major, against Eredia's alleged discovery of a Great South Land.

It was Major who first proclaimed Eredia the discoverer of Australia, upon the basis of a map he found in the British Museum. He rushed into print with his find, then learned soon after that Eredia's official expedition never left Malacca because of the Dutch blockade of 1604. In a state of acute mortification, Major resiled from his claim then turned upon Eredia. It is no exaggeration to say the controversy ruined his life; in the process, he attempted to demolish the credentials of the man who caused his fall.

One of the many confusions that have arisen around this episode relates to the meaning of the Portuguese word descobridor. It doesn't mean what its English equivalent, discoverer, now does; rather it refers to the exploration and exploitation of a land, the discovery of its potential if you like, not of its mere existence. Eredia called himself the Descobridor because he had a commission from the King of Spain & Portugal to go to Luca Antara and find out what riches were there; of these alleged riches, a twentieth part would remain his personal property.

Noel Peters' work on the map found in 1946 in the National Library of Rio de Janeiro (alas, not Buenos Aires) by a Dr. Mota Alves suggests that the expedition stymied by the Dutch might have been the second in that time to that part of the world. Perhaps Eredia—or someone else—had gone earlier, on a smaller scale voyage, mapped the Tiwi islands, and now planned to return with greater resources; like Abel Tasman fifty odd years later, who took two voyages, several years apart, to complete his circumnavigation of the Great South Land.

Noel Peters thinks the confusion has arisen because the quote in the title block above is not ascribed to its source. I don't wish to weight the words with chapter and verse but, for the record, here is the detail: the sentence occurs at the bottom of p. 189 of J.V. Mills' 1930 translation of Eredia's Description of Malaca, Meriodional India and Cathay, reprinted (#14) by the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1997 with a new introduction by Cheah Boon Kheng.

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