Jacques-Nicolas Bellin

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Jacques-Nicolas Bellin: Carte reduite de l'ocean septentrional..., from: L'hydrographie francoise, Paris 1766 Bellin - Carte reduite de l'ocean septentrional.png
Jacques-Nicolas Bellin: Carte réduite de l'océan septentrional..., from: L'hydrographie françoise, Paris 1766

Jacques Nicolas Bellin (1703 – 21 March 1772) was a French hydrographer, geographer, and member of the French intellectual group called the philosophes.

Geographer scholar whose area of study is geography

A geographer is a scientist whose area of study is geography, the study of Earth's natural environment and human society. The Greek prefix, "geo," means "earth" and the Greek suffix, "graphy," meaning "description," so a geographer is someone who studies the earth. The word "geography" is a Middle French word that is believed to have been first used in 1540.

The philosophes were the intellectuals of the 18th-century Enlightenment. Few were primarily philosophers; rather, philosophes were public intellectuals who applied reason to the study of many areas of learning, including philosophy, history, science, politics, economics, and social issues. They had a critical eye and looked for weaknesses and failures that needed improvement. They promoted a "republic of letters" that crossed national boundaries and allowed intellectuals to freely exchange books and ideas. Most philosophes were men, but some were women.


Bellin was born in Paris. He was hydrographer of France's hydrographic office, member of the Académie de Marine and of the Royal Society of London. Over a 50-year career, he produced a large number of maps of particular interest to the Ministère de la Marine. His maps of Canada and of French territories in North America (New France, Acadia, Louisiana) are particularly valuable. He died at Versailles.

Royal Society English learned society for science

The President, Council and Fellows of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, commonly known as the Royal Society, is a learned society. Founded on 28 November 1660, it was granted a royal charter by King Charles II as "The Royal Society". It is the oldest national scientific institution in the world. The society is the United Kingdom's and Commonwealth of Nations' Academy of Sciences and fulfils a number of roles: promoting science and its benefits, recognising excellence in science, supporting outstanding science, providing scientific advice for policy, fostering international and global co-operation, education and public engagement.

New France Area colonized by France in North America

New France was the area colonized by France in North America during a period beginning with the exploration of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence by Jacques Cartier in 1534 and ending with the cession of New France to Great Britain and Spain in 1763 under the Treaty of Paris (1763).

Acadia colony of New France in northeastern North America

Acadia was a colony of New France in northeastern North America that included parts of eastern Quebec, the Maritime provinces, and modern-day Maine to the Kennebec River. During much of the 17th and early 18th centuries, Norridgewock on the Kennebec River and Castine at the end of the Penobscot River were the southernmost settlements of Acadia. The actual specification by the French government for the territory refers to lands bordering the Atlantic coast, roughly between the 40th and 46th parallels. Later, the territory was divided into the British colonies that became Canadian provinces and American states. The population of Acadia included members of the Wabanaki Confederacy and descendants of emigrants from France. The two communities intermarried, which resulted in a significant portion of the population of Acadia being Métis.

First Ingenieur de la Marine

In 1721, at age 18, he was appointed hydrographer (chief cartographer) to the French Navy. In August 1741, he became the first Ingénieur de la Marine of the Depot des cartes et plans de la Marine (the French Hydrographical Office) and was named Official Hydrographer of the French King.

Prodigious work, high standard of excellence

Carte de la Guyane francoise et l'isle de Cayenne, 1763 CE, by Bellin Carte de la Guyane francoise et l'isle de Cayenne (Bellin, 1763).jpg
Carte de la Guyane françoise et l'isle de Cayenne, 1763 CE, by Bellin

During his reign the Depot published a prodigious number of charts and maps, among which were large folio-format sea-charts of France, the Neptune Francois. He also produced a number of sea-atlases of the world, e.g., the Atlas Maritime and the Hydrographie Francaise. These gained fame, distinction and respect all over Europe and were republished throughout the 18th and even in the succeeding century.

Bellin also created smaller format maps such as the 1764 Petit Atlas Maritime (5 vols.) containing 580 finely detailed charts.

Bellin set a very high standard of workmanship and accuracy thus gaining for France a leading role in European cartography and geography. Many of his maps were copied by other mapmakers of Europe.

Member of philosophes

He was one of the Encyclopédistes, a group of 18th century intellectuals in France who compiled the 35-volume Encyclopédie which was edited by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert. Bellin contributed 994 articles.

The Encyclopédistes were members of the Société des gens de lettres, a French writers' society, who contributed to the development of the Encyclopédie from June 1751 to December 1765 under the editors Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert. The composition of the 17 volumes of text and 11 volumes of plates of the Encyclopédie was the work of over 150 authors belonging, in large part, to the intellectual group known as the philosophes. They promoted the advancement of science and secular thought and supported tolerance, rationality, and open-mindedness of the Enlightenment.

<i>Encyclopédie</i> general encyclopedia published in France between 1751 and 1772

Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, better known as Encyclopédie, was a general encyclopedia published in France between 1751 and 1772, with later supplements, revised editions, and translations. It had many writers, known as the Encyclopédistes. It was edited by Denis Diderot and, until 1759, co-edited by Jean le Rond d'Alembert.

The Encyclopédistes, were part of the group called philosophes among whose members were the great minds of the Age of Enlightenment, e.g., Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau, Baron d'Holbach.

Age of Enlightenment European cultural movement of the 18th century

The Age of Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 18th century, the "Century of Philosophy".

Montesquieu French social commentator and political thinker

Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, generally referred to as simply Montesquieu, was a French judge, man of letters, and political philosopher.

Voltaire French writer, historian, and philosopher

François-Marie Arouet, known by his nom de plumeVoltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit, his criticism of Christianity, especially the Roman Catholic Church, and his advocacy of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and separation of church and state.

Innocent party to a geographical error

Bellin contributed a number of maps to 15-vol. Histoire Generale des Voyages of Antoine François Prévost or simply known l'Abbe Prevost. One of these maps led to a geographical blunder whose impact reverberates to this day. This was the map of the Philippines which Bellin copied from a world-famous chart produced in 1734 by the Spanish missionary to the Philippines, Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde.

Antoine François Prévost French novelist

Antoine François Prévost d'Exiles, usually known simply as the Abbé Prévost, was a French author and novelist.

Unlike many other European mapmakers of the time who outright appropriated Murillo's map, Bellin had the intellectual integrity to fully credit Murillo as his source, an open acknowledgement shown in the title cartouche of Bellin's map which came out the same year as the original work by Murillo.

Cartouche (design) frame for a painted or engraved design

A cartouche is an oval or oblong design with a slightly convex surface, typically edged with ornamental scrollwork. It is used to hold a painted or low relief design.

Shown in Bellin's map was an island named "Limasava", a word invented in 1667 by Spanish friar, Fr. Francisco Combés, S.J., to refer to the way station of the Armada de Molucca under the command of the Portuguese captain-general Fernao de Magalhaes during its navigation in Philippine waters. Combés, who had not read a single eyewitness account of the Magellan expedition relied on two sources, the hopelessly garbled Italian translation of the Antonio Pigafetta account by Giovanni Battista Ramusio and the secondhand account by Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas. Ramusio wrote the fleet anchored in March–April 1521 in Butuan in Mindanao, and from there sailed for Cebu with a brief stopover at "Messana". In the authentic Pigafetta account, the port was an isle named Mazzaua while the stopover isle was named Gatighan. Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas gave a faithful narration of the Mazzaua anchorage.

Combés disregarded de Herrera's version and adopted Ramusio's. He wrote that Magellan's fleet had anchored at Butuan and from there sailed for Cebu making a stop at a way station he named Limasaua.

Five years earlier than Combés, Fr. Francisco Colín wrote the Armada moored at Butuan from March–April 1521 where Magellan and his men together with the natives celebrated an Easter Sunday mass on 31 March 1521. From Butuan the fleet sailed for Cebu making a brief stop at a way station he called "Dimasaua", an invented word meaning "this is not the Mazagua of Antonio de Herrera where supposedly an Easter Sunday mass was held which I already said happened in Butuan."

This episode was projected in the 1734 map made by Murillo who used Combés name, "Limassava" not "Dimasaua" which map Bellin copied.

Gatighan becomes Limasava

In 1789, Augustinian Carlo Amoretti, Italian Encyclopedist and librarian of Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, discovered the authentic Italian manuscript of Antonio Pigafetta among the scattered holdings of the library. Here it came out that the port of March–April 1521 was not Butuan but Mazaua. Amoretti, who himself had not read any of five eyewitness reports of the incident including two French versions of Pigafetta's account, asserted in a footnote that Mazaua was probably the isle named Limasava in Bellin's map, thus interchanging the real port of Mazaua with the way station Gatighan.

Largely with the appearance of the eyewitness account of Ginés de Mafra, the only seaman in Magellan's fleet to return to Mazaua, whose testimony reveals a concrete, measurable description of Mazaua, the skein starting from the garbled version of Pigafetta by Ramusio to the mishandling by Combés to Bellin and finally to Amoretti has been unraveled: Pigafetta's Gatighan is Bellin's Limasava.

Published works

Published during his lifetime were:

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