Edition 1, 1877/78: Pieter Roelf Bos, 'Bos’ Schoolatlas der geheele aarde'

In 1877 the very first edition of the Bosatlas was published, under the title 'Bos' Schoolatlas der geheele aarde’ The main reason for this was the introduction of geography as a subject at the then HBS, (the former Dutch High School for the 12-18 year group). Pieter Roelf Bos, who had published the Leerboek der Aardrijkskunde in 1876, was asked to edit the school atlas. The atlas, which has borne his name ever since, would soon become the most widely used atlas in Dutch education.The first edition of the Bos atlas was an atlas under construction: initially Pieter Roelf Bos had something completely different in mind, namely an atlas with only one spot colour: blue for the sea. But he changed his mind during production; too late, however, because a number of map sheets were already ready by then: the Netherlands, Europe, the British Isles, Italy, North America and the United States, in other words almost a quarter of the atlas, remained in that first single-colour version.

Go to the digital version of the first edition of the 'Bosatlas'
Detail kaart Java, 1e editie Bosatlas, 1877

Most of the other maps are geographical survey maps with shading to indicate relief and altitude zones (green for lowland, yellow for highland, and a greenish-yellow shading for the area in between). We have to search for a long time to find the explanation of these shades, which is hidden on map 18, 'Sea currents'. Bos does not reveal which height value corresponds to the boundary between lowland and highland. Only on the map of Java is there an explanation: 'The regions that lie 2,000' and higher above the sea are indicated by a brown tint'. Two thousand feet is roughly equivalent to 610 metres. This already indicates that this edition had not yet been processed in the metric system. Bos's geography textbook does mention hectares, heights in metres above Amsterdam Ordnance Datum and precipitation in millimetres, but it also mentions areas in square geographical miles. Furthermore, we have to guess which signs were used for canals (sometimes they are indicated with a cartel signature, sometimes not), railways, roads (Java) and borders. There are no separate symbols for capitals yet. The red shading on the supplementary map of Central America indicates the independent states in this area.

Island cartography

Something we have to get used to with the first editions of the Bosatlas is the phenomenon of 'island cartography'. This is what we call the phenomenon whereby only a certain part of the map is completely filled with data and other parts, relating to areas not mentioned in the map title, are not. On the map of Great Britain and Ireland for example (map XIII in the first edition), only the British Isles are filled in; the part of the mainland that also falls within the map section is not filled in and has the same colour as the sea. On the map of Austria-Hungary (map VI in the first edition), the area on the map outside Austria-Hungary is partly filled in: shades indicating height are everywhere, shadow marks can be found in Italy, Germany and Russia but only partly in the Turkish Empire. The same applies to the railways: in Germany and Italy they are on this map, in Russia , Turkey and Romania they are either not, or only partially. Only the railway from Galicia (Lemberg (Lviv) and Chernowitz (Chernivitsi)) to the Danube Delta ports of Galatz (Galaţi) and Braila, which is important for Austria-Hungary, is included, but not the railway between those Danube Delta ports, Bucharest and Orsova (Orșova) at the Iron Gate, which is much more important for Romania. To find them, we have to go to the map of Turkey and Greece (map sheet XVI). Also the borders between Germany, Russia, Romania, Turkey, Montenegro and Serbia - which are very relevant for Austria-Hungary - are not on this sheet.

Britse Eilanden in de 1e editie van de Bosatlas, 1877

White spots on the maps

In 1877, the Polar Regions and Central Africa were not yet completely known. Map XVIII (hemispheres), XIX (oceanic currents) and XXIII (North America) show that Franz Jozef Land and North Land north of the Siberian coast had not yet been discovered, or only partially; the President Land on the Lincoln Sea west of Greenland later turned out not to exist, and the representation of Franz Jozef Land itself is also incorrect. The map of the southern hemisphere on map sheet XVII shows that little is known about the Antarctic: Bos' textbook says: 'Around the South Pole there appears to be land, on which high mountains rise'. In addition, the dotted lines on the map of Africa indicate that in 1877 it was not yet known with certainty that the Oeëlle (Uelle) and the Loealaba (Lualaba) would flow into the Congo River. Lake Turkana was not yet known, nor was the interior of Somalia. The exact course of the upper reaches of the rivers in Djambi on Sumatra was also still uncertain.


The structure of an atlas is determined by the order of the areas depicted and their emphasis. That emphasis can be deduced from the (relative) number of maps devoted to each area or the size of the scale. The first edition begins with a map of the Netherlands, followed by Europe, the countries of Europe, the world, and the continents Asia, Africa, Australia/Oceania, North and South America. In the second version of the first edition, a spread (double page) of the Netherlands was added and half a page for the Dutch East Indies. Within Europe, the order after the Netherlands is: Central Europe, Austria-Hungary, Germany, France, Belgium and Switzerland, Russia, Scandinavia, British Isles, Spain, Italy and Turkey with Greece. This is a particularly interesting order for Europe, because in the 21st century we are used to seeing the British Isles much earlier in the atlas and Russia much later.

The geographical share of the map pages is as follows: Netherlands eight percent, Europe without the Netherlands 52 percent, world eight percent, other continents (without Europe) 32 percent. Bos has clearly tried to get all major European areas on the same scale of 1:3,700,000.

Content of the maps in the first edition

When studying the atlas, we should first of all bear in mind that it was intended to accompany Bos's Leerboek der aardrijkskunde - at the time a bestseller - and that therefore the atlas had to include at least the places, capes, mountains and lakes mentioned in the textbook. If we look at Africa, for example, the textbook says that the northernmost point of that continent is 'Cape Blanco', the westernmost 'Cape Verde', the easternmost 'Cape Guardafui' and the southernmost 'Cape Agulhas', and all four are neatly indicated on the physical map of Africa. The same applies to Cape Noen, Cape Blanco, Cape Lopez, Cape Negro, the Loepata isthmus near the Zambezi and the Kong Mountains in Upper Guinea. On the political map of Asia and the physical map of Africa, the occurrence of different tribes is marked in italics on the map: Mandingoes, Haussas, Moors, Tuaregs, Tibboes, Shilluks, Djoer, Bongos, NiamNiam, Dinkas, Monbutus, Gallas, Somalis, Akkas, Masai, Makololos, Beetjoeans, Matebele, Kaffirs, Bushmen, and Hottentots in Africa, and Mongols, Turkmen, Kirghiesen, Basque, Ostjaken, Samoyeds, Barabins, Khalkas, Toucans, Yakuts, Jukagiren, Chukchi, Korjaken and Kamchatales in Asia. Apparently there is a hierarchy in Africa, because the name of some peoples is not italicised but written in a Roman letter (Bambarra, Massina, Haussa, Gando (Gwandu), Nyffe) or even capitalised (ASHANTI, DAHOME, JOROEBA), or their territory is even outlined in red.

Altitude and positioning

Location: on the map of the Netherlands the Amsterdam meridian is taken as the prime meridian, elsewhere it is the Greenwich prime meridian (on world maps) or the Ferro prime meridian. The French canal coast has a signature for land falling dry at low tide. On the height map of the Netherlands the depth lines of 2.5 and 5 metres are used. On the map of Switzerland, the glaciers are white. The area below sea level (in the Netherlands and in Russia near the Caspian Sea) is indicated with text or with a separate grid.

Contents of specific maps

Looking at some specific maps, the following noteworthy items appear (the roman numerals refer to the map numbers, explanations in Dutch only):

[Map I]

On the map of the Netherlands the 'Onzijdiggebied van Moresnet' stands out, dangling below Vaals: from 1815-1830 it was a Dutch-Prussian condominium, from 1830-1919 a Belgian-Prussian condominium. Because of the valuable zinc mine, they wanted to keep (shared) control over it. Also noteworthy are the dam to Ameland (a first step towards the reclamation of part of the Wadden Sea) and the Nieuwe Waterweg near Rotterdam, constructed through the dunes.

Limburg in de 1e editie van de Bosatlas, 1877

[Map III]

Europe Political:  Although Crete is still Turkish, there is a red border line between that island and Turkey. However, this red line is not a political border, but indicates the border of Europe. The Sporades were then considered to be part of Asia. Heligoland is still British: later it will be exchanged with Germany for Zanzibar.

[Map IV]

On the map of Central Europe, in the Marchfeld, north of Vienna, the places Wagram and Aspern are marked, more to the north Austerlitz; these are places where important battles were fought. The Ludwig Canal between Main and Danube is a 19th century forerunner of today's Main-Danube Canal. Where the Elbe crosses the Ore Mountains, the inscription 'S.Zwits' appears. This refers to the "Sachsische Schweiz".

[Map VI]

Austria-Hungary: The Cis- and Trans-Leithanian border refers to the border between the Austrian and Hungarian parts of the dual monarchy. Many border fortresses against Turkey are included on this map: Peterwardein, Königgratz, Semlin and Essek.

[Map VII]

Germany: The country has been a princely alliance under Prussian leadership since 1871. That is why it presents such a fragmented multi-coloured picture. Heligoland is still British.

[Map VIII]

France: At the peace of Frankfurt in 1871 it had to cede Alsace-Lorraine to the German confederation. The inset map of Paris with its belt of forts is a reminder of the siege of the city during the Franco-German War of 1870.

[Map IX]

Belgium: Seraing near Liège is the site of John Cockerill's steelworks (1817). On the map of Belgium the place names Quatrebras, la Belle Alliance (a farm!) and Waterloo are included; they refer to the battles of 1815. The diamond-shaped symbol at Lilloo and Liefkenshoek on the Scheldt estuary we encountered earlier on the map of Paris. It stands for a fortress.

[Map X]

Russia: The difference between the high, right 'Mountain bank' and the low, left 'Meadow bank' of the Volga is shown well because of the elevation shades. This map is the only geographical survey map with information about the vegetation and soil: the northern tree line and steppe border are indicated with dotted lines; land areas below sea level with a grid and explanatory text, and in addition 'Black earth' is mentioned. Sysran is the place where, in 1877, the construction of the one-and-a-half kilometre long railway bridge across the Volga, to Samara and Orenburg, was in progress, in order to get better access to Asian merchandise. Sarepta on the Volga was the seat of the Hernhutters in the 18th century.

[Map XI]

Scandinavia: Schleswig-Holstein has been German since 1864, and Norway is in personal union with Sweden, but has internal self-government. Finland was a Russian province until the First World War. In Sweden, the mountain of ore (Malmberget) is mentioned at Gellivaare (Gällivaare). The ore from this iron mine was once to be transported by a railway to the Lulea elf (Luleaälv) and then across this river to the sea, but that project was not realised until much later, even though it is shown here on the map. Along the Norwegian coast the name 'Skandinavian Sea' is used, a now uncommon term that remained in use until the eleventh edition in 1892. It is only around 1990 that the term 'Norwegian Sea' appears.

[Map XIII]

Great Britain and Ireland: The more or less straightened single lines on the map indicate canals.

[Map XV]

Italy: Over the Brenner Pass, the first railway crossed the Alps in 1867. The Col de Frejus railway tunnel opened in 1871; it replaced the tunnel at Col du Mt. Cenis, which operated from 1868-1871. Savoy and Nizza (Nice) joined France in 1860, for her help in the unification of Italy.

[Map XVI]

Turkey and Greece: The border with Turkey runs through the Othrys Mountains. Corfu (Kerkyra) was already part of Greece, together with the other Ionian islands, from 1864. The country's main commercial and industrial centre in 1877 was still Hermopolis on the island of Syros. Romania had been recognised by Turkey as an independent, but still tributary state in 1861; Serbia in 1867. The Athens-Piraeus railway dates from 1869. The one from Thessaloniki to the north was finished in 1874, ending in Mitrovica not mentioned on the map.

[Map XVII]

Hemispheres: The first map on which a projection is mentioned in the atlas is the isothermal map and the rain map of the world: mercator projection. The two following maps of the world are also drawn in this projection, but it is no longer mentioned.

[Map XIX]

Asia physical: Cape Baba is the westernmost point of mainland Asia, just south of the western entrance of the Dardanelles. It appears on the map only for this reason - mention of the extremities of continents in geography textbooks. Mount Everest is not mentioned on this map.

[Map XX]

Asia political: Western and Eastern Turan are collective names for the states of Turkish peoples living in these areas. East Turan had gained its independence from China in 1869. The Chinese Empire is divided into China proper and outer regions such as Tibet, Kokonoria, Mongolia and Manchuria. The subsidiary map of India does list the world's highest mountain, Mount Everest.

In 1875, George Escher and Johannis de Rijke wrote a report on the sandbanks in the Whangpoo (Huangpu) River, a tributary of the Jangstekiang (Chang Jiang) on which Shanghai (Shanghai) lies. In front of the mouth of the Huangpu in the Yangtze River was a sandbank, which in English was called the Woosung Bar. This is probably the reason for the non-existence of the Woosung islands before the mouth of the Yangtze River on this map.

[Map XXb]

Dutch East Indies: the abbreviation 'O.N. Mijn' near Banjermasin refers to the Oranje-Nassau coal mine, mined by the Dutch-Indian government using forced labour. Omb.veld' near Padang refers to the Ombilien coal mine. The name Soenda sea is an alternative for Java sea. The map of Java includes the first railway lines on that island and the great Post Road (from Anjer (Anyer) to Banjoewangi (Banyuwangi), with a parallel road from Surabaya (Surabaya) to Djokjokarta (Yogyakarta). It looks as if a canal runs from Buitenzorg to the Bay of Batavia. However, this is not correctly indicated: from west to east between Batavia and Buitenzorg there is a road, the river Tjiliwoeng (Ci Liwung), a second road and a railway, which should however end in Batavia instead of at the coast.

[Map XXI]

Africa: In the northwest the city of Marrakesh is still indicated as Morocco; the reverse also occurred in the 19th century, when Morocco was called the "kingdom of Marrakesh". The north-eastern part of the continent is still marked as Turkish, even though this Turkish authority was often nominal. The small red border line in Somaliland indicates the extent of Turkish influence there. In comparison with the inset map on the left, one can see that the red lines at right angles to the coast in the main map indicate the boundaries of the area claimed by Portugal. On the east coast, 'the Soeaheli coast' was subjugated to the Sultan of Zanzibar. The Suez Canal, completed in 1869, is already on the map. In Central Africa, it is not yet clear whether the Uélé (on the map 'Oeëlle') will flow into the Benue ('Binouwe') or the Congo. The Dutch possessions on the coast of Guinea, especially in present-day Ghana, had been transferred to Great Britain in 1872, so the Netherlands no longer had any colonial possessions in Africa. The island of Goree at Cape Verde, off the coast of present-day Dakar, was once a slave station of the West India Company, named after Goeree. Darfur was conquered by the khedive of Egypt in 1874. The name Fellata refers to the same thing as Peul or Fulani - the nomadic pastoral peoples of the Sahel. Ushidsji on Lake Tanganyika is today's Ujiji in Tanzania where Stanley found the missionary and explorer Livingstone in 1871.

[Map XXII]

Australia: The map shows gold mines discovered in 1851 at Ballarat, Castlemaine, Bathurst and Moona; and the copper mines at Kooringa (Burra Burra), although these were exhausted by 1877. The telegraph line from Port Darwin to Port Augusta (South Australia) was completed in 1872, continuing a submarine cable from Banyuwangi in Java to Port Darwin. The Adelaide River formed a link road when the Pine Creek Gold Fields were opened up a little further south. Palmerston is the name of the Northern Territory's capital city; in 1911 the name was changed to Darwin. Port Darwin is the name of the bay in which it is situated. In the Pacific, the islands of Christmas (Kiritimati) and Washington (Teraina) are declared as American ('American Polynesia'). Under the 'Guano Islands Act' (1856), Americans were allowed to temporarily occupy uninhabited islands and mine the guano (bird droppings used as fertiliser). On the South Island of New Zealand, the text "goldfields" is inscribed west of the city of Dunedin: this refers to the Otago gold rush (1861-1864), which for a short time made Dunedin New Zealand's most important city, and the first to have a university.


North America: The present strait of Nares, between Ellesmere Land and Greenland is notable for the sudden compression of place names: 'Lincoln Sea', 'Hall Land', 'Washington Land', 'Humboldt Glacier', 'Prudhoe Land', 'Smith Strait', 'Grimell Land', 'Grant Land', 'Kennedy Kan.', 'Robeson Kan.', and 'President Land' (which would disappear from the map again in the next edition). Bos was apparently a devoted reader of the new Tijdschrift van het Aardrijkskundig Genootschap (TAG), for the 1877 volume included a map of the English North Pole expedition of 1875-1876, with all these new names on it.

[Map XXV]

United States: Areas not yet listed as states have a dashed line as a boundary on this map, as with the Dakotas. The only railway indicated is the first transcontinental railway, the Union Pacific, from New York via Omaha to San Francisco. Its marking is indistinguishable from that of the Erie Canal, also marked on this map, which connected Albany on the Hudson with Buffalo on Lake Erie. The rise of Chicago, described extensively in Bos' textbook, is partly explained by the canal that terminated at that city and connected Lake Michigan to the Illinois River (and thus to the Mississippi). New Almaden near San Francisco is the site of the largest mercury mine in the US. The name refers to the Almaden mercury mines in Spain. Brooklyn is listed as a separate city from New York; it would not become part of New York City until 1898. In the Niagara River between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, a small transverse line has been placed. This marks waterfalls, in this case Niagara Falls.

Central America: St. Barthelemy was returned to France by Sweden in 1878. On the Caribbean Sea, the city of Colon (Aspinwall) is located in Colombia: Aspinwall was the name of the director of the Panama Railroad Company who completed the 'transcontinental' rail link between Colon and Panama in 1855. In the Dominican Republic, the name 'Samana Bay' is given because the United States negotiated for years to establish a naval base there.

[Map XXVI]

South America: Panama was still part of Colombia in 1877, Patagonia was indicated as a separate state, as was Argentina, but Bos' textbook explicitly states: 'Patagonia does not constitute a state. The scattered population exists largely from hunting. The coasts are visited by whalers and seal hunters. Some points on the southern coast are under the dominion of Chile. Tierra del Fuego does not constitute a state either.

Thematic maps

The Leerboek der Aardrijkskunde (1st edition 1875, 2nd edition 1876, 3rd edition 1878) contains thematic maps of the population density of Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Austria-Hungary, the East Indies and the United States. Such a map of the Netherlands is missing! Furthermore, we find a precipitation map of Europe and an ethnographic map of that continent. In the atlas, these thematic maps are supplemented by:

  • Railway maps (France, Spain, Italy, Europe);
  • Mining maps (Germany, Great Britain, United States);
  • river basin maps (of the Danube and of the United States; the latter is a very remarkable map in which per river basin the area, the population in thousands, the precipitation, and the size of the production of sugar, tobacco, corn, cotton, coal, wheat and wool are indicated;
  • sea currents: world
  • Altitude maps: Netherlands; world;
  • Geology: Netherlands;
  • agriculture/vegetation: Netherlands, Europe (northern border crops), world;
  • ethnographic maps: Austria-Hungary, Germany;
  • precipitation: Spain, world;
  • temperature: world.

Place names

Place names that were known in 1877 but that we no longer use are: Groote Zoutmeerstad (now Salt Lake City), the 'Groene Bergen' in the US state of Vermont and the ‘Rotsgebergte' where we now say Rocky Mountains. The name 'Aljaska' still refers to the former owner of the territory, Russia, which sold it to the United States in 1867. New Archangel', as the Russians had renamed Sitka, got its old name back in 1867: Sitka, but the previous name is still listed in brackets. The delta of the Ili River, before it flows into Lake Balqash, was called the 'Seven Streams Land' in 1877. The 'Sikkel Bergen' in Lorraine are called the Monts Faucilles in French. And the Italian 'Nizza' is now known by its French name of Nice.

In the 19th century Australia was the name commonly used in the Netherlands for the fifth continent (see J. van Wijk Roelandszoon, Algemeen aardrijkskundig woordenboek, first volume (Dordrecht: J. de Vos and J.Pluim de Jaager, 1821)), which included New Holland, New Guinea, New Zealand and many island groups. The largest island, which in 1877 was still called 'New Holland', is now generally called Australia. The 'Friendship Islands' (now Tonga), the 'Skipper Islands' (translation of the name 'Iles du Navigateur', so called by the French explorer Bougainville) are now called Samoa. The 'Low or Dangerous Islands' are now called Tuamotu. The Mariana Islands or Ladronen, also on the map of Australia, are now called only 'Mariana Islands'. Ladronen means 'Thieves Islands'. In Australia, the Blue Mountains west of Sydney are still called 'Blauwe Bergen' in the first Bosatlas. Sturt's Stony Desert in the north-east of South Australia is called 'Steenachtige Woestijn'. Alexandra Land' is the former name of the southern part of what is now Australia's Northern Territory, when it belonged (until 1911) to the state of South Australia. The name 'Gallic Sea' for the part of the Mediterranean Sea west of Corsica is also no longer used; neither is the 'Zuurlandsch Gebergte' (Sauerland). On the maps of Denmark and Scandinavia, the North Sea is called the "West Sea". Nicolaistad" (named after Tsar Nicholas I) was the name of the city Wasa or Vaasa during the Russian occupation of Finland.

In the Netherlands, the spelling of place names was based on derivation and pronunciation: 'Almeloo', 'Blarikum', 'Boksmeer', 'Bokstel', 'Eede ', 'Eisden', 'Friezenveen', 'Gorsel', 'Hengeloo', 'IJsel', 'IJselstein', 'Jutfaas', 'Koevorden', Kuik', 'Kuilenburg', 'Oorschot', 'Oosterwijk', 'Osch', 'Reenen', 'Tessel', 'Veere', 'Vechel', 'Venloo', 'Vucht', 'Wije', 'Zevenaar'. The List of Geographical Place Names published by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1864 was used for this purpose.

Finally, the capital letter Y was apparently not always in use: we find 'IJverdon', 'IJork', 'New IJork' and the 'IJork Peninsula', 'Ile de IJeu', 'IJstad' and the 'IJser', next to 'Yellowstone', 'Yucatan' and 'New York'.