VEER, Gerrit de (ca 1573-after 1598). Tre Navigationi fatte dagli Olandesi, e Zelandesi al Settentrione nella Norvegi, Moscovia, e Tartaria verso il Catai, e Regno de Sini, doue scopersero il Mare di Veygatz, La Nova Zembla. Venice: Gio. Battista Ciotti, 1599.
4to., (8 x 5 7/8 inches). Vignette title-page, one engraved plate of a compass rose, five maps, and 26 vignettes, including two printed in sanguine. Contemporary limp vellum, title in manuscript on the spine (skillfully rebacked preserving the original spine, 2 pairs of ties renewed).
First Italian edition, first published in Dutch by Cornelius Claez in 1598, and an immediate bestseller. A truly ripping account and extensively illustrated text make it clear why. ONE OF THE MOST SHOCKING AND HARROWING TALES OF MAN VS. NATURE. Peppered throughout are graphic depictions of bear attacks, the cannibalizing of an entire ship to build a bear-proof shelter, and grueling portages over ice and frozen wastes.
De Veer's account of Barentz's three voyages attempting to discover a Northeast Passage, is a major work of arctic exploration. Illustrated with magnificent maps of the area, and with fine plates depicting the trials and tribulations of the three voyages and Berentz' over-wintering on the remote and inhospitable Nova Zembla. In the late 15th century Portuguese navigators discovered a sea route to Asia, and immediately caused other nations to covet their exclusive and lucrative trade in rare and exotic spices such as pepper, cloves, and nutmeg. Eventually an alternative route to the Indies around the Cape of Good Hope was established in 1597 but not before the Dutch had made three attempts to find a Northeast Passage to Asia.
The first Dutch expedition to Asia left from the island of Texel in June 1594. Willem Barentsz commanded two ships which followed the route Petrus Plancius proposed and reached the northernmost point of Novaya Zemlya, but had to return due to the impenetrability of the pack ice. Two other ships, which had taken an alternative route proposed by Jan Huygen van Linschoten, discovered that the Kara Sea was not an inland sea, but an open waterway which could therefore be the long looked for gateway to Asia. On this occasion all four ships returned safely to the Dutch Republic. The second expedition of seven ships, heavily laden with money and commodities for the Asian market, embarked in 1595 following Linschoten's route. It successfully maneuvered through the Waijgats Strait. Unfortunately freezing temperatures made the Kara Sea impenetrable and the fleet was forced to return to Amsterdam.
In May 1596, the third and most infamous expedition left Amsterdam, aiming to round Novaya Zemlya to the north, the route which Plancius had mapped in 1594. This expedition came Bear Island and Spitsbergen. While one of the only two ships on this more cautious voyage returned to the United Provinces to report the discoveries to the merchants who had financed the expedition, Barentsz and Van Heemskerck, and their crew of seventeen men, including the author of this work Gerrit de Veer, continued towards Novaya Zemlya. After successfully rounding the northernmost point of Novaya Zemlya, disaster struck and the ship was caught in the ice. Despite all efforts there was no other option but to spend the winter in the Arctic region. A polar bear proof cabin was constructed from the ship's wood, called the Behouden Huys, a process beautifully illustrated in this work. This left only two smaller vessels for the homeward journey in June 1597. In open boats the survivors sledged and sailed 1600 miles around the northern cape, down the length of Novaya Zemlya, and out across the White Sea to safety on the Kola Peninsula. Their perilous voyage took six weeks, after which they eventually arrived at a Russian fishing village, but tragically Willem Barentsz and four others had already succumbed to scurvy. Dutch Department, University College London online; Adams V317; JCB I, p.377. For inquiries please contact Greg McMurray, MLS, Director, Rare Books.