Jacques N. Bellin

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


First Ingenieur de la Marine

Bellin was born in Paris. In 1721, at age 18, he was appointed hydrographer (chief cartographer) to the French Navy. He then became the first Ingenieur 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

During his reign the Depot came out with prodigious amount of charts and maps among which was a 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 came out with 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, and still widely used in the 20th century.

Member of philosophes

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

The ''Encyclopedistes'' were part of the group called ''philosophes'' among whose members were the great minds of the Age of Enlightenment, e.g., Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseua, Baron d'Holbach. The group promoted the advancement of science and secular thought, and supported the Enlightenment's ideas on tolerance, rationality, and open-mindedness. Their overarching concern was the concept of progress, the betterment of society and human beings.

Innocent party to a geographical error

Bellin contributed a number of maps to 15-vol. ''Histoire Generale des Voyages'' of Antoine Francois Prevost 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.

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.

Shown in Bellin's map was an island named "Limasava," a word invented in 1667 by Spanish friar, Fr. Francisco Combes, 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. Combes, 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 Gian Battista Ramusio and the secondhand account by Antonio de Herrera. 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 gave a faithful narration of the Mazzaua anchorage.

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

This episode was projected in the 1734 map made by Murillo which 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.

It is only now that the skein starting from the garbled version of Pigafetta by Ramusio to the mishandling by Combes to Bellin and finally to Amoretti has been unraveled: Pigafetta's Gatighan is Bellin's Limasava.


Combés, Francisco. 1667. Historia de las islas de Mindanao, Iolo y sus adyacentes. W.E. Retana (ed.). Madrid 1897. de Jesus, Vicente C. ()2002). Mazaua Historiography. Retrieved February 27, 2007, from MagellansPortMazaua mailing list:[[<http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/MagellansPortMazaua/files/Mazaua%20Historiography/]] E. Taillemite. Dictionnaire des marins francais. Paris, 1982. Herrera, Antonio de. 1601. Historia general de los hechos de los Castellanos en las islas y tierrafirme del mar oceano, t. VI. Angel Gonzalez Palencia (ed.). Madrid 1947. Jean-Marc Garant. Jacques-Nicolas Bellin (1703-1772), cartographe, hydrographe, ingenieur du ministere de la Marine: sa vie, son oeuvre, sa valeur historique. Thesis (M.A., Histoire), Montreal: 1973 Ramusio, Gian Battista. "La Detta navigatione per messer Antonio Pigafetta Vicentino". In: Delle navigatione... Venice: Pp. 380-98.

--Ginesdemafra 08:03, 14 July 2007 (Pacific Daylight Time) --Vicente Calibo de Jesus 18:42, 17 August 2007 (Pacific Daylight Time)