Nicolaas Cruquius, Caarte ofte Afteeckening vande Rivier de Merwede, 1731, fragment (Allard Pierson UvA, KZL I 2 A 3)

Dissertaties Historische Kartografie / Theses History of Cartography

Paul van den Brink
De Hollandse rivierkartografie

‘In een opslag van het oog’: De Hollandse rivierkartografie en waterstaatszorg in opkomst, 1725-1754

Diss. Utrecht 29 mei 1998

Terug naar overzicht dissertaties / Back to overview PhD-theses

English Summary

Understanding rivers ‘at a glance’: River maps and waterway management in the province of Holland, 1725-1754

This study contributes to the research agenda for the history of Dutch topographic cartography formulated by professor Koeman in his Handleiding voor de studie van topografische kaarten van Nederland 1750-1850 (Groningen 1963). In this guide Koeman showed how much the modern Dutch topographic and hydraulic map series are rooted in several cartographic traditions developed by provincial and regional authorities and dating back to the 18th century: military cartography, maps for the administration of water boards and polders and river maps. In his guide Koeman summarised the important phases in the development of these cartographic traditions by means of a cartobibliographical approach and some casestudies. It was up to other researchers to explore, to adjust and to broaden this historical framework.

In addition to earlier research by Marijke Donkersloot-De Vrij of the topographical traditions in Dutch cartography up to 1750 (Groningen 1981) and the study of Dutch military cartography in the 16th and 18th century by Frans Scholten (Alphen aan den Rijn 1989), this book focus attention to Dutch printed river maps. This typical Dutch map genre dates back to the earlier parts of the 16th century, but only in the province of Holland -one of the seven provinces that together constituted the Dutch Republic (1579-1795)-, these maps were printed. They constituted the main product of a hydraulic department within the provincial council, that shaped up itself during the first half of the 18th century. Forced by hydraulic circumstances as changing opinions concerning the maintenance and the management ol the geographical landscape, this hydraulic department was put in charge for the care of the rivers that constituted the main threat for the low-lying polder landscape. In its 18th century shape the hydraulic department is considered to be forerunner of the modern Department for Public Works that was established in 1798, short after the political revolution of 1795 that ended the Dutch Republic.

The outlines in the development of the printed river maps were explained by Koeman in his Handleiding. On the basis of an cartobibliographic research only Koeman concluded to a subdivision in three stages of development. First the period up to 1750. This phase is characterised by the publication of general river maps on a uniform scale. For the design of these maps one fell back on a hydraulic and cartographic concept developed by the surveyor Nicolaas Cruquius (1678-1754). During the second phase between 1750 and 1830 cartography dropped back to lower level. Though Koeman is not able to explain this suggested downfall, on the basis of all the available cartographic evidence, he concludes that cartographers did not follow the original conception of Cruquius.

Generally the maps that were made during this period depict smaller areas, and are characterised by their incoherent nature. Only after 1830 the concepts of Cruquius were reinstated.This development was marked by the publication by order ol the Department for Public Works of the Algemeene Rivierkaart van Nederland (General map of the Dutch rivers) on the scale 1:10.000: a continuous map of the Dutch river system as regards to scale and design.

The original aim of this study was to confront Koeman’s development scheme on Dutch river maps with historical sources. Because of the large quantity of source materials available, I had to rephrase this objective and to concentrate my attention on the initial stage of Dutch river cartography up to ca 1750.

In the first and second chapter I discuss the backgrounds of the origin of the Dutch river cartography. The first chapter focuses on the works of the surveyor and cartographer Nicolaas Cruquius who laid the scientific basis for this cartography. Cruquius is considered the most important Dutch exponent of the reformation movement in cartography as developed at the end of the 17th century in France. This movement had as its goal to map the surface of the earth and its diversity of spatial information. By linking this cartography to hydrographic, astronomic and meteorological data, the map gained an actual and dynamic value. Such maps did not function as mere representations of static spatial images but as powerful visual documents providing precise information about the structure, form and dynamic of topographic elements. While being strongly inspired by the views of his teachers at Leiden university, Willem Jacob ’s-Gravesande (1688-1742) and Herman Boerhaave (1680-1730), Cruquius prepared an important hydraulic plan between 1725 and 1727.The essence ol this plan was formed by the idea that cartography which was founded on scientific research could contribute importantly to the hydraulic preservation of Holland, a province that was threatened by water from all sides. Although this danger was not imminent it would finally destroy the Dutch landscape. Though Cruquius was enabled to present his ideas in a map of the island of Goeree in the southern part of Holland (1729-1734), this plan was never realised. Nevertheless, as I discus in the second chapter, some of his ideas were realised within the framework of the hydraulic department that was founded by the provincial council of Holland in 1731. The responsible person for the realisation of these ideas was mainly Cornells Velsen (1703-1755) who used to be the surveyor of the powerful polder board (hoogheemraadschap) of Rijnland. His appointment in 1731 as the principle officer of this hydraulic department marks the birth of the organised river management in the service of the state. Velsen headed a small technical staff that assisted several working groups with the development of hydraulic planning. These plans were implemented only after a complicated process of decision making within the provincial council since approval was needed from all the towns in Holland.

Because the water management in Holland since the Middle Ages was assigned to a complex network of local and regional polder and dike boards, the hydraulic department concentrated its activities only on the territories that were not managed by these authorities: the sea walls and especially the river beds. That the care for the river beds took top priority was obvious. Though the rivers were essential for the safe transport of water, the flow of water was constantly disturbed by several obstacles within the riverbeds.These obstacles were ideal places for the piling up of water and ice and therefore constituted severe threats for inundation and the break through of the river dikes. In addition to the ill-managed river beds, the Dutch river system was severely disordered by an irregular distribution of the water of the river Rhine in the province of Gelderland. In spite of the digging of the Pannerdens Kanaal in 1707 a new point for the distribution of the Rhine over its three main branches, the river Waal, the river Nederrijn or Lek, and the river IJssel, one did not succeed in balancing the dispersal of water over these rivers. As a consequence the river Lek received far more water than it could handle and this resulted constantly in alarming situations. In case of a breach of the northern dikes of this river the water had free play to penetrate deep in the low-lying polder lands in the centre of Holland. The hydraulic department was charged with the drawing of plans that could avert this general threat.

Following the concepts of Nicholas Cruquius,Velsen took up the position that a rescue plan for the Dutch rivers should be based on fundamental scientific research. This inquiry should bring forward inward views on the several processes that determined the behaviour of the rivers. On the basis of a profound scientific investigation Velsen developed the idea to improve the whole Dutch river system by a structural policy of river regulation. By broadening the river beds at some places, narrow the river beds at other places and by removing all the obstacles that obstructed the stream, the river would get an permanent course for the transport of water and ice. For the planning and co-ordination of this regulation, the availability of precise river maps were absolutely essential.

Although this solution nowadays is considered as one of the main principles of river management, this idea was not adopted by the provincial council. Forced by the polder board of Rijnland, responsible for the water management in the central part of Holland, the provincial council decided for another strategy. This scheme stressed that a policy of river regulation was useless as long as the distribution of the river Rhine was out of balance. According to Rijnland the provincial council had to negotiate with Gelderland and the other ‘river provinces’ Utrecht and Overijssel to agree to a final settlement for this key problem. Because these complicated en therefore lengthy mediations only could provide solutions in the long term (in fact at the end of the 18th century), the hydraulic department in the meantime should develop other remedies to lead the water in save directions: the raising of the dykes or the diversion of the water by artificial means. To guarantee the realisation of this scheme and to repel the strong influence of Cornelis Velsen on decision making, Rijnland succeeded tot put her own protege, professor Johan Lulofs (1711-1768), at the top of the hydraulic department. With the appointment of Lulofs as Inspector General of the Dutch rivers, the department obtained its 18th century shape.

In the third and fourth chapter I look in detail to the several river maps that resulted from the activities employed by the hydraulic office between 1725 and 1754. In chapter I discuss the cartography of the river Merwede or Maas, the lower half of the river Waal, that stretches out from the town of Gorinchem to the town of Rotterdam where the river flows out in the North Sea. Along the south riverbank of the Merwede between Gorinchem and the town of Dordrecht lies the vast watery area the Biesbosch, that resulted from a never stopped dike breach dating back to the 15th century. By way of several creeks that were all connected to the river, the river lost more than 60% of its water before it reached Dordrecht. The rest was not sufficient to preserve the sufficient depth of the remainder of the river. As a consequence this part of the river silted up and this was very damaging for the several seaports at the lower reaches of the river. Within the provincial council these ports therefore insisted on the complete blocking of the Biesbosch. These views however were opposed by the town of Gorinchem and a number of polder and dike boards. They feared that the closing of the Biesbosch, would overflow the river and inundate their territories permanently.

Between 1726 and 1746 the hydraulic searched in vain for several solutions that were acceptable for all the parties involved, and in this process three main surveys of the river were performed.

The first contribution to the cartography of the river was a sketch map by the surveyor Abel deVries (1652-1732). DeVries only mapped the outlines of the river between Gorinchem and Dordrecht. Within five years this part of the river was mapped again by Nicolaas Cruquius. In contrast to DeVries who completed his map within few days, Cruquius worked for more than a year in completing his map and a detailed scientific research on the condition of the river. In this well-balanced map on the scale 1:10.000 Cruquius shows special attention for all topographic details of the river bed and the adjacent lands outside the river dykes. His starting point was that map users should be able to derive reliable information about the landscape ‘at a glance of the eye’. This conceptualisation of the river landscape is expressed at its best through the system of contour lines Cruquius used to visualise the imperceptible river beds.

About the introduction of the contour line within cartography we have considerable sources at our disposal. All this information was gathered by Joseph Konvitz in his book Cartography in France 1660-1848: science, information and statecraft (Chicago 1987). Setting aside early Dutch examples by the surveyors Pieter Bruinsz (1584) and Pierre Ancelin (1697), Konvitz attributes the first application of the contour line to Luigi Fernando Marsigli (1680-1730) who used a single contour on a printed map in his Histoire physique de la mer (The Hague 1725). Nicolaas Cruquius was the first who used a system of contour lines on his map of the river Merwede. In spite of the short interval between these to applications, Konvitz judges them as isolated events. This view should be adjusted. Though Cruquius considered the application of contour lines as his own invention and also explained this principle in a scientific report, it is a certainty that he was influenced by the Italian scientist. In fact Marsigli in person demonstrated Cruquius the applicability of the contour line for hydraulic and hydrographic research, during a long stay in Holland between 1721 and 1723. According to Konvitz the meaning of Cruquius invention was of short duration and the breakthrough of the contour line as a cartographic convention should therefore be attributed to the French cartographer Phillipe Buache (1700-1773), who also was the first who explained its theoretical backgrounds. Though this attribution perfectly fits in Konvitz history of French cartography, it has to be considered as a misrepresentation. Besides the fact that Cruquius himself explained the theory of contour lines in 1735 in a own scientific report, the contour line was used on a regular basis in Dutch printed river maps during the entire 18th century.

On his map of the river Merwede Cruquius also introduced some other novelties. The results of his extensive scientific research were displayed in an unprecedented way in graphics on a separate map. With the help of these diagrams Cruquius meant to strengthen the synthetical value of his map.

The third contribution to the cartography of the river was a map by Melchior Bolstra (1703-1776) the successor of Cornells Velsen as surveyor of the polder board of Rijnland. At the insistence of Cruquius and others, Bolstra produced an map in six sheets of the whole basin of the river Merwede on the scale 1:20.000. Bolstra s map of the river Merwede also stands out for its precise depiction of the topography of the river beds but due to financial restrictions, the adjacent lands outside the river dykes are only shown in outlines. Likewise the results of the scientific research, that accompanied the map survey, are not displayed on a separate sheet. In stead these graphics and profiles are depicted on the map itself. In all other aspects, in style and design, this map fitted exactly within the concepts of Cruquius.

The linking of scientific research and cartography that accompanied the hydraulic care of the river Merwede was also applied on the other rivers within Holland, as well as the rivers in the other provinces of the Dutch Republic. These aspects, as far it concerns the river maps that were produced till 1754, are dealt with in chapter 4.

As a result of a few serious inundation’s of the territories north of the river Lek between 1740 and 1744, the hydraulic department shifted its attention to problems of this river. As was mentioned above there were quite different views how to deal with these problems. However this disagreement did not hinder the realisation of a series of outstanding river maps. Inspired by Velsen the hydraulic department ordered the mapping of the river Lek. Melchior Bolstra was the author of this huge river map in 7 sheets. He completed his survey between 1750 and 1754 but due to organisational circumstances the map was only published in 1765. In this map Bolstra followed the concepts introduced by Cruquius: an exact representation of the river beds and all other topographical elements that could attribute to the understanding of the shape of the river landscape. The design of the map on the scale 1:10.000 added much to this perception. Although Bolstra gathered readings concerning the depth of the river and the appearance of the river beds, this information ‘for lack of time’ was not worked out in a system of contour lines. The same applies for the results of his hydraulic research. Though this information was available in manuscript and in considerable measure, during the process of map editing was decided (for reason we do not know), to ignore these materials.

In accordance to the views dictated by Rijnland the hydraulic department in general followed a two-track policy. On a practical level the department developed several solutions to lead the water in save directions. One such solution was the idea to divert water — when high water levels occurred – from the river Lek in a southern direction to the river Linge. The Linge should then transport the superfluous water of the Lek to the river Merwede and onwards into the Biesbosch. Though this plan, as so many other plans, was never realised, in 1754 Melchior Bolstra made a map of the river Linge, again on the scale of 1:10.000. With the completion of this map, a consistent printed map of all the rivers in Holland was available.

On a managerial level the hydraulic department discussed the balancing of the distribution of the river Rhine in negotiation with the provinces of Gelderland, Utrecht and Overijssel. For the benefit of these laborious negotiations the department prepared a great number of maps.Though the surveyors had to work with limited time schedules, they completed a series of precise river maps of the key bottlenecks of this river system on different scales. Furthermore they assembled all kinds of hydraulic, meteorological and astronomical information. Again this combination of cartography and data management provided the hydraulic department with detailed insights about all the physical phenomena that contributed to the disorder of this territory. That the department did not succeed in connecting these maps with the general map of the rivers in Holland, doesn’t alter the fact that these later river maps also show how much the hydraulic department strived for the realisation of a coherent and scientific approach of the principle anomalies in the Dutch river system.

In chapter 5 I suggest on the basis of cartobibliographical research that this general concept, originally developed by Nicolaas Cruquius, also proved to be the consistent motive behind the river maps that were made during the second half of the 18th century.

In chapter 6 I summarise my study. My main conclusion is that Koemans subdivision of Dutch river cartography should bereformulated. Contrary to his suggestion of a downfall of cartography after 1750,1 postulate a fully different view: the strong combination of administrative organisation and cartographic concepts, created an progressive basis for the development of Dutch river maps in the latter half of the 18th century. This coherent cartographic tradition reflects the main starting points of the hydraulic department: insights, overview and continuity.

Insight referred to the obtaining of knowledge about a diversity of hydraulic processes that were responsible tor the  shape of the river beds. During the 1730’s and 1740’s Cruquius and Velsen had initiated this gathering of quantitative information. After 1754 Lulofs and his successor Christiaan Brunings (1735-1805) continued these investigations on a more permanent basis.

To get overview good and reliable river maps were indispensable. The general printed rivermap of the main rivers in Holland, the river Merwede or Maas, de river Lek and the river Linge that was completed in 1754 provided excellent base materials lor the construction of new maps. For the rivers outside the province of Holland this general map was not available. To overcome these difficulties territories were mapped intensively by the surveyors of the hydraulic department with the main purpose to get any grip on the rapid and often unpredictable changes that occurred in this river landscape.

Continuity was the common denominator for the hydraulic and cartographic research as well as the organisation of water management. The general performance of this management was surely hindered by the time-consuming way of decision-making. However it is evident that the provincial council in Holland took command, and that this policy proved to be successful in the long term. The scale of the problems, especially concerning the river system, demanded a cartography that could give insight in the complex problems of the geographical landscape, as well as a cartography that could supply the solutions. These qualities were visible in the river maps that were ordered by the hydraulic department.

The strong combination of administrative organisation and cartographic concepts within the hydraulic department, created a fruitful platform for the exchange of cartographic and hydraulic ideas and experiences. No period of decline as Koeman suggests, but a tradition that guaranteed continuity for a next generation of surveyors, as well as for the reformers who after 1830 were responsible for the realisation of the general map of the Dutch rivers on the scale 1:10.000.