László Magyar’s Cartography of Angola and the Discovery of his 1858 Manuscript Map in the Cholnoky Collection in Romania

Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography book series (LNGC)


With the exception of Livingstone, a Hungarian explorer, László Magyar, was the first European to travel in large areas of the present-day Angola. He lived in Angola from 1848 to 1864 and produced relatively accurate maps during this period. His manuscript map of 1857 which shows the coastline of Angola and a large area of the interior, is stored in Budapest. The other manuscript map from 1858 depicts inner Angola, an area which was at that time almost completely unknown to Europe. This map was known only through a copy which had been published in the German periodical Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen in 1860. The manuscript version was considered lost for a long time, but was in 2007 rediscovered by the authors in the Cholnoky Map Collection in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

In this paper the authors explain how Magyar’s two manuscript maps (both drawn in Angola) ended up in Hungary and Romania respectively. They also analyse the content and planimetric accuracy of the two maps using digital methods (GIS-techniques and statistical index numbers), and some toponymical tools. In the third instance they want to introduce the reader to the Cholnoky Map Collection.

The Cholnoky collection was established at the beginning of the twentieth century by the Hungarian geographer Jenő Cholnoky who was professor at the University of Cluj-Napoca (Kolozsvár), at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The collection disappeared in the 1950s to be rediscovered and catalogued between 2001 and 2008. The Cholnoky map collection is presently considered the second largest map collection in Romania.


This paper had its origin in two seemingly independent cartographic research projects which were later found to be closely related. The first of these was the discovery in 2007 of a hitherto forgotten map collection at the Babeş–Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Known as the Cholnoky Jenő Map Collection, this body of maps has since been catalogued and is now considered to be the second largest map collection in Romania. The other project involved an investigation into the cartographic legacy of the Hungarian explorer László Magyar. That these two projects were related, came to the authors’ attention when the newly-found Cholnoky Collection surprisingly yielded a known, but long considered lost, 1858 manuscript map by Magyar. Prior to this discovery, the only extant manuscript map by Magyar was his 1857 map which shows the coastline of Angola and a large area of the interior. This map is now kept in the Library of the Hungarian Academy, Budapest.

The rediscovery of the 1858 map is a significant cartographic event which is also of interest to ethnographers. With the exception of David Livingstone, László Magyar was the first European to travel in large areas of the present-day Angola. He lived in this part of the continent from 1848 to 1864 and produced relatively accurate maps based on his own geographical and ethnographical observations. His findings were regularly sent back to Europe where two of his maps, compiled in 1857–1858 respectively, were subsequently published – his 1857 map in Hungary in 1859 (Hunfalvy 1859), and his 1858 map in Germany in 1860 (Magyar 1860b). After its publication, the manuscript of the 1857 map was retained but, since 1888, the manuscript of the 1858 map has been considered lost. What makes Magyar’s 1858 map important to map historians, is that it is a depiction of inner Angola, an area which was in the mid-nineteenth century almost completely unknown to Europe. Another significant feature which Magyar indicated on this map, is the route Livingstone followed in 1854 when he traversed central Angola from the Zambezi to Luanda.

The authors’ main objective with this paper was to clarify how these two extant manuscript maps of 1857–1858 (both drawn in Angola) ended up in Hungary and Romania respectively. As a secondary objective, they aimed to analyse the content and planimetric accuracy of the two maps in question.

To achieve these goals, two different methodologies were adopted. As a first step, a comprehensive bibliography consisting of nearly three thousand entries related to Magyar and his contemporary South-Central African travellers, was compiled (Nemerkényi 2008). The relevant material was not only found in libraries and archives in Hungary and Portugal, but also in Germany and Austria. For the analysis of the two manuscript maps, digital methods such as GIS-techniques and statistical index numbers, as well as toponymical tools, were employed (Nemerkényi 2008).

The Cholnoky Map Collection in Cluj-Napoca, Romania

The discovery of a large number of historical maps and photographs in a store room at the Babeş–Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca in 2001 came as a surprise to everybody concerned. Viewing the collection initially, the origin of the maps and photographs was difficult to identify. Inspecting the dusty and in some places moulded papers carefully did, however, yield dividends in that it became apparent that the collection had once belonged to Jenő Cholnoky.

Jenő Cholnoky (1870–1950) was one of Hungary’s most famous geographers. He graduated at Budapest, travelled in China (1896–1898), and taught at the universities of Cluj-Napoca / Kolozsvár (1905–1919) and Budapest (1920–1940). His research interests were Physical and Regional Geography.

To fully understand the history of the collection, one should relate it to the history of the region. In the Middle Ages the present city of Cluj-Napoca (its Hungarian name is Kolozsvár) was part of the Kingdom of Hungary. The city then became part of the Principality of Transylvania, then of the Habsburg Empire, and eventually of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The university was founded in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1872 when it was given the name Francis Joseph University. Between 1905 and 1919 Cholnoky headed the Department of Geography at this university (see Fig. 15.1). After the Monarchy was defeated in World War I, the eastern part of Hungary (also named Transylvania) where Kolozsvár was situated, became part of Romania. The university lost its Hungarian character and Cholnoky had to leave the city on short notice, leaving the collection of maps and photographs behind. The official name of the city was changed from Kolozsvár to the Romanian name of Cluj (later Cluj-Napoca), and a Romanian university was established on the same site and occupying the same buildings as the former university. During the communist regime of the 1950s, it was considered illegal to own historical maps and the authorities would have destroyed the collection if they had known about it. To preserve the map and photo collection for posterity, it was hidden in a store room with the result that, decades later, nobody knew about its existence. When the communist regime came to an end in 1989, the university assumed a multicultural identity. Its present name is the Babeş–Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, with Romanian, Hungarian and German as languages of education.
Fig. 15.1

The University of Kolozsvár in 1909 as it appears on an old postcard

The photo collection which contains more than 5,000 individual photos dating from the beginning of the twentieth century, was initially catalogued by Zoltán Imecs. Most of the photographs were taken by Cholnoky in Transylvania, but hundreds of photos also derive from travels he undertook in other continents such as China and the United States (Imecs 2004). Between 2006 and 2008, the Cholnoky map collection was catalogued under the supervision of Bartos-Elekes. Of the 6,400 items, 3,050 are chorographic and thematic maps, 3,200 (mostly Austrian) topographic map sheets, and 150 atlases. The oldest maps date from the seventeenth century, but the majority of maps is from the nineteenth century. This collection of historical maps which is larger than the map collection of the Romanian National Library, is considered the second largest collection of historical maps in Romania after the collection of the Romanian Academy in Bucharest.

The cataloguing process also yielded some valuable manuscript maps, the most important map being László Magyar 1858 cartographic compilation of inner Angola (Bartos-Elekes 2008).

László Magyar, a Hungarian Explorer in Angola

László Magyar was born in Szombathely in Hungary on November 13, 1818 (see Fig. 15.2). He was well-educated and spoke five European languages except Hungarian. He left Europe in 1843 and arrived in the present-day Angola in Africa in 1848 where he married a local woman, the daughter of the King of the Bié territory. The fact that the indigenous peoples accepted him as an “insider”, greatly aided him in his travels and provided him with the opportunity to intimately study the local people, their habits, and their social organization. Unlike other European travellers who were always on the move, Magyar would stay at a place for a long time where he would record valuable geographical, and especially ethnographical, data. He lived in Angola for 17 years and died in Ponto do Cuio on November 9, 1864 (Nemerkényi 2008).
Fig. 15.2

Portrait of Magyar’s brother in law which is believed by many to be László Magyar himself as their faces were quite similar – even the squint of their eyes

Magyar was also interested in the geography of the country and undertook several journeys into the interior of the present-day Angola. Most of his travels were in the borderland between the present Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (1850–1851), and in the south-eastern part of Angola (1852–1854) along the watershed of the Zambezi and Congo rivers (see Fig. 15.3). He was often the first European explorer to set foot in a specific area and, whilst travelling, he indulged in an extended correspondence with various scientists and scientific institutions in Europe. He used to send his ethnographic-geographical observations and descriptions home to the Hungarian Academy of Science and was elected a corresponding member of the Hungarian Academy in 1858 (Nemerkényi 2008).
Fig. 15.3

Travels by Magyar and his contemporaries and the areas covered by his manuscript maps (Copyright for this image by Nemerkényi)

Magyar’s Manuscript Map of 1857

In 1857 Magyar sent the first volume of his reports, together with a map (see Fig. 15.4), to János Hunfalvy, a member of the Hungarian Academy of Science in Budapest. The despatch of the documents was took place with the aid of the Portuguese government. As the first and primary Hungarian patron of Magyar's travels, Hunfalvy wrote a preface to Magyar’s text which he supplemented with notes. In 1859 this text was published by the Hungarian Academy under the editorship of Hunfalvy (Hunfalvy 1859). After publication, Magyar’s manuscript map of 1857 became part of the collection of the manuscript department of the Hungarian Academy of Science in Budapest where it has been stored ever since (Magyar 1857). In 1861 Magyar was informed of the successful delivery of the parcel and the subsequent publication of his work, as well as his election as a member of the Hungarian Academy of Science.
Fig. 15.4

Facsimile of Magyar’s manuscript of 1857 (copyright for this image by the Hungarian Academy of Science, Budapest, and Cartographia Ltd., Budapest)

Similar to the way in which he treated Magyar’s earlier letters and reports, Hunfalvy forwarded the German translation of Magyar’s material to August Petermann, the editor of Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen in Gotha, as well as to the officers of the Royal Geographical Society in London (Rónay 1854). Although it cannot be verified that Hunfalvy also sent Magyar’s original map of 1857 to other institutions abroad, he most probably forwarded a copy of it, together with Magyar's textual descriptions, to members of other international scientific communities in Europe.

Manuscript Map of 1858

In a letter to Hunfalvy in 1858 (Magyar 1858a), Magyar appended a description of the countries of Moluva, alias Moropuu, and Lobal, as well as a map depicting the territory concerned. In 1859 the main part of this study (without the vocabulary list) was read by Hunfalvy as Magyar’s inaugural lecture at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Magyar 1859). With some minor changes, the same paper also appeared in Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen (Magyar 1860a). Petermann also published the redrawn version of the appended map together with the Moluva list of approximately 200 words from Magyar’s original manuscript (Magyar 1860b). This was the last European publication which would refer directly to Magyar’s original and unaltered manuscript map of 1858. From then onwards, for almost a century and a half, various authors would refer to the edited copy published by Petermann only (see Fig. 15.5).
Fig. 15.5

Magyar’s map published in PGM, in 1860 (With permission of National Széchényi Library, Budapest)

In his biographical study of Magyar published in 1937, Gusztáv Thirring refers to “maps” (plural) that had been compiled by Magyar, but provided no any accurate indication of his sources (Thirring 1937). Using the plural form was indeed correct, since the afore-mentioned correspondence and reports obviously implied the editing of multiple maps of which Magyar sent at least two to Hungary via Portuguese mediation. In 1888 Thirring visited the editor-in-chief of Petermann's Geographische Mittheilungen at the Justus Perthes Geographical Institute in Gotha, Alexander Supan, to ask for the 1858 manuscript map of Magyar (Thirring 1888). The map was, however, no longer in the Institute at the time.

The authors realised that access to the original version of the 1858 map would be imperative to provide a summary of Magyar's scientific achievements and an analysis of the quality of his cartographic work. In an attempt to locate the 1858 manuscript map for the purposes of this research, the map collections of the Justus Perthes Geographical Institute in Gotha, the Lisbon Geographical Society, and the Royal Geographical Society in London were searched. Only references to the map were found, but not the map itself. Shortly afterwards, however, in April 2007, a manuscript map (Magyar 1858b) with the title Outline of the Map of South Africa, edited in 1858 by Magyar (see Fig. 15.6) was discovered during the cataloguing of the Cholnoky Map Collection. With his reference to “South Africa” (instead of southwestern Africa or Angola) Magyar obviously followed a convention established by earlier travellers. It has to remark that beside this map from Cholnoky Map Collection could be other examples of Magyar's manuscript maps (e.g. in Gotha).
Fig. 15.6

Manuscript map of 1858 (Copyright for this image by the Babeş–Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca and Cholnoky Geographical Society, Cluj-Napoca)

The map in question apparently reached Hunfalvy in Hungary as the appendix to Magyar’s treatise, who forwarded it to August Petermann in Gotha for publication in Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen. Knowing that the map appeared in the Mitteilungen (Magyar 1860b), it was logical that Thirring (in 1888) expected the manuscript version of the map to be still in the archives of the Justus Perthes Geographical Institute in Gotha. Today, however, it can be accepted that Supan was not mistaken when he was unable to locate the map. What probably happened was that Petermann, after editing and publishing Magyar’s text and the appended map in 1860, by 1888 had returned the manuscript map to Hunfalvy in Hungary. Instead of donating the map to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Hunfalvy added the map to the collection of the Hungarian Geographical Society which he had founded himself in 1872. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the map eventually emerged from Cluj-Napoca where it probably ended up through the intervention of Cholnoky. Cholnoky served as secretary of the Hungarian Geographical Society from 1905 to 1910 and as president from 1914 to 1945. It is highly improbable that he would have transferred the map to Cluj-Napoca from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, but much more likely that he added it to the departmental map collection during his tenure as a professor of Geography at Francis Joseph University. When the Romanian authorities forced him to leave at short notice in 1919, the map remained behind. Today the map bears the seal of the Ferencz József Tudományegyetem Földrajzi Intézete (Geographical Institute of Francis Joseph University) in its the lower right corner with the catalog number C 4071 underneath. From this we can infer that Magyar’s map became part of the collection in Cluj after 1905, but before 1919.

Accuracy of the Manuscript Maps

Together Magyar’s two manuscript maps represent Central Angola. The 1857 map depicts the western part (plus the coastline), whereas the 1858 map covers the inner part, showing territories which presently belong to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The two maps overlap and the areas depicted on them reveal a part of the world which was almost totally unknown to Europe. Until that time, the only Europeans who had ever travelled here, were David Livingstone in 1853–1855, António Francisco Ferreira da Silva Porto in 1841–1854, and Alexander Alberto de la Rocha Serpa Pinto in 1846–1900.

Before subjecting Magyar’s maps to a digital analysis, a few general comments about his cartography might be appropriate. On the whole his maps reveal both a lack of precision in determining geographical position, and an overestimation of the distances covered during his travels (Hunfalvy 1859): 14,461. The first shortcoming could probably be ascribed to a lack of experience in using astronomical instruments, and the second to the practical difficulties in moving a large expedition party consisting of several hundred people. Whatever the reasons, Magyar’s maps were distorted and Petermann, keeping the actual information intact, had to shorten the distances on the maps proportionally before publishing them.

Both the 1857–1858 maps are provided with geographic coordinate systems. The grids are quadratics, which means that the maps were compiled on the Equi-rectangular Cylindrical Projection which is true to scale along the Equator. Using the dimensions of the grid, it was possible to calculate the theoretical scale of the maps. Both the 1857–1858 maps are provided with geographic coordinate systems. The grids are quadratics, which means that the maps were compiled on the Equi-rectangular Cylindrical Projection which is true to scale along the Equator. Because this projection is true to scale along the Equator, so we can calculate the scale of the maps: measuring the distance along the Equator and dividing by the real length. Using the dimensions of the grid: on the 1857 map, 1° (111 km) corresponds to 91 mm, which means that the scale is approximately 1:1,220,000; on the map of 1858, 1° (111 km) corresponds to 54 mm, defining the scale as approximately 1:2,040,000.

For the purposes of this article, Magyar’s maps were analyzed using the MapAnalyst software which was developed in Switzerland (Jenny 2007). This software calculates the accuracy of an historical map by comparing the content of the old map with the content of a new map using control points. For reasons of comparison, recent map sheets of the Soviet topographic map of Africa on a scale of 1:500,000 were used after it had been converted to an Equirectangular Cylindrical Projection (the same projection as used by Magyar) by means of GIS methods.

Eighteen control points were identified on Magyar’s map of 1857 (e.g. Cape Santa Maria; cities such as Benguela, Kuito, Luanda, Lucira, Pungo Andongo, and Quilengues; as well as the mouths of rivers and the points where rivers converge). The local scale factors of the map (compared to the content of the map and not to the grid of the map) are 1:1,050,000 horizontally and 1:1,170,000 vertically. This means that the map is horizontally 16% and vertically 43% larger than what Magyar anticipated. Expressed differently: the error in latitude is only 4%, while the error in longitude is 16%. The error in longitude is larger because for Magyar the measurement of longitude (measuring difference in time) was more complicated than the measurement of latitude (measuring the angle of the sun or a star above the horizon).

The standard deviation of the displacement vectors is 37 km, whereas the mean positioning error is 52 km. Most of the displacement vectors have a horizontal direction as the larger error was in the longitude and not in latitude. Places on the coastline were drawn further to the west than their actual position, whereas places close to Kuito (Magyar’s residence) were drawn further east than where they are in reality (see Fig. 15.7).
Fig. 15.7

Geographic grid and distortion vectors on the map of 1857 (Copyright for this image by Bartos-Elekes)

On the map dating from 1858 it was more difficult to establish control points as the area had been poorly mapped. Only nine control points could be found (mostly confluences of rivers). In this case the scale factor of the map is also 25% larger than what Magyar had anticipated. The displacement vectors here are between 20 and 30 km. The vectors have varied directions as this map is less accurate than the 1857 map (see Fig. 15.8).
Fig. 15.8

Geographic grid and distortion vectors on the map of 1858 (Copyright for this image by Bartos-Elekes)

Magyar used astronomical positioning measurements for his latitudes, which allow much more accurate coordinates than the estimation of longitude with larger errors. The map compiled in 1857 is fairly accurate as he probably made use of older maps when compiling it. The map of 1858 which represents inner Angola, is by comparison more inaccurate as it covers an area that had not been mapped before.

Content of the Manuscript Maps

Both maps are provided with a geographic grid and both depict hydrographical features and settlements. The map of 1857 also depicts relief and boundaries, whereas the map of 1858 shows the route Livingstone followed from Sesheke to Luanda. Mentioning should be made of the fact that the detail on the maps do not pertain to certain areas only, but are evenly spread. The reason for this was that Magyar was integrated in the local society and that he was knowledgeable about the entire area and not only about the areas in which he himself had travelled. Livingstone’s map of 1854 of the same area covers only the narrow zone situated along the explorer’s route. From his correspondence with his Hungarian patrons, it can be inferred that Magyar knew about Livingstone’s successful journey from the Zambesi to Luanda. It is therefore not strange that Magyar wrote in one of his letters (Magyar 1856) that he intended to personally contact Livingstone. This meeting unfortunately never took place and there does not exist any documentary evidence that Livingstone knew about Magyar.

The number of names on the map of 1857 is 450, with 150 appearing on the map of 1858. The names are mostly toponyms or place names, and hydronyms, with some descriptive notes in Hungarian. Both Magyar’s maps are detailed maps when compared to the maps of other travellers such as Livingstone (Livingstone 1854) (see Fig. 15.9).
Fig. 15.9

Livingstone’s manuscript map indicating his route from Sesheke to Luanda. 1854 (Copyright for this image by the Royal Geographical Society, London)

Lost Documents

The Hungarian Academy of Sciences only learnt about Magyar’s death in 1868, 4 years after he had passed away. When receiving the news, they asked permission from the Portuguese government to transport his papers and personal belongings to Hungary (Arany 1868). Four years later, in 1872, the Portuguese authorities reported that the crate containing Magyar's papers had been destroyed by fire (Anonymus 1873). Hungarian scientific circles found this explanation difficult to accept, but the period of 9 years which had already passed since Magyar’s death was too long to allow for effective action.

We can accept with certainty that some of Magyar’s manuscripts were destroyed, but it would be premature to conclude that this was the case with all his documents. The research undertaken by the present authors does indicate that artifacts and documents belonging to Magyar which may still be found could provide valuable further insights into his discoveries. At this stage one cannot entirely exclude the possibility that Magyar’s second and third volumes, together with the relevant maps, may still be found in either Angola or the Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino in Lisbon, Portugal, or maybe elsewhere in Europe. Judging from the example of the manuscript map of 1858, the most logical archival or library collection to research is not necessarily the correct one.


In the second half of the nineteenth century Magyar’s travels received much attention in scientific circles in Europe. It was especially his ethnographical work which was deemed important and he became a celebrity in the world of ethnographical researchers and geographical explorers. Unfortunately his second and third volumes never reached Europe with the result that his later travels only became known through fragments of his diary and the letters he had forwarded to Europe. Amongst scientists this lack of accurate reporting soon led to a diminished interest in his achievements. New research was only to be instigated in the 1980s when a Hungarian cultural anthropologist, Éva Sebestyén, uncovered previously unknown documents related to Magyar’s death in Angola (Sebestyén 1998). The finding of Magyar’s 1858 manuscript map in Cluj-Napoca in 2007 by the present authors, and their subsequent biographical and cartographical analysis of his work, were further steps in unravelling the life and work of this remarkable Hungarian explorer. Last, but not least, the analysis of his 1857–1858 maps contribute to the history of the exploration of Angola in the nineteenth century.

Biographical Note

Zsombor Nemerkényi received his M.Sc. in Cartography from the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest in 1999 and his Ph.D. in the History of Cartography in 2009 from the same university in 2009. His research interests are the European colonization of Africa in the nineteenth century and the exploring of the Arctic and Antarctic. His doctoral research was about the history of the colonization era in Southwestern Africa. He has been associate editor of the official magazine of the Hungarian Geographical Society since 2006. He also edits maps for scholarly periodicals, books and atlases.

Zsombor Bartos-Elekes followed a GIS-course at the University of Utrecht in 1998; received his M.Sc. in Cartography from the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest in 1999, and his Ph.D. in the History of Cartography and Toponymy in 2006 from the same university. The theme of his doctorate was the language of maps, especially Transylvanian place-names on maps since the nineteenth century. Since 2000 he has been teaching Cartography and Toponymy at Babeş–Bolyai University (Cluj-Napoca) as senior lecturer. His main research interests lie in Cartography (the territory of Romania on old maps, the Cholnoky Map Collection, the projections of the old maps, and ethnic maps) and Toponymy (the standardization of place names, exonyms, and the language of the maps). His edited maps and papers are published mostly by Hungarian and Romanian publishers and periodicals.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Cartography and GeoinformaticsEötvös Loránd UniversityBudapestHungary
  2. 2.Faculty of GeographyBabeş–Bolyai UniversityCluj-NapocaRomania

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