The Southern Cross was never lost to Indigenous Australians, but it was to Europeans when its five bright stars disappeared from sight in Roman times. So when adventurer Andrea Corsali saw its “marveylous crosse” after he passed the Cape of Good Hope in 1516, he swooned.
Now a rare letter containing Corsali’s illustration and description of the Southern Cross has been acquired by the State Library of NSW for $1.19 million with support from its foundation.
The letter, written in Latin in 1516 and translated into English in 1555, is thought to be the earliest printed documentation by a European of the Southern Cross, and is one of the library’s most significant acquisitions in recent years.
There are only four known copies of the letter, which were printed by Medici clandestinely soon after receiving the original in October 1516. Three are held in institutions overseas, and the fourth will now go on display in the State Library’s Amaze Gallery from Thursday.