One of the fullest and most important collections of early voyages and travels in the English language”

By PURCHAS, Samuel, 1625 

Purchas his pilgrimes … [WITH] Purchas his pilgrimage. Or relations of the world and the religions observed in all ages and places.

Travel & Voyages
  • Author: PURCHAS, Samuel
  • Publication place: London
  • Publisher: Printed by William Stansby for Henrie Fetherstone, and are to be sold at his shop in Pauls Church-yard at the signe of the Rose
  • Publication date: 1625 [but 1626].
  • Physical description: First edition, together five volumes, folio (312 by 205mm), engraved additional title, seven folding maps, 81 smaller maps in the text, occasional expert recornering and remargining, volumes one, three and four without initial blanks, volume one is bound without the blank leaf R4 (as often), G3 in corrected state with correct map, Gg3 misbound after Gg4, KK1–3 misbound after Kk4–6, Qqqq3–4 are bound in volume one (Church calls for these leaves in volume two), nineteenth-century russia, spine in seven compartments with raised bands, expertly rebacked to match, earlier labels preserved, lettered in gilt.
  • Inventory reference: 1008


A fine set of a landmark work for any collection of travels and voyages: the first edition of Purchas his Pilgrimes’ with the second state of engraved title dated 1625, and a fine impression of Smith’s map of Virginia in Verner’s tenth state, together with the fourth edition, second issue of the Pilgrimage’ (issued here as a supplement). The whole forming an important set of narratives of travels and exploration from the earliest times up until the early seventeenth century. The second great collection of English voyages, expanding upon and greatly adding to the work of Hakluyt, whose manuscripts Purchas took over after Hakluyt’s death. Purchas collects over 1,200 separate narratives of explorations in every part of the world. Many of the accounts relate to the New World, especially Virginia, and one of the engraved maps is Smith’s famous Map of Virginia’.

According to the original plan, the first volume was to deal with the world as known to the ancients, the second with the regions more recently discovered. Roughly the arrangement was to be geographical; but since so much of the matter consisted of extracts from actual journals, a rigid adherence to this scheme proved to be impracticable. Much of southern Africa, for instance, was naturally to be found in the accounts of the expeditions to the East Indies; nor could the various voyages of circumnavigation be split up into the sections to which the various countries were allotted. Further, since the work had to be printed off in small installments, and was in the press nearly four years, materials that came to hand during that period had to be fitted in without regard to the original plan. Of the first volume, the opening section or book’ contains antiquities and generalities’, including much about the religions of the world and a disquisition on the travels of the Apostles, in the course of which the author discusses the question of whether America was then inhabited (concluding that probably it was not). This section, by the way, was one of the last to be compiled, with the result that it had to be paged separately and provided with a special index.

The second book deals with voyages of circumnavigation; the third, fourth, fifth with English voyages to the East Indies; the sixth and seventh with Africa; the eighth with Palestine and Turkey; the ninth with Persia, Arabia, India and Africa; and the tenth with Japan, India, Persia, Turkey, the Malay Archipelago, and Brazil … The third volume opens with two books devoted to travels in Tartary, China, Japan, and the Philippines. The third and fourth books relate to the voyages in search of the North-east and North-west Passages, and deal also with Russia, Iceland and Spitsbergen. The next three sections take us to the West Indies, Mexico, and South America. The eighth book not only deals with Florida, Mexico, Central America, and Canada, but also includes Gates’s expedition to the Bermudas. Of the tenth, the first part is devoted to New England, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland; while the second narrates the contest with Spain, including the fight with the Armada, Drake’s expeditions to Portugal and Cadiz, and the voyages of the Earl of Essex to the Azores in 1597 … It may be said with confidence that so large a work had never before been printed at an English press” (Foster pp. 56–8).

The cartographic content comprises: a large map of the Mogul Empire by William Baffin, Greenland’ (counted as a plate by Church because its pictorial surround depicts various whaling scenes), and China (repeated, with the alteration of its plate numbers, in the Pilgrimage’). Besides the Smith Virginia map, Purchas also includes two other maps of the greatest importance for North American cartography. The first of these is the Briggs’ map of North America, generally considered the first map to show California as an island. The Briggs map is also the first to note New Mexico by that name, and the first to name the Hudson River and Hudson Bay. The other notable American map is William Alexander’s depiction of the Northeast, showing the coast from Massachusetts north to Newfoundland. As Burden notes, this is the first map to record many place names and is a map of great importance”.

The work is also illustrated with a variety of other matter which took Purchas’ fancy; such as a woodcut of a zebra or an engraving of Egyptian funerary objects. Most notable, and overlooked by many commentators, is his pioneering printing of non-European scripts, including Arabic, Japanese, and Mexican pictographs. The engraved title is a fine piece of engraving in its own right, incorporating portraits of the author, King James, Prince Charles, and various famous travelers from Noah to Drake, as well as and a map of the world, and pictures of Prince Henry’s tomb, the Gunpowder Plot, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and the Israelites marching towards a vision of the New Jerusalem.

Purchas began work on his massive collection in 1611, and while publishing various editions of a short collection, with the similar title of Purchas His Pilgrimage’, over the next ten years. That publication, however, was merely a precursor to the present work; an entirely different book and arguably the greatest collection of travels and voyages ever published. The first two volumes are mainly devoted to travels in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The third volume largely treats northern explorations and America. The fourth volume is almost entirely devoted to America. The fifth volume, Pilgrimage’, is a supplement to all of the preceding parts, and properly completes a set of Purchas’ Pilgrimes to form a complete set of … one of the fullest and most important collections of early voyages and travels in the English language” (Sabin).

These narratives … hold many a stirring tale of bravery at sea, ice under a midnight sun in Arctic seas, or far away South, under a tropic moon or brazen noontide sun. They tell of parching thirst, and freezing cold, of chill winds that searched men to the bone, and of the hot breath of desert sands that scorched their flesh and drove them crazed to death” (Waters p. 260).

Volume I [10]; a4; [2]; 1–752pp.; a6 (a3 with small tear to lower margin); b–c4.
Volume II [4]; *6; A4; 753–1860pp.; aa–ee4.
Volume III [6]; 1–1140pp.; aaa–hhh4; iii2.
Volume IV [6]; 1141–1973pp.; aaaa–cccc4.
Volume V [24]; A8; 1–1048pp.; Vuuu–Yyyy4; Zzzz6. 


  1. Borba de Moraes II, pp.692–693
    • Moraes, R. (1983). Bibliographia brasiliana. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center Publications University of California.
  2. Burden 164, 208, 214
    • Burden, Philip. (2007). The mapping of North America. Rickmansworth: Raleigh Publications.
  3. Church 401A
    • Cole, G. and Church, E. (1951). A catalogue of books relating to the discovery and early history of North and South America, forming a part of the library of E.D. Church. New York: Peter Smith.
  4. Sabin 66686 and cf. 66682
    • Sabin, J. (1962). A Dictionary of books relating to America. Amsterdam: Israel.
  5. Streeter sale 36.
    • Streeter, T. (1966). The celebrated collection of Americana formed by the late Thomas Winthrop Streeter. New York: Parke-Bernet Galleries.

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