Malay Railways Vintage Travel Poster “The Golden Chersonese” 1930s AP542

From the collection of Vic Braden. Original lithograph poster. Trimmed and mounted on board.

Price on request.

The Federated Malay States Railways (FMSR) was a consolidated railroad operator in British Malaya (present day Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore) during the first half of the 20th century. Named after the then recently formed Federated Malay States in 1896 and founded five years after the formation of the federation, the company acquired various railways that were developed separately in various parts of Malaya, and oversaw the largest expansion and integration of the colonies’ rail network encompassing the Federated Malay States, the Unfederated Malay States (except Trengganu) and the Straits Settlements, with lines spanning from Singapore to the south to Padang Besar (near the border with Siam) to the north.

The Golden Chersonese or Golden Peninsula (Greek: Χρυσή Χερσόνησος, Chrysḗ Chersónēsos; Latin: Chersonesus Aurea) was the name used for the Malay Peninsula by Greek and Roman geographers in classical antiquity, most famously in Ptolemy’s 2nd-century Geography.

The Greek name is a calque of the Sanskrit Suvarnadvipa, where dvipa might refer to either a peninsula or an island. Eratosthenes, Dionysius Periegetes, and Pomponius Mela understood it as the Golden Island without including Malaysia; Ptolemy followed Marinus of Tyre in describing it as a peninsula, without including Sumatra.

After Hipparchus’s 3-volume work against Eratosthenes, most classical geographers—including Marinus and Ptolemy—held that the Indian Ocean was a closed sea. Ptolemy placed the Great Gulf east of the Golden Peninsula but then closed it in the far east with a border of unknown lands. Josephus speaks of a land in the area called “Aurea”, which he equates with the Biblical Ophir, whence the ships of Tyre and Israel brought back gold and other trade items.

By the 8th century, Arab geographers were well aware that this was mistaken. Instead, following al-Khwārizmī’s Book of the Description of the Earth, they showed a narrow or larger connection between the Indian and World Oceans and placed the eastern limit of the inhabited world at the Island of the Jewel in the Sea of Darkness beyond Malaysia. The Ptolemaic eastern shore became the Dragon’s Tail peninsula.

The Golden Chersonese is shown on the mappemonde of Andreas Walsperger, made in Constance around 1448, bearing the inscription, hic rex caspar habitavit (here lived King Caspar). Caspar was one of the Three Magi who worshipped the newborn Christ at Bethlehem.

Aurea Cersonese, the Golden Peninsula, near Java in the Indian Ocean, on the map of Andreas Walsperger, c.1448

Martin of Bohemia’s Erdapfel

Martin of Bohemia, on his 1492 geographical globe, located the islands of Chryse (“Gold”) and Argyre (“Silver”) in the vicinity of Zipangu (Japan), which was accorded to be “rich in gold” by Marco Polo. An expedition was sent to find the purported islands in this location under the command of Pedro de Unamunu in 1587.

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