‘…Wonderful things…’

A short blog to mark 100 years to the day that Howard Carter, a team of archaeologists and        local workers cleared the last of the rubble from steps in the Valley of the Kings and found an undamaged door at the bottom. After removing this outer door the door to the tomb of Tutankhamun was revealed. Two days later, November the 26th, 1922, Carter, along with Lord Carnarvon, made a small hole in this door which Carter then peered through. Asked if he could see anything by his patron Carter uttered the most famous words in archaeological history, ‘Yes, wonderful things…’

Nearly 100 years earlier the west bank of the Nile was mapped by the one of the first Egyptologists John Gardner Wilkinson. Wilkinson produced a detailed map on 6 sheets, with the relief beautifully and realistically engraved. Here’s the sheet covering the Valley of the Kings area.

Topographical Survey of Thebes…by J. G. Wilkinson, 1830. (E) E13:30 Thebes (1)

This is an extract from the map showing the Valley above the Temple of Deir el-Bahari.

With its use of shading and hachures (the short engraved lines showing direction of slope) you get a real sense of the hills and valleys. Following his death in 1875 Wilkinson’s extensive papers came to the Bodleian, an invaluable resource for the study of Egyptian antiquities before the onset of tourism and removal of objects changed their appearance for ever (The page of hieroglyphs at the sides of this blog come from one of Wilkinson’s note-books, MS. Wilkinson dep d.47). Here’s a beautifully hand-drawn sketch of the Valley of the Kings from Wilkinson’s papers.

Valley of Biban el Molook, or of the Tombs of the Kings of Thebes’. Original manuscript by John Gardner Wilkinson, c1830? MS Wilkinson dep. a.22 (fol. 70).

In this map Wilkinson identifies each tomb with letter; by the time he had drawn and published the ‘Topographical Survey…’ these letters had been replaced by the numbers that are still in use today, as can be seen in this extract from the map. Tutankhamun’s tomb would be found by Carter close to tomb 9, the shared tomb of Rameses V and VI.


Karte der Westlichen und Umgebung von Luķsor und Karnak [Theben] 1909. E13:22 (1)

This 1909 German map of Luxor and the surrounding area shows how different the relief is on the west bank of the Nile compared to the east. It’s a land of contrasts, of flat fertile land close to the river and desert and mountain further out, of a land of life and of death. The hilly area centring on the Valley of the Kings (Königsgräber on the map, and extract at right) is rich in tombs of royals, nobles and workers. It’s also a map full of the wonders of ancient Egypt. On the east bank the temple at Karnak, the greatest of all surviving Egyptian temple complexes and on the west bank famous archaeological sites, including the temples of the Ramesseum, Medinet Habu and Deir el-Bahari as well as the Valley of the Kings and Queens.

Here’s another of the sheets from Wilkinson’s map of Thebes with the Luxor and Karnak temples.

The library holds a set of maps showing the area around the tombs, ‘The Theban Necropolis’, published by the Survey of Egypt in in 1924. Frustratingly it doesn’t include the sheet covering the Royal Tombs though one sheet, C-7, does include Howard Carter’s house.

The Theban Necropolis, 1924. E13:30 Thebes (3) sheet C-7

Want to know more about the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb? There’s a marvellous exhibition on at the Bodleian until February next year, details here Tutankhamun: Excavating the Archive | Visit the Bodleian Libraries (ox.ac.uk)


An idealised landscape and a common mistake

This Panorama of physiographic types is an intriguing item in itself, and seems to have caused a little confusion both here in the Bodleian and in map libraries across the world. It’s a diagram demonstrating different types of landform in an imaginary landscape, shown both as a perspective drawing and conventional contour map. A similar diagram (for a different imaginary landscape, with different features) appears on the other side.

They are called simply Chart A and Chart B. Precise measurements are provided, and there is an accompanying sheet describing the different landscape features. It was first produced in 1926 by the American cartographer and geographer Armin K. Lobeck, and continued to be reprinted into the 1950s. Above is a detail from Chart B.

The landscape view on Chart B even includes subterranean features.

At the bottom of each chart, in text so small it would be easy to miss, is a succession of surprisingly difficult geographical exercises. These include precise calculations as to the heights and depths of certain features, drawing profiles, calculating past forms of now eroded landscapes and  positions of watersheds, identifying types of lakes, and reasons for the comparative heights of mountain ranges. There are baffling questions such as “What is the significance of the three ridges on the southern end of Whitbeck Mountain?” and “What kind of material probably occurs in Wright Bluffs?” There are also a few human geography questions, about likely sites for natural resources and good places to build cities.

Our attention was drawn to this map by a query on an email discussion list for map librarians (yes, these are a thing) on how the scale should be recorded on the catalogue record. The (notional) scale on both charts has a blank; it is written as 1:     , 000. There is also a scale bar showing that the scale is about one centimetre to a mile, which works out at around 1:161,000. As part of the exercises, the keen geography student was expected to calculate this.  However, map cataloguers across the world had been less observant, ignoring the blank and recording the map with a scale of 1:1,000. A staff member at a library in the United States spotted the error in their own record, and suggested that it was a printing mistake on the map. Other libraries which held the same map, on at least three continents, had the same mistake in their record for the map, including the Bodleian Library. It has now been corrected.

Maps of this sort showing a fictitious landscape for illustrative or educational purposes have been going for a long time; a previous blog post here gives examples from the 1910s and the 1970s. This week I also stumbled across an example from 1812; an educational atlas that begins with a map of an imaginary place to explain the terms and symbols used. This is from The young lady’s and gentleman’s atlas, for assisting them in the knowledge of geography, and the author describes himself as John Adams, teacher of mathematics. Judging by the handwritten names on the flyleaf it was shared by two sisters. It is often easier to explain the world through an idealised landscape rather than through the messiness of real examples.

Panorama of physiographic types / A.K. Lobeck. New York: The Geographical Press, Columbia University, [ca 1940]. O1 (9)

The young lady’s and gentleman’s atlas, for assisting them in the knowledge of geography / John Adams.  London: : Printed for Darton, Harvey, and Darton, 1812. Opie H 1

Maps to justify your existence

Few countries suffered as much as Poland during the Second World War. Historically a country that had undergone numerous border changes, losses of territory (3 forced partitions in 23 years in the late 1700s!)  and caught between two countries with strong ideologues of such differences that an alliance between them would seem absurd if it wasn’t for the conniving geopolitical machinations of German and Russian foreign policies. When German forces invaded on the 1st September 1939, kick-starting the Second World War, Polish forces made a valiant effort to defend their country only for Soviet forces to invade from the east two weeks later. For the Poles there was to be five years of brutal occupation. Here’s a map showing German occupation of Central and Eastern Europe in 1942.  Poland has been swallowed up by the Greater German Reich and the front-line is in Soviet territory with further advances to come before the horrors of Stalingrad and the turning of the war.

Grossdeutsches Reich und angrenzende gebiete, 1942. C1:5 (595)

The reason for this in a map blog? We’ve just started working on some material that’s been at the library for a while, the majority of which are maps of Poland which look at some point to have been removed from an atlas. There’s very little information on the majority of the maps, but some have been published by the Polish Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Shipping, based in London and part of the Polish Government in Exile while others come from the Światowy Związek Polaków z Zagranicy (World Union of Poles from Abroad), an organization set up in the mid 1930s to ensure Poles abroad still felt part of and could help and support the Polish Government. As quite a few of the maps are similar it’s fair to assume that the majority come from these sources. So far so good but the range of themes of the maps is surprising.

As well as maps of contemporary borders and population there are maps covering such diverse subjects as air routes between the wars by Polish Airways, maps on historical borders and territory, maps on the German occupation and maps giving information on industry, agriculture and architecture.

Why the range? It’s hard to be sure but the answer may lie in the fight that the Polish Government had to be recognized in the face of Soviet opposition and British and American Governments willing to give into Stalin’s demands as the cost of keeping the Soviets fighting the Germans before a Second Front could be opened in Western Europe. By creating maps showing changing borders the Government in Exile were hoping to show a legitimate reason for being the rightful possessors of not only a country based on pre-war boundaries but also the legitimate Government to run the country after the defeat of Germany. Take these maps, showing numerous Polish boundaries between 1001 and 1939, thus establishing a long history of a Poland being centred around the immediate pre-war state.

[Polish boundaries and territory changes, 1001 – 1939], 1945? C31 (561)

Polish frontiers in the course of history, C1:4 (204) 1940?

In an unusually colourful example the second map  portrays a Poland that throughout history has grown and been a dominant part of East Europe. Turning the map over reveals it’s actually part of a postcard including defiant text on the role of Poland in Europe, ‘the first country to oppose Hitler’s “New Europe” and goes on to highlight Poland’s perilous situation at the start of the war, ‘the geographical position was, and is, incomparably difficult and dangerous…the map shows how unjust were the Polish frontiers after the last war. This fault is the reason for Poland’s position today. Only a powerful Poland can secure European equilibrium. Our deepest faith will ever be Poland must rise again!’ A postcard is an ideal medium to spread the message included, both in the map and text, a pre-digital age version of a tweet.

Here’s another example, one that combines the current situation in Poland and German aggression with a sense of historical Poland. This map is published by the Min. Informacja i Dokumentacja w Londynie. 

Map of Eastern Poland, Baltic countries and the western part of U.S.S.R. showing German occupation and historic boundaries of Poland, 1943. C1:4 (201)

By creating maps showing such diverse themes shown in this blog the Government were promoting Polish culture, industry and tradition, and leading on from this a Polish identity, putting forward a strong argument for the continuing existence of Poland against Soviet aggression.

Polish airways in 1935, c1945. C1 (1128)

[Poland imposed over British Isles], C31 (562) 1943

To finish, a map that imposes over a map of the British Isles the outline of Poland according to 1938 boundaries.  We have a few maps in the collection here at the Bodleian that does this (an earlier blog featured one of New Zealand). By imposing a country over another like this the cartographer hopes to draw comparisons between the two, in size and in, it’s imagined, a sense of both being long-established nations with traditions and histories, of a country that deserves to be treated equally.

A lease for life

Gagingwell is a small hamlet in the north of Oxfordshire centred round a group of springs. In 1713 the land belonged to the Earl of Lichfield, and it is presumably the Earl who has commissioned this wonderful estate map.

A map of Gagingwell in the County of Oxon, anno dom: 1713. 1713 (MS) C17:49 (111)

An estate map is an administrative record of who owns or farms what on a particular estate. As a result  they also often give a moment in time of that place, listing as it does individual villagers alive and active in the village at the time the map was drawn. So from over 300 years ago we get to see the fields and strips belonging to the villagers John, Edward and William Drinkwater (brothers? father and sons?), Stephen Wisdom, Edward Busby and Mr Marten and Mr Freeman. Estate maps can also be records of a lost landscape as many show areas pre-enclosure, before the replacing of the old open field system of agriculture in which villagers had a share of the land around their homes with the enclosed field and hedge system that is a recognizable but fairly recent part of our landscape. This change can be seen when the 1713 estate map is compared to the one the finest maps made of the county, Richard Davis’s 1797 map of Oxfordshire. Here’s Gagingwell from Davis, the pattern of small fields has been replaced by a field pattern recognizable today.

Extract from ‘A map of the county of Oxford…made in the years 1793 and 1794 by Richard Davis of Lewknor, topographer to his Majesty’ 1797 C17:49 a.1

The effects of enclosure on the local community were profound. Many of the poorer villagers were forced into the major county towns to find work or strike further afield, emigrating to the commonwealth countries of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa (a blog on emigration can be read here ).

The way that the open field system works can be seen in this extract from the estate map. The letters refer to the villagers owning land; d is Edward Drinkwater, D is William and John Drinkwater, W is the wonderfully named Stephen Wisdom, Edward Busby is B, Mr Freeman F and Mr Marten F.

As can be seen individual ownership is spread across the hamlet. This had a two-fold purpose. First it gave equal amounts of good, indifferent and poor quality land evenly and it meant that with a crop rotation system in place all would have land in fields growing different crops as well as a field left fallow each year.

There’s a confusing mix of different terms for tenancy on the map. Wisdom, Freeman and Busby are freeholders, the rest leased their land from the Earl of Lichfield, some for a period of time while Edward Drinkwater leases his land for the duration of his life, ‘lease f[or] lives’. Some of the villagers also have a ‘Coppy hold’ agreement with the Earl, meaning they have the rights to land at the will of the Earl.

Called Litchfield on the map The title Earl of Lichfield was granted to Edward Henry Lee by Charles II in 1674 when he was 11, and had arranged to be married to the illegitimate daughter of Charles and Barbara Villiers, the Lady Charlotte Fitzroy, who was 9. They were married a few years later, aged 14 and 13. The couple went on to have 18 children, 7 dying before adulthood, and their country seat was Ditchley Park, a few miles south of Gagingwell.

Ideally when writing a blog about a map of somewhere in Britain you would want to include if possible the Ordnance Survey County Series mapping at 1:2,500. Easily the best maps made covering Britain, and arguably the best maps covering anywhere in the World, especially the beautifully coloured 1st ed sheets. These show individual buildings, fields, trees and topographical features and would have been perfect for a blog such as this. Unfortunately Gagingwell suffers from the curse of sheet mapping, being as it is on the corner of 4 different sheets!

The estate map was drawn by Edward Grantham, a cartographer specializing in estate and enclosure maps and is at the scale of ‘sixteen perch in an inch’. A perch was a rod used for measuring land, usually at 5¹/₂ yards, though there were local variations. A modern scale would be approximately 1:3,168.


Do [not] touch

People have always tried to make sense of their surroundings and plot where they are in the world, often in graphic form. Maps are inherently two dimensional but efforts have been made throughout time to create three-dimensional tactile maps. Primarily they are aimed at visually impaired users but they can also serve to understand relief and the environment in a holistic way. It is unclear when tactile maps started appearing but this lovely example of England and Wales is the earliest in our collections, produced in 1925. It primarily shows relief and rivers but also locates major towns but does not name them.

The development of tactile writing systems really took off in the 19th century with the development of basically embossed versions of roman letters, such as the Moon System but alongside was the use of a logical system of dots representing the letters such as braille.

This globe, which is undated but looks like it was made in the 1960s? uses prominent dots to depict capital cities in Europe but also a chain of mountains in Asia which must be confusing.  You can also see the rivers have been exaggerated and the equator marked to aid orientation.

Tactile maps conventionally were made using thermoforming or vacuum forming which uses heat or a vacuum to fix a material such as plastic or paper over a mould to create a stable physical object. These are very successful but they come with their downside – unlike paper maps they cannot be folded up and put in your pocket. The Royal National Institute for the Blind produced several maps with the Central London map as a typical specimen. With embossed roads and braille labels it is limited in detail so what its purpose is unclear. Was it produced for reference or as a wall map?

What is the future for mapping for blind or visually impaired people? Much work has been done by tech companies with smartphones and hand-held devices. Google Maps can speak directions and even tell you where safe road crossings are while you are using it. Haptic technology is used to generate a hybrid tactile map – for example the signal from your fingers will cause the map to vary when you cross a boundary, such as a road; or come across a symbol, maybe a bank. Although 3D printers can also be used to create maps but do not overcome the portability issue.

The library has a several tactile maps in the collection but this one was particularly challenging as it had no text to identify it. Coming originally from the MOD sample collection it has a red acquisition stamp and a tentative “Torquay” in ball point pen. I could not identify it with a modern map of that area so bit the bullet and tried transliterating the braille labels. It turned out that it needed turning around and it represents the Goswell Road/City Road area of Islington in London!









The Lake District’s topography lends itself very well so this is an attractive example. Designed as a hanging wall map in four sections it has been executed beautifully with using wooden strips glued together which have been sculpted to form the peaks and trough: shorelines, rivers and names have been burnt in to orient the sighted.  Entered into the BCS Awards which not only is it easy on the eye, it has a beautiful feel demonstrating that this is inclusive and appreciated by everyone not only as a map but as original creative piece. The perfect example of aesthetics and technique.


England and Wales. [S.n., S.l.], 1925 C17 (220)

A simplified system of embossed reading for the use of the blind : invented by WIlliam Moon, LL.D. &c. [London] : Moon Society, 1937 Rec. c.185

[World globe in braille]

[Torquay]. [London] : [Royal National Institute for the Blind], [1979] SP 55

Central London. [London] : Royal National Institute for the Blind, 1970. SP 56

Lake District National Park. [Sheffield] : From the Workshop. BCS Awards.

On the last day of September

This panorama of the Manchester Ship Canal was created to mark its opening by Queen Victoria in 1894; the culmination of more than 12 years of campaigning and construction work. This section at the bottom of the map shows the docks and the canal itself which runs almost into the heart of the city of Manchester.

For much of its length the canal is a straight, wide channel; this section from the middle of the panorama shows it cutting out the loops of the River Mersey between Manchester and Runcorn. Beyond this point the canal runs alongside the river, before joining it on the estuary past Liverpool to the sea. The title makes clear that this was a local production, designed, lithographed (printed) and published by J. Galloway & Son of Manchester. Undoubtedly the finished canal, allowing direct access to the city for large cargo ships, was a source of civic pride.

The plan to create a shipping canal linking Manchester to the sea had first been proposed in the early 1880s, in an attempt to reduce costs for traders in Manchester.  This simpler, uncoloured panorama was published in 1883 as part of the campaign, surrounded by quotes from local dignitaries (such as the MPs Jacob Bright and William Agnew, and the Mayor of Salford) and from supportive newspapers.  It argues that “the general industries in this region have to bear excessive taxation in carriage of their merchandise to and from the sea,” referring to the charges imposed by the port of Liverpool and cost of railway transport. It was allegedly cheaper to transport cotton from Liverpool to Glasgow than from Liverpool to Manchester, for example. The proposed route is represented clearly but the campaigners have cunningly foreshortened the straightest part of the canal, perhaps to make it look shorter and easier to achieve. However, as one of the notes on the map points out, the much larger Suez Canal had recently been constructed, to great admiration. So the Manchester Ship Canal was a viable proposition.The plan above was made in the late 1880s, probably once the canal was under construction. The section here shows the relative shallows of the Mersey estuary bypassed by the canal. It is surrounded by advertisements for huge a variety of products, including toothpaste and medicines, and domestic items such as sewing machines and locks; a detailed inset plan of the Manchester and Salford Docks promotes both furniture and ale.

What of the connection with September? The well known nursery rhyme and singing game, “The big ship sails on the Alley Alley-Oh” is popularly believed to refer to the Manchester Ship Canal. The song refers to a ship setting out “on the last day of September,” which comes to grief and sinks “to the bottom of the sea”. Various interpretations of the song have been suggested: one is that a ship that was contracted to set out in September might be under financial pressure to do so even the weather was unfavourable or the ship not seaworthy; it may also have been a reference to the last date a ship could expect to set out and reach Canada before the St Lawrence River began to be blocked by ice. Whatever the explanation, the unhappy ending of the ship does not seem to have deterred generations of children from singing the song.

Panoramic map of the Manchester Ship Canal / designed, lithographed and published by J. Galloway and Son, Manchester, 1894. C17:3 (14)

Bird’s eye view of the Manchester Ship Canal, 1883. C17:3 (49)

Manchester ship canal – general plan of canal and district. Revised. [1889?]  C17:3 (13)

Maps for the Aironauts…engravings by the best masters

At twenty minutes to two on the afternoon of the 8th September 1785 Mr Thomas Baldwin, to the ‘tears of delight and apprehension, the misgivings of humanity, and other sensations of surprize’ of the inhabitants of Chester took flight in a hot air balloon. Ascending to a height of four miles over Chester Baldwin was able to look down on the earth, a true birds-eye view. He wrote of his adventures in a book published the following year, Airopaidia : or aerial recreation, describing the voyage as well as giving a detailed account of the preparation involved in the flight (for instance a canon was fired at 7 am to let people know that the balloon was being inflated), the equipment taken onboard (as well as ballast brandy and feathers to throw out at various times to check wind speed and direction), and, rather worryingly, what to do if you start to descend too quickly. Baldwin also included some lovely original maps showing the views from above the clouds.

This has to be one of the earliest maps to include clouds over the land. The first manned balloon flight was only two years earlier in France, with the first in Britain almost exactly a year before Baldwin’s ascent so Baldwin was one of the earliest to see the earth partly obscured in this way. In the bottom left corner is Chester (‘the gay scene was a fairy-land, with Chester Lilliput‘) with the River Mersey snaking along from right to left. Imposed over everything is a twisting black line showing the route the balloon took over the Cheshire countryside. The maps are beautifully drawn, fully deserving the praise given them in the book, ‘Descriptions of the aerial scenes are illustrated with engravings, by the best masters; two of which are coloured‘. The engraver is named as Angus, a name not listed in map engravers and map-makers dictionaries held at the Bodleian but is possibly William Angus (1752-1821), who specialized in plates for books and prints working out of Islington.

On the next page the book does something rather clever. There is another map, this time a topographic map of the same area naming features not hidden by the cloud-cover but with the same route shown. Both the coloured view and the black and white map are folded, but the black and white map is on an extended piece of paper, meaning that you can have both open at the same time and compare the same area side-by-side, like this

The obvious advantages to cartography from balloon flights came just at the wrong time. Triangulation surveying had recently been introduced to Britain from France, and despite the efforts involved in first of all measuring out an accurate base-line then surveying across the country from this point the results produced maps of sufficient accuracy to make this the favoured method of map-making. Balloons though wouldn’t be forgotten, and were used to survey enemy positions in the early days of the First World War. Where the balloon did give an advantage was in the drawing of panoramas. The ability to draw an oblique view of a town or city was established well before balloon flights (see here) but these maps were drawn from low down, meaning that the buildings nearest the cartographer were given more prominence. The extra height gained from the balloon meant that a greater area could be shown as the angle of the observation was greater, and the area observed was greater. This can be seen to great effect in this wonderful ‘Balloon map of London’

C17:70 London (327), 1859

Despite a balloon appearing at the top of the map the view taken is from the north, with south of the river disappearing into the distance, suggesting this is the viewpoint from another balloon. The balloon featured is a nice bit of decoration in keeping with the theme of the map.

We’ve blogged about clouds on maps before, in this case their use in wartime deception here  and balloons featured in an earlier blog here

Our blogs are usually written after either coming across a map that sparks our interest or of reading of one in a book or journal. In this case the latter, Baldwin’s flight and maps are mentioned in Rachel Hewitt’s excellent biography of the Ordnance Survey, ‘Map of a Nation’.

Airopaida : containing the narrative of a balloon excursion…198 e.80. 1786

…and in less than a quarter of an hour went all to pieces…

Before the introduction of the first Admiralty Chart by the Hydrographic Office of the Navy British- produced nautical charts were published by independent map-makers. In the case of the map featured in this blog Laurie and Whittle. Robert Laurie and James Whittle took over the map making business of Robert Sayer in 1794, and this map, drawn in 1786 but published in 1794, must have been one of the first the duo made. The company still exists today, producing maps and charts under the name ImrayLaurie, Norie and Wilson. Laurie was a skilled artist and engraver and presumably was responsible for the fine cartography and views on display on…

A new chart of the Southern Coast of Africa, from The Cape of Good Hope to Dalagoa Bay; including The Bank of Cape Agulhas, its soundings, currents within and without & c. is a remarkable chart for a number of reasons.

The skills involved in the creation of the map are evident, from the engraving to the information on depths and sea-floor sediments in the Bank of Cape Agulhas to the artistic representation of the view of the Cape of Good Hope.

The map plots the course around the Cape, an important but dangerous part of the journey to and from the Indies for European shipping. To aid in this journey the area to the south of the Cape, the Bank of Cape Agulhas, is prominently featured, showing both the extent of the bank to stop ships running aground and the depths and constitution of the sea floor. Sea depths, called soundings, would have been recorded by lowering rope with a lead weight attached, which may have a waxy substance added to the bottom which would pick up sediment. Judging by the amount of information shown this was considered an important place to survey and was presumably a tricky place to sail over. That the Bank was navigable can be seen by the course that the Worcester took on the outward bound journey from Britain to India in 1786. The Worcester was an East Indiaman (which is a general term for a ship of any European nation with trade links with India) which made a number of journeys to the Indies between 1786 and 1809, journeys which would usually take two years to complete. It may seem strange to focus on the journey of one individual ship, the intention being presumably to show the route taken as an example for those using the chart to plot their own progress round the Cape, as the Worcester has plotted a course to battle against as little head-current as possible. The map also shows the best line for taking advantage of the currents going round the Cape from a westerly direction, giving information on how fast the currents travel as well as the best course to take to make the most of the currents (‘the best track of the ships to avail themselves of the current’). Currents are also shown on the Bank, hence the …currents within and without … part of the title. Two large insets show safe harbours, both detailing rocks, good  anchorage and depths.

In this extract of the Bank of Cape Aguihas the routes of both the Worcester (the straight dotted line in the centre of the image that then goes off at an angle to the bottom right) on the outbound journey while the route to take best advantage of the currents for those heading home follows the line of the three ships. The make-up of the sea floor is clearly shown. The importance in plotting currents, especially in the age of sail, can be seen in the amount of times they feature on maps, both nautical and general. This map, again published by Laurie and Whittle in 1794 shows currents in the Indian Ocean, highlighting the importance of this part of the World for European trade. Unlike the main map in this blog, which would have been made from existing plates in Sayer’s collection this is a copy of a French map from 1776.

A chart of the currents in the Indian Sea during the southwest monsoon, to the northward of the line, 1794. (E) L1 (143)

The map below is an extract from Africa divided into its several regions (1792), by the person that Laurie and Whittle first worked for, Robert Sayer. The pair bought all existing stock and plates and took over his premises when Sayer died in 1794. At the southern tip of the continent is a less detailed portrayal of the Bank.

Ironically, for something that deals with the safe passage at sea, the most dramatic part of the map deals with a shipwreck. ‘On Thursday the 17th July 1755, about a quarter before one in the morning, the Doddington, outward bound East indiaman, struck on a rock about 3 leagues from the Main of Africa, and in 33d. 44m. south latitude. They had doubled the Cape…the time they were lost they saw the breakers, and in less than a quarter of an hour went all to pieces : out of 270 people only 23 were saved. They remained on this rock (which they named Bird Island) six months, and built a ship out of the wreck, the Chief Mate and 16 people all that were left alive, went to Madagascar in her…’. Bird Island is still named thus, and there is a Doddington Rock nearby, on the inset at right Bird Island is just to the east of Algoa Bay. Like the Worcester the Doddington was part of the fleet of the East India Company. Formed in 1600 to look after British trade the EIC eventually colonised large parts of India and Southeast Asia and pretty much ran India for the British Government following the Battle of Plassey in 1757 until corruption  and mutiny forced the Crown to take  control in 1858.

This fold-out map comes from a book (A journal of the proceedings of the Doddington, East-Indiaman, from her sailing from the Downs till she was unfortunately wrecked on some rocks on the East Coast of Africa*)  written by one of the survivors, Mr. Webb, one of the ship’s mates.

The book describes how the ship set sail on April the 23rd, 1755, taking seven weeks to get to the Cape. Then disaster strikes early on Thursday, July 17th, as the ship is wrecked on Bird Island. Despite breaking an arm and being being told by the Captain that ‘we should all perish’ Webb managed to get to Bird Island and eventually take part in the journey on a boat made from the wrecked remains 6 months later to Madagascar.  On this extract from the map Bird Island is the central rock A while the rock marked F is believed by Webb to be the one the ship first hit before being driven by the high seas onto Bird.

At some point before coming to the  Bodleian the map has been repaired with sellotape, so this will have a trip to conservation to restore it back to its former glory.

If you have enjoyed reading about nautical charts then more can be found here  , a blog telling the story of a chart made for Samuel Pepys, while a blog about a map made by fellow diarist John Evelyn for Pepys can be found here , and a blog about beautifully engraved French charts can be found here

*203 g.233. c.1756

A new chart of the Southern Coast of Africa, from The Cape of Good Hope to Dalagoa Bay; including The Bank of Cape Agulhas, its soundings, currents within and without & c. 1794 620.11 t 2 (2)


Road maps, but not as you’d imagine

Two contrasting road maps from the early to mid 1700s. One, by ‘Emanuel Bowen, Geographer to his most Sacred Majesty K. George the 2nd’ is straightforward. By including approximate coastlines and county boundaries Bowen is able to map roads in a conventional way, as in they go where you’d imagine them to.

A new and accurate maps of the roads of England, 1748. Gough Maps England and Wales 29

This certainly isn’t the case with the second map. George Wildey, selling prints and maps from the ‘west end of St. Paul’s Churchyard’,  sets out in linear form a guide which ignores the natural curves of the roads shown and includes in order the towns passed through on main and side routes. The map also includes information on market days, distances between towns and if the town or city has a special status (university, post town, bishopric).  With it’s straight lines it could almost be a map of the Roman roads.

The grand roads of England c1720. Gough Maps England and Wales 18

Bowen shows things geographically and with roads crossing over other roads, as they do on the ground, meaning locations aren’t forced to appear out of place. On the Wildey map because of the rigid need to show things in a straight line and to keep things as clear as possible locations, especially in the crowded western side of the map, are forced into strange places. Wildey also doesn’t show distances between places, instead he gives an idea only by the miles between one location and the next. Take Bristol. This busy port appears as expected on a route coming west out of London which when it gets to the city branches out to Exeter and Banbury. Bristol also appears at the top left, at the end of a route that leaves Chester travelling south through Ludlow and Hereford. This Bristol is located on the map between Hollyhead and Hollywell (Holyhead and Holywell) in North Wales. Gloucester as well crops up in a few stranger places, and again it’s when side routes branch out from hub cities. Wildey’s map becomes less a cartographic object and more an itinerary, a list showing to get here you need to first go here, and here, and here.

According to the text in the cartouche Bowen’s map is made ‘according to Ogilby’s survey’. This is the famous  set of maps published in 1675 by John Ogilby. We blogged about his remarkable life, the maps that made him famous and the possible hidden agenda behind them here http://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/maps/2020/11/12/measuring-distances-a-wheel-or-a-chain/ 

Bowen’s map does include some cartographic peculiarities. Shipping routes across the Channel to join up with Calais and Helevoet Sluys (now Hellevoetsluis, South Holland) show as if they are roads across the sea, in the case of Calais an early taster for a later tunnel under the water. Bowen also includes notes on features to look out for when travelling, ‘Remarkable things worthy a curious traveller’s observations on some of the principal roads described in this map’. For instance, ‘Near Basingstoke is Basing House belonging to the D. of Bolton. Tis famous in history for withstanding several sieges in the beginning of the Civil War till at last was taken in storm by Cromwell and burnt. His being enraged at the words LOVE LOYALTY wrote with a dyamond in all its windows’.

Wildey’s map appears confusing and unconventional but the theory behind it is good and has survived today in maps which show information such as travel routes where the need to give clear information overrides any need for geographical accuracy. The most famous example being also one of the most used maps to have been published, the London Underground map.


Same but different

Location names get repeated throughout the World. Old and New York, Egyptian and Elvis Memphis, the list goes on and on. No one pair or group can have such a distance between them, and such a difference in what they are, as the Milky Way.

Der Südliche Sternenhimmel, c1899. A1 (42)

The Milky Way is one part of the Spiral Galaxy that includes our Solar System. Stars in their billions, so numerous that they appear as a river of milky light in the night sky. It is thought that there are as many planets as stars amongst the light. As with everything in the Universe size and distance defies belief, the width of the Milky way visible from Earth is 1000 light years across (light travels at 186,282 miles per second, 299,792 km, so in one year light travels 5.88 trillion miles, 9.46 trillion km. A trillion is one million million).

Here’s the Milky Way in two maps. First is a German map of the Southern Hemisphere from circa 1899 by the prolific Justus Perthes publishing house in Gotha. And then a later English map of the Northern Hemisphere from George Philip and Son in 1959. This is one part of a larger map which includes an equivalent  map of the Southern Hemisphere, a larger map of the Middle Heavens and lists and charts of stars and clusters. It’s easier to see from the Philip map how the Milky Way got its name.

Philips’ Chart of the Stars, A1 (10), 1959

The Milky Way is also a narrow bit of water between Noir and Kempe Islands at the western side of the Tierra del Fuego. It gets its name for the same reason, a milky appearance from a frothy stretch of white water. A book published in 1847, the North and South Atlantic Memoir, describes it as ‘a space of sea, in every part of which rocks are seen just awash with, or a few feet above, the water; on them the sea continually breaks’. The gentle name belies a dangerous passage between the islands with rocks clearly seen on the chart, a danger to any passing ship.

This extract comes from an Admiralty Chart of the Magellan Strait from 1887. The names on the chart give an indication of the hard landscape and dangerous sailing which abound. ‘Useless Bay’, ‘Desolate Bay’, ‘Famine Reach’, and the high number of narrow channels, many of which lead to a dead-end, show how hard it must have been for early explorers to navigate as opposed to sailing round Cape Horn. No wonder Magellan took so long to find a passage through.

Magellan Strait (formerly Magalhaen) sht 554, 1887

This chart shows the skills involved of the surveyors who measured, took soundings, kept records as well as lived onboard ship in such a harsh environment and the cartographers who then transferred this jumble of information on to a map. One of these surveyors was Commander Robert Fitzroy, of His Majesties Ship Beagle. This was Fitzroy’s first journey through Tierra del Fuego, his second, and more famous, was with Charles Darwin aboard as a companion and scientific officer. It was on this voyage that Darwin, after making numerous studies on the natural history of the lands explored on the voyage formed his theory of natural selection. In his book ‘The Voyage of the Beagle’ Darwin wrote ‘We passed out between the East and West Furries: and a little further northward there are so many breakers that the sea is called the Milky Way. One sight of such a coast is enough to make a landsman dream for a week about shipwrecks, peril and death…’. Fitzroy went on to become an expert on meteorology, forming what would become the Met office in 1854 and created ways to predict weather patterns, something which he gave a new name to, forecasts. A fervent Christian Fitzroy was horrified by the publication of Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’, the effect it would have religious beliefs and his role in helping Darwin form his theories by taking him on the Beagle voyage. Depression ran in his family, and Darwin’s fame together with financial difficulties and trouble with the Met Office led to Fitzroy taking his own life in April 1865.

Darwin’s importance can be seen in this  extract from the chart, with Darwin Sound and Beagle Channel appearing on a map just under 30 years after Darwin published his ground-breaking work.