The authoritative sea chart of the Northern Borneo and Palawan by Britain's Royal Navy, made during the reign of James Brooke, the legendary 'White Rajah' of Brunei.
This important work was part of a series of charts of the South China Sea issued by the British Admiralty's United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (U.K.H.O.). It embraces all of northern Borneo, including modern day Brunei, Sarawak, Sabah and part of Kalimantan, as well of the entire Philippine island of Palawan.
The chart is based on over a generation of continually updated surveys conducted by the Royal Navy. The coastlines are demarcated by advanced trigonometric surveys, while the sea itself features numerous bathymetric soundings. It was first issued in 1859, with the present chart being an undated edition following corrections to February 1867.
At the time that this chart was made, the north coast of Borneo was of great interest to the British Empire. Long neglected by the Dutch, who nominally held the rest of the island (Kalimantan), British officials and adventurers had long eyed the region's vast wealth in rubber and hardwood timber. In 1842, the English adventurer James Brooke (1803-68), managed to gain control of Brunei and much of Sarawak, making him the first 'White Rajah' in Asia. His family would rule the kingdom until 1946. Meanwhile, the long, narrow island of Palawan remained part of the Spanish Philippines.
The waters to the north of Borneo and east of Palawan were an important shipping lane connecting Hong Kong and Singapore to the broader Pacific. Accordingly, the chart features the 'Course recommended to Hong Kong in the N.E. Monsoon' and the 'Palawan Passage'. As evidence that the chart was a practical aide to navigation, the present example features contemporary manuscript ships' tracks in red crayon.
The present chart is scarce, as such working sea charts have a low survival rate.
The British Admiralty has produced nautical charts since 1795 under the auspices of the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (HO). Its main task was to provide the Royal Navy with navigational products and service, but since 1821 it has also sold charts to the public.
In 1795, King George III appointed Alexander Dalrymple, a pedantic geographer, to consolidate, catalogue, and improve the Royal Navy’s charts. He produced the first chart as the Hydrographer to the Admiralty in 1802. Dalrymple, known for his sticky personality, served until his death in 1808, when he was succeeded by Captain Thomas Hurd. The HO has been run by naval officers ever since.
Hurd professionalized the office and increased its efficiency. He was succeeded by the Arctic explorer Captain William Parry in 1823. By 1825, the HO was offering over seven hundred charts and views for sale. Under Parry, the HO also began to participate in exploratory expeditions. The first was a joint French-Spanish-British trip to the South Atlantic, a voyage organized in part by the Royal Society of London.
In 1829, Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort was appointed Hydrographer Royal. Under his management, the HO introduced the wind force scale named for him, as well as began issuing official tide tables (1833). It was under Beaufort that HMS Beagle completed several surveying missions, including its most famous voyage commanded by Captain FitzRoy with Charles Darwin onboard. When Beaufort retired in 1855, the HO had nearly two thousand charts in its catalog.
Later in the nineteenth century, the HO supported the Challenger expedition, which is credited with helping to found the discipline of oceanography. The HO participated in the International Meridian Conference which decided on the Greenwich Meridian as the Prime Meridian. Regulation and standardization of oceanic and navigational measures continued into the twentieth century, with the HO participating at the first International Hydrographic Organization meeting in 1921.
During World War II, the HO chart making facility moved to Taunton, the first purpose-built building it ever inhabited. In 1953, the first purpose-built survey ship went to sea, the HMS Vidal. Today, there is an entire class of survey vessels that make up the Royal Navy’s Hydrographic Squadron. The HO began to computerize their charts in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1968, the compilation staff also came to Taunton, and the HO continues to work from there today.