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Rare example of this authoritative sea chart of the Gaspar Strait, Indonesia, a critical point of passage for navigation en route from Singapore to the Sunda Strait.

This fine sea chart details the Gaspar Strait that runs between the islands of Bangka (called Banka on the chart) and Belitung (called Billiton on the chart), located off of the east coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The treacherous passage was on the main shipping route from Singapore to the Sunda Strait (which runs between Java and Sumatra), which marked the entrance to the Indian Ocean.

The strait was named 'Gaspar' after a Spanish sea captain who traversed the channel in 1724, on his way from Manila to Spain. Clearly evident on the chart, the waters in and around the straits presented innumerable navigational hazards, and while frequented, the straits were considered to be especially perilous. As noted in the Great Britain Hydrographic Department's The China Sea Directory, vol. 1 (1878):

"Many fine ships have been lost in Gaspar strait; not a few on the Alceste reef, from wrongly estimating their distance from the land; but the majority of instances from causes which might have been guarded against by the exercise of due care and judgment."

This chart was then considered to be the authoritative guide for navigating these waters. First issued by the British Admiralty in 1854, it was based on surveys conducted by the U.S. Navy. The chart was then continually updated, most notably by surveys conducted in 1860 by W. Stanton, a sailing master of the Royal Navy, as well as Dutch charts (the Netherlands was then the colonial ruler of Indonesia). The present example was printed towards the end of 1866, following corrections done up to October of that year. The coastlines are demarcated by advanced trigonometric surveys, while the sea itself features numerous bathymetric soundings.

The present chart is rare on the market, owing to the fact that the survival rate for such working sea charts is very low.

British Admiralty Biography

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.