A rare British Admiralty sea, depicting southeastern Malaysia and the eastern part of the island of Singapore.
This fine chart details the eastern parts of what is now the mainland Malaysian State of Johor, from the site of Johor Bahru eastwards, along with the eastern part of the island of Singapore. It was primarily intended to guide ships into the eastern approaches to Singapore Harbour, one of the busiest ports in the East, and the main center of the British Empire in southeast Asia. At the time, Johor was a nominally independent sultanate under British protection. The Strait of Johor and the waters off of Changi, Singapore feature detailed bathymetric soundings, while all of the coastlines throughout are labelled with copious navigational information. The island of Pulo Tioman, known today for its scuba diving, is located in the upper-right of the map.
The chart is primarily based on the surveys conducted by John Turnbull Thomson (1821-1884), a leading pioneer in the mapping of Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand. Turnbull was appointed Government Surveyor of Singapore at the amazingly young age of 20 in 1841. He energetically set about surveying new cadastral lots and constructing public works throughout Singapore. In the late 1840s and early 1850s, with the support of the Admiralty and the Sultan of Johor, Thomson set about conducting advanced triangulated coastal surveys of Singapore and southern Malaya. An enduring legacy was his construction of the Horsburgh Lighthouse, off of the extreme southeastern tip of Malaya (marked on the map, and heightened in yellow and red). As new information became available, Thomson's charts were corrected in subsequent editions, with the present edition corrected up to 1897. Thomson later served as Surveyor General of New Zealand.
As such working sea charts were heavily used at sea, their survival rate is quite low. The present chart is the first example we have ever encountered.
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.