A fine example of the most important 18th Century French chart of Canada's Gulf of St. Lawrence and Newfoundland, by the French Royal Hydrographer, Bellin.
This beautifully engraved sea chart embraces the entire Gulf of St. Lawrence, the gateway to French North America, and was made shortly before the Seven Years' War (1756-63) brought the region under British control. The chart features the entire island of Newfoundland, the complete shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and includes Isle St. Jean (Prince Edward Island), Isle Royale (Cape Breton Island) and the Pays Des Esquimaux (Lower Labrador), as well as the lower St. Lawrence River Estuary, the Gaspe Peninsula and Anticosti Island. Notable sites include Louisbourg on Isle Royale, the massive French fortress built in 1720. The fort fell to the British in 1745, before being retuned to France in 1748. Also shown is St. John's, the capital of Newfoundland, England's oldest colony, and Port La Joie, the main French town of Isle St. Jean. Elegantly cut rhumb lines traverse the chart, a signature stylistic detail of Bellin's work.
While Newfoundland was generally a British possession, the rest of the area shown was part of France's North American Empire. The chart, compiled by Jacques-Nicolas Bellin (1703-72), the Hydrogrpher to Louis XV, was based on the finest available French sea charts, although it contained notable inaccuracies, as few of these were made from scientific surveys. Bellin's manuscripts, on which the present chart is based, are today preserved at the Bibliotheque nationale de France (Paris).
The present chart, printed in 1754, was important as it was the finest printed chart available to French and British mariners during the Seven Years' War, during which the region was a major theatre of conflict. The British successfully besieged Louisbourg in 1758, and sailed up the St. Lawrence to take Quebec City in 1759. In 1762, the French briefly seized St. John's, Newfoundland, from the British. Bellin's map would remain the chart of record until Samuel Holland's scientific surveys were published as part of J.F.W. Des Barres Atlantic Neptune (London, 1775-84).
Jacques-Nicolas Bellin (1703-1772) was among the most important mapmakers of the eighteenth century. In 1721, at age 18, he was appointed hydrographer (chief cartographer) to the French Navy. In August 1741, he became the first Ingénieur de la Marine of the Depot des cartes et plans de la Marine (the French Hydrographic Office) and was named Official Hydrographer of the French King.
During his term as Official Hydrographer, the Depot was the single most active center for the production of sea charts and maps, including a large folio format sea-chart of France, the Neptune Francois. He also produced a number of sea-atlases of the world, e.g., the Atlas Maritime and the Hydrographie Francaise. These gained fame, distinction, and respect all over Europe and were republished throughout the 18th and even in the succeeding century.
Bellin also came out with smaller format maps such as the 1764 Petit Atlas Maritime, containing 580 finely detailed charts. He also contributed many of the maps for Bellin and contributed a number of maps to the 15-volume Histoire Generale des Voyages of Antoine François Prévost or simply known l'Abbe Prevost.
Bellin set a very high standard of workmanship and accuracy, thus gaining for France a leading role in European cartography and geography. Many of his maps were copied by other mapmakers of Europe.