T he first edition of Jacques-Nicolas Bellin's chart of the Indian Ocean, one of the most important maps of the region of the 18th Century.
This attractive and detailed work was by far the most accurate general chart of the Indian Ocean published during the mid-18th Century and, in this respect, represents a milestone of Enlightment cartography, which strived for clarity and precision. The map embraces the entire Indian Ocean from around 38 degress south up to its northernmost reaches (the Red Sea) at almost 30 degrees north; longitudinally, it extends from the Cape of Good Hope, in the west, all the way to include the shores of Western Australia in the east.
The overall impression is of an accurate general map, familiar to the modern eye. This was the result of the careful compilation of charts from the best sources, combined with recently acquired geodetic positions taken by the crews of French Navy vessels. The "Remarque" below the title describes the various forms of collected geodetic data and employs different symbols to accord to various positions on the chart. Generally, the mapping of India is taken from a variety of the best European sources, including French, Portuguese, Dutch, and English maps. The mapping of Africa and Arabia largely derives from Portuguese sources, and Dutch charts were used to delineate the shores of Southeast Asia and Western Australia.
This chart appeared at a critical time with respect to French involvement in the Indian Ocean and its basin, and therefore would have been considered highly useful by a variety of stakeholders. From 1742, the India division of the Compagnie Perpétuelle des Indes (essentually the French Colonial Company) was headed by Joseph-François, Marquis Dupleix, who would mount an aggressive campaign against the British and their Inidan allies for control of the subcontinent. While his endeavors came to a precipitous end in 1754, Dupleix's activities were historically consequential and melodramatic.
Meanwhile, from 1735 onwards, the first French governor-general of the Mascarene Islands, Bertrand-François Mahé de La Bourdonnais, was undertaking endeavors to colonize Isle de France (now Mauritius), Île Bourbon (Réunion) and Séchelles (Seychelles). Madagascar was also of great interest, as from 1720, it had been the pirate capital of the world, praying on European, Arab and Mughal shipping.
The chart was prepared by Jacques-Nicolas Bellin (1703-72), the Royal Hydrographer to Louis XV, and one of the leading figures of Enlightenment cartography. From about 1740 to his death, his charts were generally considered to be the finest in the world. The present chart was issued separately and also included as part of a grand atlas of Jean de Beaurain's Atlas geographique, Contenant les Hémisphéres célestes et terrestres ; les Cartes marines du grand Océan (Paris 1740). The present example is the first edition of the chart, and several other editions were issued over the coming decades.
A fundamental chart for any collection of the Indian Ocean basin.
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.