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Fine large format map of "Eastern Indo-China," published in Paris in 1881.

The map is an extraordinary amalgam of information, compiled by the French Depot des Cartes et Plans de la Marine from Government, Commercial and Missionary sources, including French, British, American, German and ingenous sources. Among the important features identified on the map are:

  • The Principal Road in Lower Cochinchine
  • The Grand Postal Route from l'Annam and Tram
  • Secondary Routes favored by European Travelers
  • Routes reported by European and indigenous travelers (but not routes along rivers)

The map also includes a table translating primary geographical terms from French into Annamite, Cambodian, Siamese/Laotian, Mandarin Chinese, Birman and certain local dialects. According to the reviews of the map by the Royal Geographical Society, the maps were intended to be accompanied by two pamphlets.

The map was favorably reviewed by the Royal Geographical Society and several French geographical publications.

The map was issued in 4 sheets and also in a reduced single sheet version, which we offer here. Both are quite rare. We located only the example at the Library of Congress of the single sheet map and the British Library copy of the 4 sheet map.

Depot de la Marine Biography

The Dépôt de la Marine, known more formally as the Dépôt des cartes et plans de la Marine, was the central charting institution of France. The centralization of hydrography in France began in earnest when Jean-Baptiste Colbert became First Minister of France in 1661. Under his watch, the first Royal School of Hydrography began operating, as did the first survey of France’s coasts (1670-1689). In 1680, Colbert consolidated various collections of charts and memoirs into a single assemblage, forming the core of sources for what would become the Dépôt.

The Dépôt itself began as the central deposit of charts for the French Navy. In 1720, the Navy consolidated its collection with those government materials covering the colonies, creating a single large repository of navigation. By 1737, the Dépôt was creating its own original charts and, from 1750, they participated in scientific expeditions to determine the accurate calculation of longitude.

In 1773, the Dépôt received a monopoly over the composition, production, and distribution of navigational materials, solidifying their place as the main producer of geographic knowledge in France.  Dépôt-approved charts were distributed to official warehouses in port cities and sold by authorized merchants. The charts were of the highest quality, as many of France’s premier mapmakers worked at the Dépôt in the eighteenth century, including Philippe Bauche, Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, Rigobert Bonne, Jean Nicolas Buache, and Charles-François Beautemps-Beaupré.

The Dépôt continued to operate until 1886, when it became the Naval Hydrographic Service. In 1971, it changed names again, this time to the Naval and Oceanographic Service (SHOM). Although its name has changed, its purpose is largely the same, to provide high quality cartographic and scientific information to the France’s Navy and merchant marine.