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Rare French plan of the Harbor of Rio De Janeiro, engraved by Caplin and drafted by Besancon for the Depot General de La Marine in 1829.

The plan is based upon the surveys of Jean Augustine Barral in 1826 and shows the entrance to the Rio de Janeiro harbor and its environs, including extensive soundings and sailing directions. A fleur d'lis at the top displays the chart's orientation with north at the top.

The plan shows the booming port of Rio de Janeiro, during a period of tremendous growth in both population and geo-political importance. It had just become the largest city in South America and the most important trading port on the continent, just 20 years after the Portuguese Royal Court relocated to Rio de Janeiro.

The transfer of the Portuguese Royal Court from Lisbon to Rio was a major event. By November 1807, it had become clear that all of metropolitan Portugal would soon fall to Napoleon's French legions. Fearing for their safety, the Braganza family decided to move their entire court to Rio de Janeiro. With the assistance of Britain's Royal Navy, Dom João VI and his family, as well a vast retinue of 15,000 noblemen, civil servants and their families migrated en masse across the Atlantic.

This was historically significant as the only instance of a "metropolitan reversal", whereby a major European empire was forced to flea the mother country and relocate to one of its colonies. The arrival of so many people had a transformative effect on the Rio. In 1808, Rio had a population of around 85,000, sizable by colonial standards. While Rio had been the capital of Brazil since 1763 and its major port, it had been experiencing a prolonged economic slump that saw the value of its harbor traffic halved over the previous generation. Prior to the arrival of the Portuguese Royal Court, Rio had been in a state of decay for several decades.

The arrival of the Portuguese Court not only significantly added to the city's population, but it brought great wealth and intellectual sophistication to Rio. This led to the genesis of several institutions, many of which are anchors of Rio and Brazil's economic and cultural life to this day. These included Brazil's first printing house, the Academy of Fine Arts, the botanical gardens, the Rio School of Medicine, the National Library of Brazil and the Bank of Brazil.

Importantly, the port of Rio was also released from the limitations of the traditional mercantilist system (which had strictly limited trade to Portugal and other Portuguese colonies) and opened her economy to global commerce, ushering in an unprecedented boom. Between 1808 and 1816, over 6,000 new houses were built in the city and 100 new country estates were established in its environs. By 1821, the city's population had grown to 113,000, making it the largest city in South America. Thus, more than any other event, the court transfer was responsible for laying the foundation of the modern cosmopolitan City of Rio de Janiero.

Jean Augustine Barral was an active hydrographical surveyor, who also surveyed the Rio de la Plata between 1830 and 1832.

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.