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Highly Detailed and Scarce Admiralty Chart of Hawaii

Fine, thorough chart of Hawaii first published in 1843 and revised to 1871. The present chart includes inset maps of "Hilo or Byron Bay" by C.R. Malden in 1825. It also includes Kairua Bay (Kailua), based upon the surveys of Duperrey in 1819, and Honoruru Harbor (Honolulu), based upon the surveys of T.A. Hull in 1856, with corrections by G.H. Richards to 1863. The chart is a visual history of the surveys of the islands and is a good example of the system of updating used by the British Admiralty's Hydrographic Office.

The first Britons to publish an encounter with Hawaii were James Cook and his crew on his third voyage. Intended to locate the elusive Northwest Passage, Cook and his men stopped at what he called the Sandwich Islands twice. On the second visit cost Cook his life, but his ship and crew sailed home and his edited journal was published in 1784. It included 87 plates showing maps and illustrations. One of these was the first printed map of Hawaii, taken from manuscript sketches by Cook, Lieutenant Henry Roberts, and perhaps William Bligh, a master on the voyage, from 1778 and 1779. Cook's original recorded place names are compared to the revised names given by missionaries in a table below the title.

Other explorers also charted Hawaii, including the Frenchman La Perouse in 1786 and George Dixon and Nathaniel Portlock, veterans of Cook's third voyage, also in 1786. Spurred by the fur trade that was also brought to European attention by Cook, Americans, the Spanish, and Russians soon joined the French and British in frequenting, and charting, Hawaii.

According to Fitzgerald, the honor of the "first complete map" of Hawaii goes to George Vancouver, who served as midshipman on Cook's second and third expeditions (39). Vancouver visited Hawaii several times from 1792 to 1794. The resulting A Chart of the Sandwich Islands is credited to Vancouver's lieutenant, Joseph Baker, but more likely was the result of the measurements and observations of several officers.

By the time Vancouver's voyage had been published, in 1798, the British Admiralty had decided to centralize their chart collection and production and founded the Hydrography Office in 1795. It was put in the hands of Alexander Dalrymple, who was the Royal Society's first choice for the Transit of Venus expedition that was eventually to be commanded by Cook as his first Pacific voyage. All Vancouver's charts passed into the HO's holdings, which explains why the Baker chart was the basis for subsequent Admiralty charts of the Sandwich Islands, including this one.

Baker's influence is clear on this map, but so are contributions by Russian navigators and a Frenchman, Duperry. Louis Isidore Duperrey was a part of the French scientific voyage commanded by Louis de Freycinet (1817-1820). During the voyage, Duperry surveyed the harbors of Honolulu, Kailua, Kawaihae, and Lahaina. His chart of Kailua (Kairua is used on the chart) is included as an inset, which is interesting, since it originally recorded the latitude of the bay wrongly. Here, however, a new latitude for a local landmark have been inserted.

The inset of "Hilo or Byron Bay" was surveyed by Lieutenant Charles Robert Malden. Malden was serving on an unusual voyage; its objective was to return the bodies of King Liholiho and his wife, Kamamalu, to Hawaii. The couple had been on the first overseas visit by Hawaiian royalty, but they caught the measles and died suddenly in London. Malden drew several maps, including the first plan of Kilauea crater, a plan of Honolulu, and a plan of Hilo Bay. The latter is used on this chart, as it was important at the time. Although not published until 1841, the plan of Hilo revealed a new, safe bay for ships that had previously been overlooked. The name Byron Bay comes from the commander of the expedition, Lord George Anson Byron.

The other inset, of Honolulu (Honoruru is used on the chart) is the result of the survey of T. A. Hull in 1856 and G. H. Richards in 1863, which reminds us that this chart is an 1871 update on the 1843 original. By the mid-nineteenth century, the Hydrography Office was frequently updating its charts with new information from the global voyages of Royal Naval ships. Thanks to their information network, they were able to make the most accurate maps in the world at that time. For example, on the original 1743 edition of this chart, Baker's original outline was improved with Malden's work for Southern O'ahu. There were still errors, but, as Fitzgerald explains, "Rather than being a sign of shoddy mapmaking, these errors emphasize the problems faced by the cartographers of the period" (140).

Thus, although this chart is supposedly drawn from "various but imperfect authorities," it actually represents the most authoritative chart of the Sandwich Islands available at that time. Additionally, it is a very scarce on the market and in institutions. OCLC locates no other examples.

Condition Description
Several minor marginal tears, just entering printed image.
Gary L. Fitzpatrick with Riley M. Moffat, The Early Mapping of Hawaii (London: Kegan Paul International, 1987).
Eleanor C. Nordyke with James a Mattison, Jr., Pacific Images: Views from Captain Cook’s Third Voyage (Honolulu: Hawaiian Historical Society, 1999).
G. S. Ritchie, The Admiralty Chart: British Naval Hydrography in the Nineteenth Century (Edinburgh: The Pentland Press, 1995).
Archibald Day, The Admiralty Hydrographic Serivce 1795-1919 (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1967).
British Admiralty Biography

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.