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The First Modern Chart of Mumbai (Bombay) Harbor

Fine example of the first edition of William Nichelson's charting of Bombay Harbor, published in 1778 by Sayer & Bennett.

The map covers from Salsette Island to the continent south to Hunary Island. There is a detailed plan of the city of Bombay as well as several coastal profile views in the upper right quadrant. This is arguably the largest and finest obtainable nautical chart of Bombay Harbor to appear in the 18th century.

The map offers rich detail including countless depth soundings, notes on the sea floor, commentary on reefs, rhumb lines, shoals, place names and a wealth of other practical information for the mariner. Though most charts in the East-India Pilot were derived from earlier maps prepared for Jean-Baptiste d'Apres de Mannevillette's 1745 Neptune Oriental, this particular chart is a new and uniquely British production.

Cartographically, the map is derived from surveys by Captain William Nichelson and Captain Watson. Nichelson, master of the HMS Elizabeth, made a survey of Bombay Harbor and coast of Malabar in 1763, creating a monumental 8 sheet of the Harbor in 1763. The original map is known in a single example, of which only 7 of the 8 sheets have survived. In about 1780, William Herbert produced a chart entitled A Reduced Chart of Bombay Harbour to serve as an Index for the large one of eight sheets by Wm. Nichelson, Master of the H.M.S. Elizabeth.

This chart represents a massive leap forward in the charting of the Bay, significantly improving upon prior charts by Van Keulen and Mannevillette, as well as Samuel Thornton's Chart of Bombay.

Sayer & Bennett Biography

Sayer & Bennett refers to the partnership of Robert Sayer (ca. 1724-1794) and John Bennett (fl. 1760-d.1787), which lasted between 1774 and 1783. Bennett had been Sayer’s apprentice. The pair specialized in American atlases, based on the work of Thomas Jefferys, who plates had been acquired by Sayer when Jefferys went bankrupt in 1766. They also began publishing navigational charts in the 1780s and quickly became the largest supplier of British charts in the trade. However, in 1783 Bennett lost control of his mental faculties and the partnership dissolved as a result. Sayer’s business was later passed to his employees, Robert Laurie and James Whittle.