Important mid-18th Century chart of the Gulf of St. Laurence, Straits of Belle Isle and contiguous coastlines, published by Bellin, for the French Depot de la Marine.
This interesting chart is one of the most significant maps of the region. The Strait of Belle Isle divides the Island of Newfoundland from Labrador, and was long prized for its fishing and (along with the Cabot Strait) was one of the principal maritime routes to Canada. The chart carefully details the numerous harbors and bays, while rhumb lines traverse the seas.
The region was first visited by Europeans in the late 10th-century AD, whereupon the Vikings built a settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. The region was rediscovered by Basque fishermen around 1500, who founded a seasonal whaling settlement at Red Bay, Labrador. Jacques Cartier sailed through the Strait of Belle Isle during his voyages to Canada, 1534-41. Over the next two centuries the area was visited regularly by French and English fishermen in search of Whale, Cod and Seal. The main French fishing base of Chateau Bay appears on the southeastern Labrador coast.
While the present map had an approximate spatial accuracy, it is based on the informal reports of mariners, as opposed to careful surveys. It was nevertheless the most important map of the region produced during the French colonial era, which ended in 1763, following the British victory in the Seven Years War. The region would first be exactingly charted by Lieutentant James Cook (the future celebrated explorer) and Michael Lane, during the surveys conducted from 1763 to 1767.
Jacques-Nicolas Bellin (1703-1772) was among the most important mapmakers of the eighteenth century. In 1721, at only the age of 18, he was appointed Hydrographer to the French Navy. In August 1741, he became the first Ingénieur de la Marine of the Dépôt 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 Dépôt was the one of the most active centers for the production of sea charts and maps in Europe. Their output included a folio-format sea atlas of France, the Neptune Francois. He also produced a number of sea atlases of the world, including the Atlas Maritime and the Hydrographie Francaise. These gained fame and distinction all over Europe and were republished throughout the eighteenth and even in the nineteenth century.
Bellin also produced smaller format maps such as the 1764 Petit Atlas Maritime, containing 580 finely-detailed charts. He also contributed a number of maps for the 15-volume Histoire Generale des Voyages of Antoine François Prévost.
Bellin set a very high standard of workmanship and accuracy, cementing France's leading role in European cartography and geography during this period. Many of his maps were copied by other mapmakers across the continent.