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The First Modern Survey of Auckland Harbour Originally Produced from the Surveys of John Lort Stokes

Rare early sea chart of Auckland Harbor, first published by the British Admiralty in 1857.

The chart was first issued in 1857, with a second state issued in 1863 and a third state in 1872.  The present example includes minor corrections to 1876.  The map was again updated in 1884 by Lieutenant C.F. Oldham, H.M.S. Lark.  The chart is the primary sea chart for Auckland Harbour, which was still being published in revised editions well into the 20th Century

The present example includes early pencil marks, from usage at sea, extending from Ponui Island and Oreri Point in the east to the Waitemata River and the town of Auckland in the west.  The chart shows lighthouses, topographical features, some early roads, forts, churches, soundings and all the usual detailed information associated with an admiralty chart.

John Lort Stokes and the Early Surveys of New Zealand

The chart was created under the direction of John Lort Stokes, the most important early British Naval Surveyor in New Zealand.  Born in 1811, by 1828, he was assigned at a young age to the HMS Beagle, on which he served three commissions, from 1828 to 1836, under the command of Robert FitzRoy. From 1826 to 1830 and from 1831 to 1836 the Beagle surveyed the southern parts of South America, and, with Stokes as assistant surveyor, made a circumnavigation of the globe to compile a meridian distance survey.  

In February 1837, Stokes was promoted to lieutenant, and appointed assistant surveyor to J. C. Wickham on the third voyage of the Beagle. When Wickham left the service in March 1841, Stokes assumed command, being confirmed in this position later that year. On this voyage the Beagle surveyed the north-west coast of Australia, Torres Strait and the Arafura Sea, and produced the first adequate survey of Bass Strait.  At Sydney in January 1841, Returning to England in 1843, Stokes spent the next two years recording his Australian voyage in Discoveries of Australia, which was published in London in 1846.

Promoted to Captain, was next appointed in October 1847 to command HMS Acheron, which was to make the first full hydrographical survey of New Zealand, between November 1848 and March 1851. The Acheron sailed from Plymouth in January 1848, and after calling at Rio de Janeiro, the Cape of Good Hope and Australia, arrived at Auckland on November 7, 1848.  

When he arrived, New Zealand lacked a detailed coastal survey. Its chain of New Zealand Company settlements was linked by a growing number of local craft and trading vessels, but the greatest need was for safe havens and anchorage for the immigrant passenger vessels.   Stokes first surveyed the Waitemata Harbour, before travelling south at the end of January 1849 to Wellington, Akaroa, Lyttelton and Otago. He then undertook an examination of Cook Strait, the Marlborough Sounds and Nelson coastal waters. After maintenance and coaling in Sydney, an extensive itinerary took the Acheron from Auckland to as far south as Bluff, and Ruapuke and Stewart islands. Stokes next surveyed Cook Strait, visiting Kapiti Island, Port Gore and Tory Channel. On the final leg of the Acheron's journey he investigated Foveaux Strait and the south-west fiords, including Dusky and Milford sounds.

The Acheron's voyage produced many valuable charts, coastal views showing landmarks such as harbor entry points, 'astronomically determined' positions giving longitude, latitude and tidal range, and reports of geographical, scientific and human interest. Stokes made major corrections to existing charts of the South Island, producing the first accurate chart of Foveaux Strait. In addition to his own team of nautical experts, including G. H. Richards and F. J. O. Evans, both of whom later became Royal Navy hydrographers, he was accompanied by a number of able naturalists, such as David Lyall, and on the last Cook Strait expedition, William Swainson. Several reports of inland explorations were made, including Stokes's own accounts of the Waimakariri valley and the Canterbury Plains. While exploring the Foveaux Strait area, Stokes reported to Governor George Grey that local Maori were willing to sell land to the government; negotiations for the Murihiku block subsequently began in 1852.

Stokes returned to England after the Acheron was paid off in Sydney in 1851. Although he felt that the survey could have been extended and completed within a few months, the Acheron was instead replaced by the sail-powered Pandora, which continued the survey for another four years. 

John Lort Stokes's hydrographical surveys were highly regarded for their accuracy. A measure of his skill is that his survey of New Zealand waters, the first of its kind, remained in use until the 1930s.


The chart is very rare on the market. We note no examples offered by dealers in over 20 years.  The 1896 number at the lower right corner references the chart number, not the date of publication.

Condition Description
Includes pencil marks from early usage at sea.
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.