An attractive map of the region centered on the Red Sea and the upper Nile, starting at the first cataract. The map extends to Somalia, Sudan, and Darfur in the west and to Yemen and the Sea of Bab-El-Mandeb in the east. Numerous towns, mountains, oases, and more are all shown on the map. The many kingdoms and tribes of the area are all named, and occasionally described.
The Cataract and Egyptian Niles may be the same river, but they have profoundly different characteristics. These two names for the Nile refer to river above and below the first cataract. While the area to the north of Luxor is relatively tectonically inactive, southern Egypt and the Sudan are not so due to the presence of the "Nubian swell," a vast uplift associated with dynamic topography in the area. This has important effects on the hydrology of the Nile as rivers in tectonically active areas have not had time to erode features such as falls, gorges, and rapids. The six cataracts of the Nile are the most visible and well-known result of this tectonic activity.
A number of trade routes are located in the interior linking the towns, rivers, and oases of the region. In the south of the map, these link the famous gold and iron mines of the Sudan. The routes of several European explorers are shown, alongside their dates of travel. This includes a mention of the path of William George Browne, the first European to describe Darfur who first traveled to the region in 1793.
The Arrowsmiths were a cartographic dynasty which operated from the late-eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth. The family business was founded by Aaron Arrowsmith (1750-1823), who was renowned for carefully prepared and meticulously updated maps, globes, and charts. He created many maps that covered multiple sheets and which were massive in total size. His spare yet exacting style was recognized around the world and mapmakers from other countries, especially the young country of the United States, sought his maps and charts as exemplars for their own work.
Aaron Arrowsmith was born in County Durham in 1750. He came to London for work around 1770, where he found employment as a surveyor for the city’s mapmakers. By 1790, he had set up his own shop which specialized in general charts. Arrowsmith had five premises in his career, most of which were located on or near Soho Square, a neighborhood the led him to rub shoulders with the likes of Joseph Banks, the naturalist, and Matthew Flinders, the hydrographer.
Through his business ties and employment at the Hydrographic Office, Arrowsmith made other important relationships with Alexander Dalrymple, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and others entities. In 1810 he became Hydrographer to the Prince of Wales and, in 1820, Hydrographer to the King.
Aaron Arrowsmith died in 1823, whereby the business and title of Hydrographer to the King passed to his sons, Aaron and Samuel, and, later, his nephew, John. Aaron Jr. (1802-1854) was a founder member of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) and left the family business in 1832; instead, he enrolled at Oxford to study to become a minister. Samuel (1805-1839) joined Aaron as a partner in the business and they traded together until Aaron left for the ministry. Samuel died at age 34 in 1839; his brother presided over his funeral. The remaining stock and copper plates were bought at auction by John Arrowsmith, their cousin.
John (1790-1873) operated his own independent business after his uncle, Aaron Arrowsmith Sr., died. After 1839, John moved into the Soho premises of his uncle and cousins. John enjoyed considerable recognition in the geography and exploration community. Like Aaron Jr., John was a founder member of the RGS and would serve as its unofficial cartographer for 43 years. Several geographical features in Australia and Canada are named after him. He carried the title Hydrographer to Queen Victoria. He died in 1873 and the majority of his stock was eventually bought by Edward Stanford, who co-founded Stanford’s map shop, which is still open in Covent Garden, London today.