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Important Early Sea Chart of the Area around Montevideo, First Surveyed Shortly After Uruguayan Independence

Fine, early sea chart of the area around Montevideo, as surveyed by Cyprien Gabriel Le Bourguignon-Duperré the year after the establishment of the first Uruguayan Constitution in 1830.

The chart provides a highly-detailed survey of the coastline of Uruguay, along with a detailed depiction of its capital city. It was surveyed just at a time when the monopoly of Spanish and Portuguese control of the region had ended and the rest of the world was free to begin actively trading in the newly-independent region.

Published by the Dépòt de la Marine, the chart is in their characteristic style with flourishing title and many soundings at sea. Below the title is an avertissement which explains the various symbols and abbreviations used on the chart, as well as the latitude and longitude of the cathedral of Montevideo, taken in 1867, with smaller corrections to 1877.

Also typical of Dépòt charts, this example has been regularly updated, as explained in the lower left corner. These revisions are so as to ensure the safety of sailors using the chart. This particular chart was certainly used to plan a voyage, as the pencil annotations near the compass rose indicate.

A particular strength of this chart is the thorough depiction of Montevideo, located on a peninsula jutting into the waters where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Rio de la Plata. Landmarks in the city are noted, including the Place Cagancha, le Marche, and Cathedrale Feu. The docks, jetties, and buildings of the coast nearby are also included for reference.

The early history of Montevideo, important port of the Americas

Montevideo is located across a large bay from another important colonial city, Buenos Aires. The latter was a Spanish city, while the settlement which became Montevideo was originally a Portuguese fortification. When the fortification began, in 1723, the Spanish became nervous.

Early in the next year, the Spanish sent an expedition to harass the Portuguese. They succeeded in routing the Portuguese defenders, leaving the city to Spanish control. The first group of Spanish settlers came from Buenos Aires, with more from the Canary Islands in later years. 1724 was also the year a census was performed; it counted fifty families of Galician and Canary Islands origin, more than 1,000 indigenous people, mostly Guaraní, as well as black slaves of Bantu origin. The new occupiers also drew a plan of the city with its new name, San Felipe y Santiago de Montevideo. This was then shortened in colloquial use to Montevideo.

Thanks to its geographic position, Montevideo became the main urban center for the area north of the Río de la Plata and east of the Uruguay River. In 1776, Montevideo was also selected as the Armada Real’s principal naval base (Real Apostadero de Marina) for the South Atlantic. These designations proved to be competition for Buenos Aires. The main port of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, Montevideo continued to fight with its neighboring metropolis into the late-eighteenth century.   

The city grew rapidly. In 1770, it was home to 7,000 people; in 1800, it was 10,000 strong. A quarter of these were black or of a mixed-race background, reflecting the diversity of many cities in Spain’s American Empire. By the turn of the century, the Old Town (Ciudad Vieja) was designated as the part of the city that had started on the peninsula; development then extended back and east, away from the sea.

After 1800, Montevideo became vulnerable to world geopolitics. It was invaded and menaced several times during the Napoleonic Wars. Then, the wars of independence that had swept the continent came to Montevideo too. The governor of Montevideo, Francisco Javier de Elío, expressed opposition to the new Viceroy Santiago de Liniers. De Elío created his own government just as the Peninsula War (1807-1814) began to grip Spain. This threat to colonial rule was diffused when Liniers was replaced by a new Viceroy, Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros.

Peace was not long lived, however. In 1810, what is now known as the May Revolution washed over the city. The independence fighters, led by José Gervasio Artigas, issued the Proclamation of February 26, 1811 calling for rebellion against Spanish rule. Despite the interference of the Portuguese via Brazil and infighting amongst the rebels, those fighting for independence were ultimately victorious. The Spanish governor was expelled in 1814.

Only two years later, Portugal invaded and had annexed the recently liberated territory to the Banda Oriental region of Brazil by 1820. In the ensuing War of Independence of Brazil, Montevideo was besieged. The city was freed once more in 1825.

Uruguay became an independent state in 1828 and declared Montevideo the capital. Finally, with the Constitution of 1830, Uruguay became a sovereign nation. Just as this chart was initially surveyed, plans were underway to expand the city east, inland from the Old Town.

As the country was newly independent, and now able to trade in its own right, it is understandable that the French were interested in the port. They sent one of their hydrographic engineers, Le Bourguignon-Duperré, along  to South America and this chart is one result. The reissuing of the chart through the 1870s underlines just how important the city was to Atlantic commerce. It would be an interesting addition to any collection of South American charts or Dépòt charts.

Condition Description
Pencil marks, some soiling and other evidence of use at sea.
Andre Gougenheim, “250 Years of Hydrography in France”, International Hydrographic Review; William H. Katra, Jose Artigas and the Federal League in Uruguay’s War of Independence (1810-1820) (Lanham: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2017).
Depot de la Marine Biography

The Dépôt de la Marine, known more formally as the Dépôt des cartes et plans de la Marine, was the central charting institution of France. The centralization of hydrography in France began in earnest when Jean-Baptiste Colbert became First Minister of France in 1661. Under his watch, the first Royal School of Hydrography began operating, as did the first survey of France’s coasts (1670-1689). In 1680, Colbert consolidated various collections of charts and memoirs into a single assemblage, forming the core of sources for what would become the Dépôt.

The Dépôt itself began as the central deposit of charts for the French Navy. In 1720, the Navy consolidated its collection with those government materials covering the colonies, creating a single large repository of navigation. By 1737, the Dépôt was creating its own original charts and, from 1750, they participated in scientific expeditions to determine the accurate calculation of longitude.

In 1773, the Dépôt received a monopoly over the composition, production, and distribution of navigational materials, solidifying their place as the main producer of geographic knowledge in France.  Dépôt-approved charts were distributed to official warehouses in port cities and sold by authorized merchants. The charts were of the highest quality, as many of France’s premier mapmakers worked at the Dépôt in the eighteenth century, including Philippe Bauche, Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, Rigobert Bonne, Jean Nicolas Buache, and Charles-François Beautemps-Beaupré.

The Dépôt continued to operate until 1886, when it became the Naval Hydrographic Service. In 1971, it changed names again, this time to the Naval and Oceanographic Service (SHOM). Although its name has changed, its purpose is largely the same, to provide high quality cartographic and scientific information to the France’s Navy and merchant marine.