Western Approaches To Hong Kong Harbor
A large-scale and detailed sea chart of the western approaches to Hong Kong Harbor, issued by the British Admiralty, including all of Victoria (Central), western Kowloon and extending westwards to Lantau Island.
The chart is extensively annotated near the Royal Naval Depot and Anchorage and extending out into the harbor to the north of the City of Victoria, likely reflecting planning for upcoming projects.
The chart bears the stamp of The Hong Kong & Howloon Wharf & Godown Co., Ltd., which operated wharf and warehouse space in Hong Kong beginning in 1886 and operates since 1986 as The Wharf Holdings.
The Chart provides a fine early depiction of Victoria (Central), Hong Kong's capital and major urban area, delineating all major street and quays and noting important locations, including those familiar today, such as the Cricket Ground, Government House (the governor's residence), City Hall and the route of the Peak Tram (completed in 1888). In the inner harbor is labelled the 'Man of War Anchorage' where ships of the Royal Navy would ride.
Across the harbor in Kowloon is the massive Royal Naval Depot, the Typhoon Refuge for vessels (then under construction), the Cosmopolitan Dock and the immense Standard Oil Depot, vital for refueling ships during this early period of petroleum-powered shipping. To the west, past Chung Hue, is Kap Sing Mun (The Throat Gates), a passage of dangerous tidal currents, and further beyond is the eastern side of Lantau Island.
The chart was highly important during its time as the authoritative maritime pilot for the western approaches into Hong Kong Harbor, already one of Asia's busiest commercial ports. It includes extensive bathymetric soundings, sailing information, and notes on compass variation critical to mariners.
Owing to extensive use at sea the survival rate of such charts is extremely low.
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.