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Description

The First Modern Survey of the Strait of Malacca To Singapore Island and Pulao Bintang

Extremely rare pair of Sea Charts covering the Straits of Malacca, as surveyed and compiled by James Horsburgh.

First issued in 1806, the present example is revised, with additions to 1823.  The 1823 revisions are the rarest and arguably the most important, created as a result of the systematic effort to chart the strait between 1815 and 1819, when British Colony at Singapore was founded.

The following summarizes the modifications from the earlier editions of 1806 and 1812, largely based upon the work of Daniel Ross, William F. Owen, W. Rose and Richard Moresby.

First Sheet Revisions

The First sheet is significantly revised from the 1806 edition.  On the west side of the strait, the Sumatra Coast is completely revised, including a completely different coastline and extensive soundings. Some areas to the south are still conjectural, including a section noted as "said to be a safe channel . . . "

On the north side, the coastline is not changed to any great extent, but the North Sands and South Sands are now meticulously surveyed for soundings, shoals, small islands, etc.

Second Sheet Revisions

The Second Sheet is also significantly revised from the 1806 edition.  The Entrance of the Rhio Strait is now surveyed with soundings.  Pulo Battam has been surveyed, with a completely different coastline and the "Archipelago of Beautiful Islands with Channels between them." is now gone.  The Great Carimon, Sabon and neighboring islands have been completely recast and Phillips Channel is named.

Further west, The islands on on the Sumatra coast are now shown, including Pulo Panjore, Pulo Rantow, Pulo Padang and Pulo Bucalisse, with significant detail on the Sumatran Coastline further west.

Mapping The Strait

The Straits of Malacca were then, as they still are now, the busiest shipping lanes in Asia, and charts of the passage were of the utmost importance. The route was especially consequential for the British as the straits were the gateway between India and the Far East, including their key base at Hong Kong. Britain, who held suzerainty over the Malay Peninsula since 1806, also required access to the key ports of Singapore and Malacca.

At the time that this chart was made, Singapore was just 4 years old, having been founded in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles. It would soon overtake Georgetown (Penang, Malaysia) to become the most important British center in Southeast Asia and was a rapidly growing commercial and naval port.   

The Straits of Malacca were then, as they still are now, the busiest shipping lanes in Asia, and charts of the passage were of the utmost importance. The route was especially consequential for the British as the straits were the gateway between India and the Far East, including their key base at Hong Kong. Britain, who held suzerainty over the Malay Peninsula since 1806, also required access to the key ports of Singapore and Malacca.

At the time that this chart was made, Singapore was just over 40 years old, having been founded in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles. It had overtaken Georgetown (Penang, Malaysia) to become the most important British center in Southeast Asia and was a rapidly growing commercial and naval port. It would shortly be made (in 1867) the capital of the newly formed Crown colony of the Straits Settlements (consisting of large coastal portions of the Malay Peninsula). Yet, in spite of its importance, the entire island of Singapore had a population of only around 80,000.

The first important 19th Century chart of the Malacca Straits was William Heather's, A New Chart of the Straits of Malacca… (London, 1803), that subsequently ran into various editions published by J.W. Norrie. While impressive by circa 1800 standards, mariners soon realized that it contained many deficiencies and omissions.  From around 1815, the British Royal Navy sent out surveying teams to chart various aspects of the straits. The Strait of Calam was surveyed by Captain William F. Owen in 1817. The Arroa Islands and the North Sands (off the coasts near Selangor) were surveyed by Captain Daniel Ross in 1819, while the Coast of Sumatra was charted by Lieutenants W. Rose and R. Moresby.

Following the completion of this chart by Horsburgh, further touch up surveys of the Sumatran coast were undertaken by the crew of the HMS Harrier in 1834. These various surveys were compiled by the eminent hydrographer James Horsburgh (1762-1836), shortly before he died. The final revised chart was published in two different issues by the British Admiralty as The Strait of Malacca. Western part. (1840) and Malacca Strait: the Arroa Islands with the North Sands and Calam Strait (1840).

Rarity

The separately charts are extremely rare.  We note the following surviving examples listed on OCLC and on-line sources:

1806 Edition:  National Library of Singapore (both sheets), National Library of Australia (both sheets); National Maritime Museum (both sheets).

1812 Edition:  National Library of Singapore (Sheet I). New Bedford Whaling Museum (both sheets); Independence Seaport Museum (both sheets)

1823 Edition:  Yale (Sheet II).  University of Ledien (both sheets).   

1844 Edition.  National Library of Singapore (both sheets)

James Horsburgh Biography

James Horsburgh (1762 -1836) was a Scottish hydrographer who worked for the British East India Company (EIC) and charted much of China, Southeast Asia, India and contiguous regions in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Horsburgh went to sea at the age of sixteen and was captured and imprisoned by the French at Dunkirk. After his release, he made voyages to the West Indies and Calcutta. In 1786, as first mate in the Atlas, Horsburgh sailed from Batavia to Ceylon and was subsequently shipwrecked on the island of Diego Garcia. This disaster influenced him in his decision to produce accurate maps after he found his way back to India.

EIC hydrographer Alexander Dalrymple published three of Horsburgh’s earliest charts of the Straits of Macassar, of the western Philippines, and of the tract from Dampier's Strait to Batavia. In 1799, Dalrymple published Horsburgh’s Observations on the Eastern Seas on behalf of the EIC.

Meanwhile, Horsburgh continued his sailing career in the Carron, which had been taken up by the British government as a transport to the West Indies and, on his return to England, sailed again for Bombay. There, in April 1798, he was appointed to the command of his old ship, the Anna, and during the next seven years he made two voyages to England, besides several to China, Bengal, and Madras.

On the return trips to England in 1799 and 1801, Horsburgh became acquainted with the London scientific community including Sir Joseph Banks, the astronomer Nevil Maskelyne, and Henry Cavendish. Horsburgh kept barometric records for Cavendish during his voyages from 1802 to 1804, which elucidated the diurnal variation in the open sea between 26°N and 26°S. It was these measurements and his high society contacts that assured Horsburgh nomination and approval as a Fellow of the Royal Society upon his retirement from the sea in 1806.

Horsburgh continued to publish on nautical navigation. In 1806, he released Memoirs Comprising the Navigation to and from China. Next, in 1809 and 1811, Horsburgh finalized Directions for Sailing to and from the East Indies, China, New Holland, Cape of Good Hope, and the interjacent Ports, compiled chiefly from original Journals and Observations made during 21 years' experience in navigating those Seas, also known as the India Directory. These publications made Horsburgh a likely candidate for the position of hydrographer to the EIC, a post he gained in 1810. While serving as hydrographer he revised the Directory, with subsequent editions in 1816-7, 1826-7, and 1836. He also oversaw the compilation and publication of the EIC’s Atlas of India in 1827.

Horsburgh died in 1836. However, his legacy lived on. Friends and admirers in Canton raised a memorial subscription and erected the Horsburgh Lighthouse on Pedro Branca in the Strait of Singapore.  With the permission of his children, the Admiralty took up the Directory and released editions in 1841, 1852, 1855, and 1864. After his death and with the demise of the EIC, his charts passed to the Admiralty Hydrographic Office, who reissued them.