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Horsburgh & Ross's Chart of Eastern Part of Singapore Strait

Rare early sea chart of the Easternmost part of Singapore Strait, showing the area between Singapore, the southwestern tip of Malaysia, Bintan Island and Battam Island, published in London.

The present example is the 1818 state of the chart, which was first published by James Horsburgh in 1806 and later updated based upon the surveys of Lieutenant Daniel Ross.

The 1818 is significantly revised from the 1806.  The coastlines of Battam Island, Singapore Island and the Malaysian mainland are significantly revised and there are far more soundings, especially in the southern part of the Strait.  Red Cliffs is added in Singapore. A new paragraph is added at the bottom of the Explanatory Description. The 1818 also add Rhumb lines for navigation.

The map is on paper watermarked 1824.


The chart is very rare. We locate the following examples:

  • 1806:  British Library; National Library of Australia; National Library of Singapore; New Bedford Whaling Museum
  • 1812:  British Library; National Library of Singapore; University of Leiden
  • 1818:  National Library of Singapore (bound in East India Pilot)
  • 1821:  Stanford University/OAC
  • 1840?: National Library of Singapore
Condition Description
Minor soiling.
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. 

Daniel Ross Biography

Daniel Ross (1780-1849) was a renowned marine surveyor in the service of the East India Company (EIC). His precision and skill were lauded by contemporaries, including those at the Royal Navy’s Hydrographic Office. Clements Markham, explorer and President of the Royal Geographical Society, called him “the Father of the Indian Surveys.”

Ross’ mother, Elizabeth Foord, was a freed slave from Jamaica. His father was a Jamaican merchant, Hercules Ross. His father moved his children to Scotland, where they attended school. At fifteen, in 1795, Daniel joined the Bombay Marine and quickly gained a reputation for being brave, clever, and studious.

Over the next decade, Ross acquitted himself well in EIC ships and, for a time, Royal Navy ships when he was seconded from 1797-8. Promoted second lieutenant in 1800, Ross quickly proved himself adept at fighting pirates and rivals of the Company. He was made first lieutenant in 1804 and commander the following year.

To this point, Ross had earned a reputation primarily as a fighting captain. Given command of the Antelope in 1806, Ross was chosen for a patrol of the waters near Macao because of that reputation; however, the mission was also to survey ports of refuge when time allowed. This began an important fourteen-year period of hydrographic work in the South China Sea. Paired with Lieutenant Philip Maughan, also a skilled nautical surveyor, Ross and his crew brought many of the area’s tricky passages and coveted ports to light for the first time. Of his colleague, Maughan said:

Concerning Captain Daniel Ross’s labours in the China Seas from 1806-1820 believe me the British Merchants Trading to China and the Captains and ships owe much to his scientific exertions…no fatigue night or day damped his ardour to benefit his country – I was with him most of the time & witness to his exertions…He carried out all his surveys on a trigonometrical basis; all his angles were checked with sextant and his triangulation frequently checked by astronomical observations. (as quoted in Agnes Butterfield, Captain Daniel Ross (1982), 5; manuscript at the Royal Society)

Ross gained wide approbation for this work. Captain Jervis of the Bengal Engineers stated at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (August 26, 1838):

The maritime surveys which have been made by the East India Company's naval officers are honourable to the spirit of the great public body whose desire they were instituted. A series of charts of the entire coast of China, by my friend Captain Daniel Ross, Indian Royal Navy, and others, illustrating the ports, rivers and coasts, from Cochin China and throughout the Malayan Archipelago to the confines of India, by Captains Crawford, Robinson and Ross, are highly useful to the navigators who frequent those seas.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1822 and, a year later, appointed Marine Surveyor General at Calcutta (Kolkata). Between 1823 and 1833 he superintended the surveying of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Ross held the position until his resignation in 1833, when he retired to Bombay (Mumbai) to serve as the Master Attendant (Harbor Master). There he served as President of the Geographical Society of Bombay from 1838-1845. In declining health, Ross resigned his post in 1848; he died the following year.  

Between 1805 and 1833, he and his crews completed 46 charts. These would form the basis of Horsburgh’s famed India Directory. Ross was also a pioneer in the nascent science of tidology, playing a role in the publication of the first tide tables in 1833. His works are much sought-after today and they are only rarely found on the market.