An Exceptional Late 19th Century Chart of Hong Kong and Environs -- The First British survey of Hong Kong Harbor
Remarkably detailed British Admiralty Sea Chart of Hong Kong, first published in 1843, based upon the surveys of Sir Edward Belcher.
Belcher's survey was the first large format map or sea chart of Hong Kong. On January 26, 1841, Edward Belcher and his men were the first of the British fleet to land on Possession Point at the north shore of Hong Kong for the British Crown. He subsequently made the first British survey of Hong Kong harbor. While the map is dated 1841, the first edition of the map was not published until May 1843.
Over the next century, the chart was regularly revised and improved, most notably with contributions from three later surveys conducted by Commander A.M. Field in 1891, Commander W.U. Moore in 1892-93 and Captain M.H. Smyth in 1901-02.
The present chart apparently does not yet show Smyth's survey details, but it does includes small corrections to 1903.
The character and detail of Hong Kong and the contiguous part of Kaulung have evolved considerably.
The chart presents a remarkable image of Hong Kong at the end of the 19th Century at about the time of the signing of the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory.
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.