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Detailed World Map Showing the Latest Polar Discoveries

Scarce, fine world map with polar insets by the notable mapmaker John Arrowsmith. The map shows the latest polar discoveries by Scoresby, Parry, and Franklin’s overland expeditions, among others.

On a Mercator projection, the map is centered somewhat unusually on the Pacific. To ensure that the viewer correctly understands geographic relationships between the continents, and so as not to lose any information at the edge of the projection, the eastern edge of Greenland, with Iceland, and the westernmost coast of Africa are repeated at either end of the map.

Characteristic of Arrowsmiths’ style, the map is thickly covered in place names and geographic features. However, it is not adorned with imagery or ornaments, a reflection of the shift in map style in the early- and mid-nineteenth century.

The North Pole

By the time this map was published, the major area of exploratory interest to Europeans and Americans was the Arctic. This was because they wanted to find a Northwest Passage, allowing trade to pass quickly from Europe and eastern North America to Asia. The polar inset at the top of the map shows several of the expeditions of recent decades.

One of these was that of William Scoresby, who is noted on the east coast of Greenland. The son of a whaler, Scoresby went to sea at a young age. In his father’s ship, the Resolution, Scoresby performed many experiments while hunting whales, such as gathering temperature data in polar waters. In 1822, he went on a voyage to Greenland, when he surveyed the 400 miles of coast shown here.

Another name noted on the map is that of William Edward Parry. Parry went to the Arctic several times, with the first voyage in 1819-20. On this voyage, Parry discovered a route out of Baffin Bay through Lancaster Sound, which is marked on the main map and the inset. He also charted many of the North Georgian Islands noted on the main map. On his second voyage, 1821-23, he probed the far north reaches of Hudson Bay. One his third voyage, of 1824-25, he searched for the Northwest Passage in the Prince Regent Inlet.

The other Parry expedition included here is his 1827 attempt to reach the North Pole; it can be seen in a boat’s track north of Spitzbergen. On this expedition, Parry reached farther north than any previously recorded explorer. His record, 82 degrees and 45 minutes north, would stand for 49 years.

Another expedition of note is mentioned in the Arctic insert, on the northern coast of what is today Canada. It says “Coast Explored by Franklin.” This reference is to the famous John Franklin, who was later lost on his fourth Arctic expedition, spurring a flurry of further voyages to find him and his crew. The expeditions referenced here, however, are his overland expeditions of 1819-1822 and 1825-27. While the first voyage was marked by privation, the second saw Franklin and his men chart over 1,000 miles of Arctic coastline.

The South Pole

The other polar insert, showing the Antarctic South Pole, also includes recent exploratory information. James Cook’s track is included, which is from his second voyage (1772-1775) when he crossed the Antarctic Circle three times and sailed farther south than any expedition had to that time. The other voyages mentioned are those of James Weddell and John Biscoe.  

James Weddell was a seal hunter who commanded three Antarctic voyages. In 1822 he visited and named the South Orkney Islands, labeled here as New Orkney. On his third voyage (1822-4), Weddell turned south of the Shetlands and Orkneys to see if he could sight land. He reached just over 74 degrees south, a new record.

The most recent voyage cited on this map is that of John Biscoe. Biscoe served in the Royal Navy in his early career and then went into the employ of the Enderby firm. The firm organized a voyage to the far southern latitudes and placed Biscoe in charge. In the Tula, and accompanied by the Lively, Biscoe circumnavigated Antarctica and found and named Enderby Land, which is included here.

This lively map includes the latest voyages and shows the skill and style of the Arrowsmith mapmaking family.

Glyndwr Williams, Voyages of Delusion: The Quest for the Northwest Passage (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003). KAP
John Arrowsmith Biography

The Arrowsmiths were a cartographic dynasty which operated from the late-eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth. The family business was founded by Aaron Arrowsmith (1750-1823), who was renowned for carefully prepared and meticulously updated maps, globes, and charts. He created many maps that covered multiple sheets and which were massive in total size. His spare yet exacting style was recognized around the world and mapmakers from other countries, especially the young country of the United States, sought his maps and charts as exemplars for their own work.

Aaron Arrowsmith was born in County Durham in 1750. He came to London for work around 1770, where he found employment as a surveyor for the city’s mapmakers. By 1790, he had set up his own shop which specialized in general charts. Arrowsmith had five premises in his career, most of which were located on or near Soho Square, a neighborhood the led him to rub shoulders with the likes of Joseph Banks, the naturalist, and Matthew Flinders, the hydrographer.

Through his business ties and employment at the Hydrographic Office, Arrowsmith made other important relationships with Alexander Dalrymple, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and others entities. In 1810 he became Hydrographer to the Prince of Wales and, in 1820, Hydrographer to the King.

Aaron Arrowsmith died in 1823, whereby the business and title of Hydrographer to the King passed to his sons, Aaron and Samuel, and, later, his nephew, John. Aaron Jr. (1802-1854) was a founder member of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) and left the family business in 1832; instead, he enrolled at Oxford to study to become a minister. Samuel (1805-1839) joined Aaron as a partner in the business and they traded together until Aaron left for the ministry. Samuel died at age 34 in 1839; his brother presided over his funeral. The remaining stock and copper plates were bought at auction by John Arrowsmith, their cousin.

John (1790-1873) operated his own independent business after his uncle, Aaron Arrowsmith Sr., died. After 1839, John moved into the Soho premises of his uncle and cousins. John enjoyed considerable recognition in the geography and exploration community. Like Aaron Jr., John was a founder member of the RGS and would serve as its unofficial cartographer for 43 years. Several geographical features in Australia and Canada are named after him. He carried the title Hydrographer to Queen Victoria. He died in 1873 and the majority of his stock was eventually bought by Edward Stanford, who co-founded Stanford’s map shop, which is still open in Covent Garden, London today.