This is a detailed navigational chart of the Port of Valdivia, in Southern Chile. The map extends inland along the many inlets and tributaries of the region, stretching to the city of Valdivia along its eponymous river. Navigational detail on the map is extensive, showing many soundings, shoals, reefs, channels, banks, and much more. An inset map shows Port Coral, at the mouth of the inlet, in increased detail.
Additional notes add a level of interest to the chart. A note near Coral states that, due to the "great changes in the Banks in the entrance to the Rivers, this chart cannot be relied upon." This is an insightful observation, showing that navigators of the 19th century already had a good grasp of the temporary nature of sediments in areas subject to tides and rivers. Large scale changes in the region can already be seen by comparing the map to satellite photos today: the branch of the Valdivia surrounding San Francisco Island has deepened and widened considerably in just one hundred and twenty years. Human changes to the present day layout of the area are also visible, with some of the small settlements that appear along with the many inlets of the region no longer existing.
Valdivia is truly a city at the end of the world. Once the southernmost outpost of the Spanish Empire, this city went through several hands, including those of Peru and the Netherlands. Charles Darwin visited the island during his voyages on the Beagle half a century before the creation of this map. The city rapidly during the 19th and early 20th centuries, though the Great Chilean earthquake of 1960 heavily affected the region. In the present map, Valdivia is shown as a small village with only a few streets; it now houses one hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants.
As with all British Admiralty charts, this map provides a wealth of information while preserving a simple and attractive design.
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.