Attractive original 18th-century navigational chart for the Sierra Leone River estuary in western Africa. The estuary shows the area which has now developed into Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
The upper map shows the downstream part of the estuary, with numerous depth soundings, coastal features, and sandbars all labeled, which would have been of use to sea captains. The lower map shows the island of Bense, which is upstream of Freetown near the city of Pepel.
The colonies of Freetown and Sierra Leone would become, soon after the creation of this map, a settlement for ex-slaves. The country remained a British colony until 1961.
Jacques-Nicolas Bellin (1703-1772) was among the most important mapmakers of the eighteenth century. In 1721, at only the age of 18, he was appointed Hydrographer to the French Navy. In August 1741, he became the first Ingénieur de la Marine of the Dépôt des cartes et plans de la Marine (the French Hydrographic Office) and was named Official Hydrographer of the French King.
During his term as Official Hydrographer, the Dépôt was the one of the most active centers for the production of sea charts and maps in Europe. Their output included a folio-format sea atlas of France, the Neptune Francois. He also produced a number of sea atlases of the world, including the Atlas Maritime and the Hydrographie Francaise. These gained fame and distinction all over Europe and were republished throughout the eighteenth and even in the nineteenth century.
Bellin also produced smaller format maps such as the 1764 Petit Atlas Maritime, containing 580 finely-detailed charts. He also contributed a number of maps for the 15-volume Histoire Generale des Voyages of Antoine François Prévost.
Bellin set a very high standard of workmanship and accuracy, cementing France's leading role in European cartography and geography during this period. Many of his maps were copied by other mapmakers across the continent.