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An Important Early Map of the Northwest

First state of this rare map of the Pacific Northwest, published by John Arrowsmith in London in 1859, one of the earliest separate maps to focus on British Columbia.

The map reflects the intense efforts of the British Royal Engineers to construct accurate surveys of the region, following the discovery of gold and creation of British Columbia in 1858. In 1858, gold was found along the banks of the Thompson River, triggering the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush. Victoria was quickly transformed into a tent city as gold seekers flocked into the region. The Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Langley burgeoned economically as the staging point for many of the prospectors heading by boat to the Canyon.

British Columbia was still not yet part of any formal government. In 1851, the resolution of the Oregon Boundary Dispute had previously meant that British interests, primarily the Hudson Bay Company, lost governance of all territory between the 49th Parallel and the Columbia River due to a sudden influx of American settlers. Fearing a similar outcome, the British colonial office responded to the new situation by establishing the British Columbia as a crown colony on August 2, 1858.

The map extends to the area north of Ketchikan, Alaska, the northern bend in the Finlay River, the Peace River, Ft. Assiniboine and Edmonton, Alberta, east to Flathead Lake Montana, and south to include the Columbia River and Lewis Fork, including Walla Walla and Oregon City.

The map presents an excellent depiction of the region, with many early forts and settlements located, along with Indian Tribal lands. There are several annotations on the Fraser River and remarkable detail along the Continental divide, in the Canadian Rockies.

Among other interesting features, the map is one of the few to identify Yellowhead Lake and "Leather Pass," now called Yellowhead Pass, the route which connected the Athabasca River and the Fraser River near modern Jasper, Wyoming. Yellowhead Pass is named for Tete Jaune, an Iroquois Indian working the fur trade with his family, starting as early as 1804. In 1825, he used this route to transport a cache of furs from the Upper Fraser River to Jasper House. The pass remained nameless for most of its early history, referred to as a Portage, and called New Caledonia Portage in some early letters and journals prior to 1860. Leather Pass derives from the name "Leather Track," which was used by the officer who headed New Caledonia in the 1820s, and was likely resurrected by the Royal Engineers who were conducting survey in British Columbia during this period, and therefore picked up by John Arrowsmith in the preparation of this map.


The map is very rare on the market. We note only 2 examples in dealer catalogs going back nearly 30 years.

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.