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First French Edition of Vancouver's Chart of Hawaii-the Largest Map of Hawaii Published in the Eighteenth Century

Nice example of the French edition of Vancouver's chart of Hawaii, with a large inset of part of the Galapagos Islands. This is the largest map of Hawaii published in the eighteenth century and one of the earliest maps of the archipelago.

Vancouver's map tracks his route around and through the islands in 1793-94, showing the voyage's progress with dates and directional arrows. It is drawn in the precise, unadorned hydrographic style adopted in the late-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a style Vancouver did much to establish. Elevation is shown with concentric circles and the title is printed in a simple circular cartouche. The insets are also elegantly simple: rectangles containing the Galapagos Islands and Cocos Island in the lower left corner.

Vancouver's voyage and account

The map was prepared to illustrate the French edition of Vancouver's Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean…published in Paris in 1799-1800. Rumsey notes that, "Vancouver's charts were the most accurate of the area for many years into the 19th century." The charts were issued as a folio atlas to accompany Vancouver's account of a voyage that lasted from 1791 to 1795.

George Vancouver (1757-1798) was born in Norfolk and joined the Royal Navy in 1771. Only a year later, he sailed with Captain James Cook on his second voyage to the Pacific. Vancouver would also sail on Cook's third, and last, voyage, where Cook was killed in Hawaii, or the Sandwich Islands as they were then known. Although he most likely made rough sketches while with Cook, Vancouver completed his first independent surveys while serving in the West Indies in the mid-1780s. Thanks to this work, his previous Pacific service, and the influence of a powerful patron, Vancouver was selected to lead a new expedition into the South Seas, one of the last large-scale exploratory voyages to the region.

Vancouver was ordered to sail under dual purposes. On the one hand, he was to represent the British at negotiations with the Spanish at Nootka Sound in the Pacific Northwest. The Sound was the subject of a territorial dispute between the empires that threatened to erupt into a larger conflict. Vancouver's other, and main, purpose was to survey the southwest corner of Australia, Pacific islands, and the Northwest Coast of America. If possible, he was also to find a Northwest Passage.

Vancouver sailed in the Discovery, with the Chatham as escort, in April 1791. First, he made the Australian coast near Cape Leeuwin and surveyed a considerable extent of the southern coast. Next, he sailed to Tahiti and the Sandwich Islands. Then, Vancouver and his crew charted the coast from near San Francisco all the way to Alaska. En route, at Nootka, Vancouver and his Spanish counterpart decided they could not interpret the instructions they had been given and referred the matter back to diplomats in Europe for further study.

Vancouver returned to England via Cape Horn in September 1795, over four years after he had left-one of, if not the, longest surveying voyages in history. He was promoted to the rank of post captain but the voyage ruined his health and he retired upon return to shore. He turned his energies instead to producing an authoritative account of his voyage, complete with detailed charts, as the Admiralty had ordered. Vancouver died in May of 1798. He had completed nearly all of the account, half a million words in length, but it still lacked roughly 100 pages. After George's death, his brother, John, along with Lieutenant Peter Puget, who had sailed on the voyage and for whom Puget Sound is named, and Lieutenant Joseph Baker (see below) finished the work. It was published in 1798 in three quarto volumes and accompanied by a folio atlas. A French edition followed in 1799-1800, with another English edition in 1801.

The Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), Vancouver, and Joseph Baker

Polynesian peoples settled Hawaii in 400 CE. They most likely came from the Marquesas, 2000 miles away, in canoes. The first recorded European to land on Hawaiian shores was Captain James Cook, who landed there during his third voyage in 1778. George Vancouver was with Cook on this voyage, serving as a midshipman in the Discovery, and he narrowly escaped a fate similar to Cook's a day before the commander was killed in 1779.

Cook had named the islands after the Earl of Sandwich, a longtime naval administrator and politician. An initial survey was carried out after Cook's death by William Bligh. However, a comprehensive chart was still needed, as the islands had become an important port of call for whalers and traders.

Vancouver visited the Sandwich Islands three times during his expedition. First, he stopped there on his way to the Pacific Northwest from Australia. He also wintered there in 1793 and 1794. The majority of his survey was completed during the third visit, as is evident from the dates included on the ship's track.

As the title indicates, Vancouver was aided in the charting by Lieutenant Joseph Baker (1767-1817). This is the same Baker for whom Mt. Baker in Washington State is named, as Baker was the first of Vancouver's crew to see the volcano. Baker served with Vancouver in the Europa in the West Indies. Then-midshipman Peter Puget was also on the Europa with them. Baker was selected as third lieutenant for the voyage of exploration by Vancouver, with Puget as second lieutenant.

In addition to surveying, Baker assisted Archibald Menzies in his botanical work. Menzies went on mountaineering trips while in Hawaii, which could be the source for the interior of the islands shown here. Baker was the specialist in converting the surveyors' observations into charts, as with this example. He also assisted Vancouver is preparing the charts for publication after they returned to England.

Vancouver did not just chart, he also meddled in local politics. While at the Sandwich Islands, Vancouver encouraged King Kamehameha to cede the island of Hawaii to Britain while also encouraging island unification under Kamehameha's rule. However, the cession was not taken up in London.

The Galapagos Islands

Vancouver stopped at the Galapagos Islands on his way home around Cape Horn. First, he watered at Cocos Island, which is also included as an inset here. At the Galapagos, Vancouver found landing difficult and they stopped only once, which explains the partial nature of the inset chart.

The English toponyms for the islands do not come from Vancouver, however. The Spanish had been stopping at the islands since 1535 and they appear on the maps of Mercator and Ortelius. The Galapagos, or galopegos, refers to the islands' famous giant tortoises.

Richard Hawkins was the first Englishman to stop at the islands and he was the first of several English ships that used the islands as a place to lay in wait for Spanish galleons. In the 1680s, privateer Ambrose Cowley visited, along with William Dampier, and it is in Cowley's published chart and account that the English toponyms appear.

The major outcomes of the Vancouver voyage were the first exploration of Puget Sound, the proof of insularity of Vancouver Island, and, as highlighted here, the first comprehensive survey of the Sandwich Islands. Several hundred toponyms bestowed by Vancouver still stand, including Vancouver Island and Puget Sound.

Vancouver's charts were his main legacy and remained the base charts used by the Hydrographic Service for decades. J. C. Beaglehole, the foremost authority on Cook, gave Vancouver the highest compliment when he wrote that Vancouver, of all of Cook's protégées, was "the only one whose work as a marine surveyor was to put him in the class of his commander" (lxxxiii). This chart is proof of that skill.

J. C. Beaglehole, The Journals of Captain James on his Voyages of Discovery, vol. III, part one (London: Hakluyt Society, 1967).
Robin Fischer and Hugh J.M. Johnston, eds. From Maps to Metaphors: The Pacific World of George Vancouver (Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 1993).
Nan Phillips, 'Vancouver, George (1757–1798)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967.
W. Kaye Lamb, “VANCOUVER, GEORGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 26, 2017,
George Vancouver Biography

George Vancouver (1757­–1798), a naval officer and explorer, grew up in King’s Lynn, England, the youngest of six children. After entering the Royal Navy in 1771, he served in both the second and third great exploratory voyages of James Cook. During Cook’s second voyage, a three-year quest to find a legendary southern continent, Vancouver received instruction from the astronomer William Wales. During Cook’s third voyage, to the Pacific Northwest, Vancouver was part of the first known group of Europeans to land on the coast of present-day British Columbia.

Vancouver gained valuable navigational, surveying, and mapping experience in the Pacific Northwest during his time with Cook. After returning from Cook’s third voyage in 1780, Vancouver was promoted to lieutenant and spent the following nine years serving on fighting ships, primarily in the Caribbean.  

In 1790, Vancouver was chosen to captain the Discovery and charged with a mission to discover and chart the vast areas of the Pacific that were still unknown, in part to locate a Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This four-year voyage of discovery circumnavigated the globe and eliminated the possibility of an inland Northwest Passage. During many months of surveying, Vancouver produced detailed regional maps of the Northwest Coast, as far north as Alaska. He also established several hundred place-names for physical features in the areas surveyed.

Upon returning to England in 1795, Vancouver’s voyage received little recognition, and he faced personal and political attacks from colleagues and crew members alleging abuse of power. With his health failing, Vancouver spent his remaining years in retirement, revising his journal for publication. His Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean, and Round the World was first published in 1798, which was also the year of his death. It contained a multi-volume account of his voyage as well as an atlas of his maps. His exploration and mapmaking activities greatly increased knowledge of the North American coast.