The Surveyors

Hydrographers are responsible for mapping the sea and the coastline, and are specifically concerned with features which may be hazardous or indeed advantageous to mariners, such as sheltered harbours, safe approaches, sand-banks and depths.  Cartographers are concerned with features of the land, including social and economic features such as farms, fortifications, land ownership, dwellings, inns, roads and terrain.  Both used astronomic and geometric readings to ensure a level of accuracy.

The hydrographical skills of Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres, along the cartographic skills of Samuel Holland and their respective teams of surveyors, draughtsmen and hydrographers were combined here in many of the stunning charts presented here as part of the Heritage Charts collection.

These men represent the start of a 'modern' hydrographic and cartographic lineage.  They were amongst the first to employ genuinely accurate and reliable techniques developed by men such as Murdoch Mackenzie (1712-99) in the early 1770’s. The techniques employed were subsequently adopted and further improved upon by the likes of Cook, Vancouver, Bligh, Hurd, Dalrymple and many more, who took British map-making and indeed the British Empire to the fore.

After the British-American War of 1812 the men who surveyed the Great Lakes of North America and the those such as Brucks, Guy, Constable, Bartholomew and Rogers who charted the waters of the Middle East for the Honorable East India Company Marine provided no less a service.

The men who surveyed, charted and mapped the North American continent to produce these beautiful and historic charts and maps (specifically those which relate to the period after the end of the French-Indian war in 1763 and the end of the American Revolutionary War for Independence in 1783) were well-educated and highly talented individuals.  They frequently had to work under the most extreme and exposed conditions, be it weather, insects (and other vermin) or gunfire.  Rarely were they properly rewarded for their efforts and contribution to the effort.  Most were members of the Engineers and Artillery regiments.  Many of the men were of Scots, German, Dutch and even French origins.

J. F. W. Des Barres himself summed-up the dedication shown by these men in his preface to the “Atlantic Neptune” folio (1777-84), that safety and accuracy were paramount in this type of work. ‘When the author reflects that the accuracy and truth of his work will stand the test of ages, and again preserve future navigation on that coast, for the horror of shipwreck and destruction, he does not repine it’s having employed so large a portion of his life.’


G.N.D. Evans.  ‘Uncommon Obdurate: The Several Public Careers of J.F.W.DesBarres’.  Peabody Museum of Salem, Massachusetts & University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Canada.  1969.

Vice Admiral Sir Archibald Day.  ‘The Admiralty Hydrographic Service 1795-1919’.  HMSO, London, 1967