Copper engraving (Good, strong dark engraving impression, discreet 8 cm repaired tear in blank field to the left of the word ‘Sumatra’ (seemingly due to natural paper flaw), minor professional restoration to blank margin at lower right corner outside of printed area, some areas of very light toning), 51 x 71.5 cm (20 x 28 inches).
This attractive and fascinating map is one of the great historical sea charts of the Northern parts of the Straits of Malacca, long one of the world’s greatest maritime transport corridors. A scarce map, it was drafted by the great French hydrographer Jean-Baptiste D’Après de Mannevillette, and published within his sea atlas Le Neptune Oriental (1775).
The chart’s coverage extends, on the Malaysian side, from just north of ‘Lancavy’ (Langkawi), down past ‘Penam’ (Penang) and south as far as Malacca; while on the Indonesian side it extends from ‘Achem’ (Acheh) in the north down to cover a third of the east coast of Sumatra. The seas are traversed by rhumb lines, while numerous bathymetric soundings and navigational hazards are marked.
The chart is impressively accurate and was considered to be the best maritime map of the region of its time. While the shores are well delineated and the approaches to the main harbours are well understood, some of the places just inland from the shorelines still remained near complete enigmas to Europeans. For example, the area just east-southeast of Aceh features the annotation ‘Cette Cote est peu fréquente et très Acore’.
J.-B. D' Après de Mannevillette: Great French Hydrographer
Jean-Baptiste D’Après de Mannevillette (1707 - 1780) was one of the most important hydrographers of the Enlightenment Era. He hailed from a minor, but well-connected, noble family and as a teenager apprenticed under the French Royal cartographer Guillaume De L’Isle. In 1728, he joined the Compagnie des Indes and travelled to China. During the voyage, he conducted astronomical observations that were radically better than those of his predecessors, and he corrected the geodetic coordinates of numerous places.
D’Après de Mannevillette was horrified by the severe inaccuracies that appeared upon many of the key charts that the French government and trading companies relied upon. Upon his return to France, he embarked upon a mega-project to completely redraw all of the key French charts for the Indian Ocean and Asian navigation, including the route to China, the Red Sea, the coasts of India, Malaya, the northern parts of Indonesia, Indochina and China. He painstaking poured through the best sources, both French and foreign, and did an admirable job sorting the wheat from the chaff.
D' Après de Mannevillette published his charts within a sea atlas entitled Le Neptune Oriental (Paris, 1745), which consisted 22 charts. The publication received rave reviews, as the excellent charts were highly valued for making practical navigation much easier and, in some cases, were even credited with saving lives. This led to his appointment to lead the new hydrographic office of the Compagnie des Indes called the Dépôt des Cartes et Plans de la Navigation des Indes.
D' Après de Mannevillette then embarked on a three decade project to correct and greatly expand his atlas. The new editions of the Le Neptune Oriental, including the present chart, was issued in 1775. It included 67 charts were exquisitely engraved by the master Guillaume De la Haye. D' Après de Mannevillette’s charts were imbued with great authority and many were copied in other countries, with some being considered the charts of recorded as late as the 1840s.
The original manuscript on which the present chart is based is today preserved in the British Library (Shirley, Maps in the Atlases of the British Library, MS.APR-1a (vol. II, p. 1778)).
D’Après de Mannevillette’s chart of the northern part of the Straits of Malacca is scarce, with a example appearing on the market only one every five years or so.
References: Shirley, Maps in the Atlases of the British Library, re: M.APR-1c to e; Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département Cartes et Plans: CPL GE DD-2987 (7092 B).