This very rare map sheet features two charts of key harbours along the north-eastern coast of Madagascar, being the harbour of Île Sainte-Marie, one of the world’s legendary pirate haunts, and Antongil Bay, the largest inlet along the coasts of Madagascar. The finely engraved composition first appeared within the 1767 (third) edition of William Herbert’s A New Directory for the East Indies, an important sea atlas made at the behest of the British East India Company (EIC).
The first chart, which occupies the left-hand side of the sheet, features the harbour of Île Sainte-Marie commonly called in English, St. Mary’s, which in Malagasy is named Ambodifotatra (town), Nosy Boraha (island). The narrow 60-kilometre-long island lies just off of the north-western coast of Madagascar, with the harbour being located along its south-eastern side. In the late 17th and early 18th Centuries, the harbour of Île Sainte-Marie was the world’s leading pirate base, in the wake of the destruction, due to an earthquake, of the famous corsair haunt of Port Royal, Jamaica, in 1692.
Beginning with the arrival of Adam Baldridge in 1685, the Île aux Forbans (‘Island of Pirates’) hosted a pirate village, being the island that sits prominently in the middle of the inner harbour, presented on the chart. The sheltered location, placed near the shipping lanes that connected Europe and India, and points further east, was ideal for preying upon vessels heavily laden with precious, metals, gems, spices and fine textiles. Over the coming years, the Île aux Forbans was home to several of the most notorious corsairs, including William Kidd, Henry Avery, Olivier Levasseur, Robert Culliford, Thomas Tew and Abraham Samuel.
Having grown rich from raiding East Indies shipping, it is even rumoured that the pirates declared their own outlaw republic of ‘Libertalia’ on the island. However, by the 1720s onwards, the British, French and Portuguese navies had largely subdued the pirates, although shipping would continue to be svulnerable to isolated attacks. Nevertheless, this fine natural harbour remained of interest to mariners as a re-victualling base, and was watched with caution by European naval powers, lest it, once again, became a haunt for corsairs.
Travelling forward to the present time, the harbour of Île Sainte-Marie has returned to global news headlines, upon the reports that the famous pirate ship hunter Barry Clifford had found a wreck in the harbour that was supposedly Captain Kidd’s ship, the Adventure, along with the salvaging of a 55 kg (121 lb) ‘silver’ ingot, believed to be part of the legendary pirate’s lost treasure. However, his finds have since become mired in controversy, as many authorities, led by UNESCO, have countered that Clifford’s ‘wreck’ was simply harbour construction refuse and that the ingot was simply a silver-coated chunk of lead! Nevertheless, many still believe and hope that the harbour will someday give up vast, verifiable riches! Beyond that, much evidence of the pirate colony survives today on the Île aux Forbans, including the world’s largest pirate cemetery.
The chart depicts the harbour of Île Sainte-Marie in great detail, including much nautical information, with the ‘References’, in the lower-left, labelling major details: A. The Town on a Small Island; B. A Small Island on which the Inhabitants keep Cattle for Market; C. The Watering Place; D. A Large Rock seem coming from the So. Ward; E. Piles drove down in 6 ft. Water; F. Where the Winchelsea rid, in the Passage of the Harbour; G. A Strand where the Ropemakers work; and H. The Winchelsea remov’d to compleat watering.
William Herbert based the map upon a manuscript chart made by the British mariner John Brohier in 1746. The Brohier manuscript was likewise used by the great cartographer Alexander Dalrymple as the basis for his chart, Harbour of St Mary's on the east side of Madagascar…by John Brohier (London, 1775). Additionally, Herbert’s map markes reference to the visit to the harbour made by the HMS Winchelsea, sometime in the early 1760s. The Winchelsea was commanded by Captain Thomas Howe, of the famous Howe military family (his older brothers Richard and William were respectively famous navy and army commanders). In 1759, the Winchelsea notably transported Alexander Dalrymple from India to Malacca, being the first leg of his consequential encounter with Southeast Asia and China.
The second chart, which occupies the right-hand side of the map sheet, features Antongil Bay, located just to the north of Île Sainte-Marie. Being 60 kilometres long and 30 kilometres wide, the bay is the largest inlet in Madagascar, and was long an important refuge for both pirates and merchant mariners. The village at the northern tip of the bay is today the large town of Maroantsetra.
Historical Context: Pirates and the Franco-British Contest for the Domination of the Indian Ocean
Ever since Mozambique Strait, which separated Madagascar from Continental Africa, was encountered by Vasco da Gama in 1498, during the first European sea voyage to India around Africa, Madagascar has lied along one of the most important shipping lanes in the world. However, the waters off of Madagascar featured difficult winds and currents, along with treacherous nautical hazards; and beyond that, it also left ships vulnerable to attacks by pirates or vessels of enemy nations. A lack of knowledge of the navigation ensured that one would become easy prey.
Since 1540, most of Madagascar had been ruled by the Merina Dynasty. However, the Merina kingdom was based in the interior and exacted tenuous authority over many of the coastal areas. While Europeans did not plant a firm rule over the island until the late 19th Century, the English, Dutch and French had a fleeting presence along its coasts.
As previously noted, Madagascar became a haunt for pirates based at Île Sainte-Marie, until they were suppressed by European authorities.
Importantly, the present map was the finest chart of the featured Madagascar harbours available upon the advent of the First Anglo-Maratha War (1775–1782), which in the Indian Ocean Basin bled into the international conflict between Britain and France that was part of the American Revolutionary War (1775-83, with the Franco-British conflict lasting from 1778 to 1783). Thus, this chart would have been of particular interest to officers of Royal Navy vessels and British merchant mariners who had to nimbly avoid (or aggressively pursue!) French ships on their way to and from India.
William Herbert & A New Directory for the East Indies
The present chart was created on the orders of William Herbert (1718–95), an English bookseller who had spent the years 1738 to 1745 in India in the employ of the British East India Company (EIC). While there, he gained an impressive knowledge of the geography and hydrography of the Indian Ocean and South and Southeast Asia. Following his return to London, he established a print and map-selling business at ‘the Globe under the Piazzas, London Bridge’. Herbert was well aware that the established authoritative English sea atlas of the African and Asian navigation, John Thornton’s The English Pilot. The Third Book (London, first issued in 1703, and since in various editions, latterly issued by the firm of Mount & Page) was by his time dangerously out of date. The EIC and the Royal Navy had a desperate need for a more progressive, reliable atlas of these waters.
Herbert resolved to create a new, improved atlas, carefully selecting the best sources from unpublished manuscript charts from the officers of the EIC and the Royal Navy, merchant mariners, as well as foreign printed sources, such the charts from the first edition of Jean-Baptiste d’Après de Mannevillette’s masterly sea atlas, Le Neptune Oriental (Paris, 1745). He issued the first edition of his fine sea atlas, A New Directory for the East Indies (London, 1758), which featured 30 charts. A second edition, expanded to include 48 charts, was issued in 1759.
Later that same year Herbert suffered a setback when his shop burned down. Undeterred, however, Herbert quickly re-established himself and from 1764 entered into a fruitful collaboration with William Nichelson, a mariner and excellent cartographer who had returned from six years’ service in India and Africa with his own magnificent manuscript charts, notably including the 18th Century’s finest chart of Bombay Harbour. Latterly, he also worked closely with Alexander Dalrymple, the Hydrographer of the EIC. Greatly augmented by Nichelson’s work, a third edition of the New Directory was issued in 1767 and a fourth edition appeared in 1776, which in some formats came to include 136 charts, many of which were supplied by Dalrymple. Herbert retired to the country later that year, and in his final years amassed a vast personal library. His work was continued by his successors Samuel Dunn and Henry Gregory, who issued follow up editions in 1780 and 1787.
The New Directory was highly regarded during its time and played an important role in both commercial and military navigation during a critical period of British expansion in the Indian Ocean Basin. That being said, is seems that the New Directory was reserved for use by professional mariners and pilots and was never issued in mass production. As the atlases were thus heavily used at sea, very few examples of any of the editions have survived, accounting for the great rarity of charts today. The New Directory heavily influenced the atlas published by Herbert’s competitors, Robert Sayer & John Bennett’s The East India Pilot, or Oriental Navigator (London, 1777-82), and the editions issued by their successors Robert Laurie & James Whittle.
The present chart was first issued within the 1767 (third) edition of Herbert’s A New Directory for the East Indies, and bears the imprint ‘London Printed for Wm. Herbert at Nº 27 in Goulston Square Whitechaple’. The chart subsequently appeared within the 1776, 1780 and 1787 editions of the atlas.
William Herbert’s present sheet of charts of the harbour of Île Sainte-Marie and Antongil Bay, Madagascar is very rare. We cannot trace another example as having appeared on the market since 2003.
References: Shirley, Maps in the Atlases of the British Library, vol. 2 (p. 1179), M.HERB-1b, nos. 13.1 & 13.2.