This excellent work features five sea charts on a single sheet, collectively representing the most important maritime mapping of the Mascarene Islands (Réunion, Mauritius and Rodrigues) created during the 19th Century. The base charts were first published by the leading chartmaker William Heather in 1811, in the wake of Britain’s conquest of the islands the year before, and at the beginning of her elaborate design to secure long-term political and economic hegemony over the Indian Ocean basin.
The present 1852 edition of the chart was published by the firm of Norie & Wilson, having been significantly updated by Heather’s heir, John William Norie and his successors. Predicated upon the most authoritative sources acquired from naval officers and Crown officials, the chart sequence represented the finest mapping of the Mascarene Islands of its time, with updated editions of the chart being produced over a period of 66 years, a remarkably long run for any 19th Century map.
The present sheet of charts evinces the signature style of the Heather-Norie workshop, with bold engraving, the precise delineation of shorelines and the lively pictographic expression of inland features. About 40% of the sheet, on the right side, showcases a general chart of Mauritius, featuring the island in great detail, noting all ports and coves; the extensive coral reefs that line its shores; all towns and villages (including the capital, Port Louis); major plantations and reserves; roads; and topographical features, such as mountains, plains and cultivated areas.
In the upper-centre of the sheet is a plan of the harbour of Port Louis, including copious nautical information, as well as a fine depiction of the waterfront areas of the town proper. Specifically noted are the two bastions guarding the harbour, Forts Blane and Tonniere; the post office; hospital; salt works; as well as the critical facilities used for repairing ships, being the Dock Yard, cooperage, mast house, and so forth.
Below is chart of Port Bourbon (today’s Grand Port Bay), a fine natural harbour which served as the transport hub for much of the island’s great agrarian wealth.
The upper left corner of the sheet features a chart of Rodrigues, an island located 560 kilometres west of Mauritius (and politically linked to it), with its main town Port Mathurin.
The chart occupying the lower left corner features Réunion, the only territory on the map that was returned by Britain to France in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, and which remains a French départment to the present day. The depiction of Réunion is highly detailed and, in addition to noting the various ports and maritime hazards, landward features include the depiction of all towns and villages (including the capital St. Denis); various named plantations; fortifications; the ring road that runs the circumference of the island; as well as aspects of the island’s incredibly dramatic typography, including the ‘Salazes Mountains’, described as ‘very high’, referring to the volcanic massif of the Piton des Neiges (3,069 metres high).
Additionally, the composition features several mariner’s profile views, along with detailed notes for navigating into the islands’ main ports.
The first edition of the chart was published by William Heather in 1811. The plate was subsequently acquired and updated by Heather’s heir, John William Norie, who issued his own edition in 1832. Norie’s successor firm, Norie & Wilson, issued editions in 1852 (being the present issue) and 1877. It is worth noting that the present edition of the chart features the exact same imprint as does the 1832 edition, at the bottom: ‘A New Edition. London, Published as the Act directs, May 21st. 1832 by J.W. Norie & C°. at the Navigation Warehouse, N° 157, Leadenhall Street’; however, its date of publication is revealed by the appearance of the line ‘Additions 1852’, located below-right of the title of the Mauritius chart. As with most Heather-Norie large-format works, the chart of the Mascarene Islands was issued both separately and within composite atlases (the present example seems to have once been bound within a composite atlas).
A Note on Rarity
The Norie-Heather chart sheet of the Mascarene Islands is very rare in all its editions. Indeed, the survival rate of such large-format working sea charts is very low, as most perished due to wear and tear aboard ship. We can trace only a handful of institutional examples and can locate only a single sales record from the last generation (being a 2005 dealer’s listing for an 1832 edition).
Historical Context: The Britannia Rules the Indian Ocean
The present chart has its origins in the dramatic circumstances by which Britain assumed dominance over the Indian Ocean after winning a protracted contest with France, of which the Mascarene Islands (named after the Portuguese explorer Pedro de Mascarenhas) occupied a strategic position within the theatre of conflict. Réunion (formerly the Ile de Bourbon) and Mauritius (formerly the Ile de France) were important stopovers for shipping between Europe and Asia and had for generations had been dominated by France.
Réunion was settled by the French East India Company in 1665, while Mauritius had come under the Company’s auspices in 1715. Through the 18th Century both islands had become globally important sugar economies, and France expended vast resources protecting the islands from being taken by Britain’s Royal Navy. They acted as major revictualling bases for French forces during the epic Franco-British contests for the colonial domination of the Indian Subcontinent that spanned the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-8), the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) and the American Revolutionary War (1775-83).
The French Revolutionary War (1794 - 1802) and Napoleonic Wars (1803 - 1815) represented a frightful challenge to British power in India and Southeast Asia. Prior to 1805, Napoleon advanced well-conceived plans to sever Britain’s maritime links with Asia, thrusting the Mascarene Islands into an especially prominent strategic position. For a time, it looked as if Britain’s overly-extended navy might not be able to protect its sea routes around Africa and across the Indian Ocean to Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. However, Lord Admiral Nelson’s crushing of the main fleet of the French Navy at Trafalgar (October 21, 1805), and the Britain’s conquest of the Cape Colony from the Batavian (Dutch) Republic, a French ally, in January 1806, turned the tables decisively in Britain’s favour.
British forces captured Réunion and Mauritius in 1810. By this time, Britain had practically run France out of India; ruled the Seychelles (which it conquered in 1794) and controlled shipping around the Cape of Good Hope. The (temporary) removal of France as a major power in the Indian Ocean created an unrepresented power vacuum that Britain was determined to fill. In addition to her newly gained territories, Britain commenced the process of consolidating its dominance over the Indian Subcontinent, while turning its gaze to new realms, notably Madagascar and the Malay Peninsula.
Enter Robert Townsend Farquhar (1776 – 1830), a hard-charging figure who spearheaded the British designs to gain dominance in Madagascar and the Mascarene islands. In 1802, as a young man, Farquhar was an EIC official on the Indonesian island of Amboina, whereupon he mounted a successful attack upon Dutch positions at Ternate. While Britain was then at war with the Batavian Republic, the Governor of Madras was affronted by Farquhar’s unauthorized aggression and had him demoted and unceremoniously sent home. Farquhar then wrote a daring letter to Lord Wellesley, the Governor-General of India, defending his conduct and lamenting that his zeal in advancing the EIC’s interests was unappreciated. The gamble paid off, as Wellesley admired Farquhar’s chutzpah, and immediately promoted him to become the Lieutenant Governor of Prince of Wales Island (Penang, Malaysia), whereupon he served with great distinction from 1804 to 1805.
Upon the British conquest of the Mascarene Islands and the Seychelles, in 1810, Farquhar was promoted to become the governor of these islands (Réunion was handed back to France in 1816). Farquhar was not merely satisfied with consolidating British rule over Mauritius and the Seychelles but had aggressive schemes to make the French rule of Réunion a nightmare, while working to make Madagascar a British client state (an endeavour which met with considerable early success).
William Heather issued the first edition of the present chart in 1811, predicated upon the very best sources, in the immediate wake of Britain’s conquest of the Mascarene Islands and as Farquhar’s aggressive strategy for Britain’s long-term domination of the Indian Ocean was getting off the ground. The subsequent editions of the chart, including the present 1852 issue, are a testament not only to the lasting quality of the chart’s sources, but also of Britain’s enduring power across the Indian Ocean Basin.
The Chartmakers: John William Norie and William Heather
The present chart is the product of one of the most respected and longest running chart making enterprises in history. Indeed, the Heather-Norie-Wilson-Imray dynasty, which had its roots in the 1760s still operates today. The creator of the first edition of the chart, William Heather (flourished 1765-1812), established his business in 1765 as a publisher and dealer in sea charts and nautical instruments near the offices of the East India Company, under the sign of the ‘Little Midshipman,’ where he succeeded the venerable firm of Mount & Page. The business later became known as ‘The Naval Academy’ and ‘Navigation Warehouse,’ with premises at 157 Leadenhall Street, London, a location it occupied for the next 85 years. The company became so well known that it was synonymous with maritime navigation in popular culture, even referenced by Charles Dickens in Dombey and Son.
When William Heather died, the business was taken over by his trusted lieutenant, John William Norie (1772-1843). Norie was of Scottish decent, although born in Wapping, near the docklands where ships arrived from the Indian Ocean. He joined Heather’s employ as an apprentice in 1797, but due to his exceptional talent and drive was soon running much of the firm’s operations as the elderly Heather slowed down. Norie was a superb draughtsman and a popular teacher of navigation techniques and the proper use of charts. The mariners who enjoyed his always over-subscribed lectures were happy to buy his charts, increasing the firm’s clientele.
On taking over the company in 1812, Norie was also able to maintain Heather’s unrivalled links with naval officers, the East India Company and merchant mariners, who brought fresh charts and intelligence to his shop directly from the Indian Ocean and beyond. Norie, with limited financial means in a capital-intensive industry, made a shrewd deal with the wealthy amateur enthusiast George Wilson. Wilson bankrolled Norie, leaving him with sole management of the firm, as well as generous compensation.
Norie raised the business to new heights, taking advantage of the explosive growth of East Indian and Pacific navigation. For many years, he dominated the market for charts of the Indian Ocean and Subcontinent, Australia, Southeast Asia and the Far East, and even positioned himself to be one of the main vendors for charts published by his public-sector rival, the British Hydrographic Office.
Norie died in 1843, and the business continued under the auspices of the Wilson family, who renamed the firm Norie & Wilson, although the day-to-day operation of the enterprise was run by Norie’s hand-picked associates. The firm maintained Norie’s high standards and many of its late helmsman’s projects were continued and updated, such as the production of the present chart of the Mascarene Islands.
Norie & Wilson remained a leading chart maker for the remainder of the 19th Century, before merging with the rival firm of James Imray in 1899, thus becoming Imray, Laurie, Norie & Wilson. This firm remains a major force in the chart-making business to the present day, thus preserving a 250-year old dynasty.
References: Cf. [1811 ed.:] British Library: Cartographic Items Maps 69325.(4.), OCLC: 556560797 and 557049461; [1877 ed.:] British Library: Cartographic Items Maps 69325.(7.), OCLC: 556560868.