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SEYCHELLES: A Chart of the Mahé and Amirantes Islands with their Shoals by Monsr. le Vicomte Grenier 1776. Zoom



SEYCHELLES: A Chart of the Mahé and Amirantes Islands with their Shoals by Monsr. le Vicomte Grenier 1776.



A scarce British edition of a sea chart that represents the first broadly accurate general mapping of the Seychelles and Amirantes Islands, based on the cartography of the Chevalier Grenier, conducted during his important expedition of scientific and commercial discovery.




Author: LAURIE & WHITTLE, after Jacques Raymond de GIRON-GRENIER (1736 - 1803).
Place and Year: London, 1803.
Technique: Folio, Copper engraving (Very Good, strong impression, light marginal toning, small closed tear in blank margin in upper left corner, remains of old guard along top margin), 42 x 58 cm (inches).
Code: 65162

This attractive sea chart represents the first broadly accurate general mapping of the Seychelles and Amirantes Islands, predicated upon the cartography of the French naval officer Jacques Raymond de Giron-Grenier (1736 - 1803), popularly known as the Chevalier Grenier (later Vicomte Grenier), the result of his important 1769 mission to assess the islands for permanent settlement and to monitor the local ocean currents in order to find a faster sailing route between Southern Africa and India.  The chart embraces the entirely of the Seychelles and the nearby Amirante Islands, including all major banks, reefs, inlets, headlands, anchorages, with numerous bathymetric soundings.  Notably, in the main part of the islands feature ‘Seychelle’ (today Mahé Island, home to the modern national capital of Victoria) and Praslin.

The present edition of the map, with an imprint dated 1803, was issued within one of the magnificent sea atlases published by the leading British chart-making firm of Robert Laurie & James Whittle.  Laurie & Whittle first issued an edition of this chart, bearing the imprint dated 1794, within their highly influential maritime atlas of African and Asian navigation, The East-India Pilot, or Oriental Navigator (London, 1797).

Importantly, the various editions of the present chart served as the authoritative map of record of the Seychelles and the Amirantes used by Britain’s Royal Navy as it consolidated its authority over the islands, following the British conquest of the Seychelles in 1794.

 

The Early Charting of the Seychelles

The Seychelles lies in a remote location in the eastern Indian Ocean, and was not inhabited before the arrival of Europeans, although the islands were visited by mariners from a variety of cultures prior to that time.  The first known European landing on the islands occurred in 1609 when the crew of the English East India Company vessel Ascension made shore and claimed the archipelago for James I. The nearby Amirante Islands, located to the southwest, were first visited by Vasco da Gama, in 1503, and were named by him, after his naval rank.  However these islands would not be permanently settled until several generations later, although the Seychelles and the Amirantes become a temporary haunt of pirates, as well as stopover for mariners on their way to and from India.

Bertrand-François Mahé de La Bourdonnais, the enterprising governor of Île de France (Mauritius), who served from 1735 to 1746, recognized the important of the Seychelles as a waypoint along the critical Indian navigation, and so endeavored to secure to for France.  In 1742, he dispatched an expedition to the islands under the command of Lazare Picaut, to chart them and to assess their potential to support a permanent settlement.  Picaut also made a second run the Seychelles in 1744.  While Picaut retuned some useful observations, he proved to be a frightfully incompetent cartographer, such that his charts were virtually worthless.  Mahé’s plans for the Seychelles came to naught once he left his post in Mauritius in 1746.

 

During the Seven Years’ Way (1756-63), France was locked in an epic struggle for dominance over the Indian Ocean navigation.  Once again, securing the Seychelles became a priority.  In 1756, the French East India Company dispatched Nicolas Morphey to the islands, and he laid the possession stones on Mahé and Praslin that are labeled on the present chart.  However the war proved to be a catastrophe for France and no further efforts were made to secure the Seychelles.

 

In 1768, Pierre Poivre, the new royal governor of Mauritius, acutely recognized the importance of the Seychelles to the Indian navigation and, potentially, to the spice trade, as Mahé Island was said by some to be ideal for growing nutmeg and cloves.  Importantly, it was beleived by many mariners (although it was not scientifically proven) that the fastest sailing route from Southern Africa to India traversed the Seychelles, as opposed the to the traditional routes which saw ships head further east out to sea.

 

In 1768, Poivre sent the vessels La Digue and La Curieuse to conduct a reconnaissance of the Seychelles, with remained amongst the islands from October 21 to December 28, 1768.  This was a prelude to a greater endeavour.

The following year, Poivre charged the experienced mariner Jacques Raymond de Giron-Grenier (1736 - 1803), popularly known as the Chevalier Grenier (later Vicomte Grenier), and the esteemed scientist Alexis-Marie de Rochon (1741 - 1817), popularly known as the Abbé Rochon, to oversee a scientific mission to both accurately map the Seychelles, and to chart the ocean currents of the Indian Ocean in the area between the Seychelles, Madagascar and Mauritius.

 

Focusing on the Chevalier Grenier, he was highly talented naval commander and cartographer, who hailed from an old noble family from Bordeaux, with centuries of distinguished service to the French crown.  He was born at St. Pierre, Martinique and joined the navy at a young age.  While his efforts where largely unsuccessful during what was a disastrous conflict for France, Grenier served with skill and bravery during the Seven Years’ War, in both France and West Indies.  This won him promotion to lieutenant and the command of a corvette in the Indian Ocean, whereupon he was a principal on the mission to explore the Seychelles and the surrounding ocean currents.  Grenier gained great credit and promotion in France during the 1770s, returning to the Indian Ocean.  Inheriting the noble title Vicomte, he served with great valour during the American Revolutionary War, in both America and the West Indies, notably playing a key role in the recapture of the island of Saint-Barthélemy.  Following the war, he was promoted the rank of Rear Admiral, before retiring from active service in 1786.

 

Returing to the Grenier-Rochon mission to explore the Seychelles and the surroinding ocean currents, the two principals set out from Mauritius on May 30, 1769, abord the corvette l’Heure du Berger.  Grenier took the lead in mapping the ocean currents and charted much of the shores of the Seychelles.  Critically, however, Rochon was charged with making all of the longitudinal readings, calculated from astronomical observations, critical data that underpinned the accuracy of the entire venture. 

However, Rochon and Grenier despised each other and their relationship deteriorated to the point that, while Rochon would reluctantly supply Grenier with longitudinal readings, they otherwise refused to communicate with each other, let along cooperate.  Rochon and Grenier this submitted separate reports of the mission to their superiors. 

Grenier was a superb cartographer, and his various charts of the Indian Ocean are amongst the finest and most interesting of the Enlightenment Era.  Highlights include his pioneering hydrological charts, Carte des courants de l'Océan Indien (Paris, 1770) and Carte du système des courants des allers de l'Inde dans le tems de la mousson du N. E. au N. de la Ligne (Paris, 1776).

Grenier’s general mapping the Seychelles and the Amirantes was first published as the Carte des iles Seychelles et des Amirantes (Paris: Lattré, 1776), being the original basis of the cartography of the present chart.

While Rochon stole the show, submitting his incredibly beautiful manuscript map, closely focusing on the main islands of the Seychelles proper (and omitting the Amirante Islands), the “Carte plate des isles Seychelles, Praslin, Silhouette, et autres qui leur sont adjacentes situées” (1769), Grenier’s cartography was actually more accurate.

In spite of the rancor between Grenier and Rochon, their mission was hailed as a triumph.  They successfully established that the sea route to India traversing the Seychelles was generally quicker than the traditional routes, leading to tremendous efficiencies in shipping, with profound military and economic consequences. 

Grenier and Rochon both reported that the Seychelles were ideal for permanent  settlement and the establishment of spice and other plantations.  Due to their recommendations, from 1770 onwards, French setters arrived on the islands, with over 10,000 nutmeg and clove seeds.  The plantations proved to be successful, and the Seychelles developed into a small, but thriving, colony, along a major new shipping route along the Indian navigation.  It also became a haunt for French privateers that prayed on British shipping, and this would proved to have consequences.

During the French Revolution, Britain and France, once again, found themselves at war.  Britain was deeply annoyed by the French privateers operating out of the Seychelles and, furthermore, saw the islands as a great strategic liability, given their location along the new shipping route.  The French presence simply had to be taken out.  In 1794, the Royal Navy successfully conquered he islands.  They pacified the local French settlers by allowing them to retain their property and customs, in exchange for not aiding France.  Britain retained the islands for the duration of the Napoleonic Wars, and was officially given permanent title to the Seychelles in 1814.  The islands remained a British possession until 1976, when the Seychelles gained its independence.

Publication Details of the Present Chart

Grenier’s aforementioned 1776 printed map of the Seychelles and Amirante Islands served as the basis for the first edition of the present chart, which was issued in 1778 by Laurie & Whittle’s predecessor, Robert Sayer & John Bennett.  Laurie & Whittle used the same plates as the Sayer & Bennett issue, preserving the cartographic details, but replacing the imprint with their name and changing the date to ‘Published 12th May, 1794’.  The present edition was issued by Laurie & Whittle, unaltered from the previous editions, save for change in date to read ‘Published 12th May, 1803’.  Robert Laurie & James Whittle’s issued the charts within various editions of their sea atlases, notably the The East-India Pilot, or Oriental Navigator (first issued London, 1797).  This work was by far the most advanced and accurate atlas of the African and Asian navigation of its era, with their charts largely predicated on recent mapping conducted by the mariners of the British East India Company (EIC) and the Royal Navy.  It was probably Laurie & Whittle’s most important publication, cementing their position as the world’s premier chart publishers.

A Note on Rarity

The present chart is rare on the market; we can trace only a single other example of any of the Sayer & Bennett or Laurie & Whittle editions as appearing separately at auction or in dealers’ catalogues during the last 25 years.

References: OCLC: 861361948; Cf. For background see:

Jean-Paul Morel, ‘Découverte et Colonisation des Seychelles’, [online article, September 2012], link:

http://www.pierre-poivre.fr/Colonisation-des-Seychelles.pdf

 

Jean-Paul Morel, ‘Le chevalier Grenier et Alexis Rochon: la nouvelle

route des Indes. (30 mai – 6 octobre 1769)’, [online article, October 2012], link:

http://www.pierre-poivre.fr/Grenier-la-route-des-Indes.pdf

 

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