Surveying the Seas: Establishing the Sea Routes to the East Indies

Andrew S. Cook

in Cartographies of Travel and Navigation

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2006 | ISBN: 9780226010748
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226010786 | DOI:
Surveying the Seas: Establishing the Sea Routes to the East Indies

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This chapter focuses on sea travel and the sailing ship. It considers a turning point in the history of British hydrography, namely the efforts begun by Alexander Dalrymple to consolidate and standardize the compilation and production of charts used by British merchant and naval vessels. As unofficial hydrographer to the British East India Company, and then by formal appointment to the Admiralty, Dalrymple campaigned to increase administrative oversight of the gathering, recording, and cartographic representation of navigational information. His lifelong campaign for standardization was hindered by naval tradition, and by the private rights and motivations of both naval officers and commercial chart publishers. As on land, sea charts were only one set of tools available to navigators, who depended as much, if not more, on their instruments and experience. Increasing commercial traffic during the eighteenth century generated the need for greater predictability in traveling along the established routes of the British Empire, tilting the balance in favor of greater governmental control of navigational information and cartographic standards. In this respect, modern maritime cartography differed profoundly from modern navigational cartography on land, which—reflecting the less regulated and more flexible nature of overland travel—is neither standardized nor dominated by state agency.

Keywords: sea travel; sailing ship; British hydrography; Alexander Dalrymple; navigational information; sea charts; maritime cartography

Chapter.  11489 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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