Research guide P1: Charts and maps in the National Maritime Museum collection

This guide is a brief introduction to the Museum's collection of manuscript and printed hydrography (charts), cartography (maps), written sailing directions, originally known as 'portolans', and pilot books. They are stored in two main groups:

The General Collection made up of loose or individual items, detailed below. For more details about the Atlas Collection of bound volumes, see research guide P2.

Access to the General Collection, held at out-stations, is by prior appointment. Please contact the curator Brian Thynne:
Tel: +44 (0)20 8312 6757
Fax: +44 (0)20 8312 6599
E-mail: BDThyn@rmg.co.uk

The general collection, which ranges from a manuscript portulan chart drawn in the mid-15th century to late 20th century printed British Admiralty material, is divided into the six major sections numbered below.

All material in the collection, manuscript and printed, is catalogued using the Greenwich Geographical Classification Code (available in the Library) which identifies each chart according to its geographical section. The system is divided into four types of material (including large rivers and lakes):

  • Small scale charts and maps (e.g. the world, oceans, seas, channels)
  • Coastal charts (within political or geographical boundaries, e.g. coast of France, Spain, North America, New Zealand)
  • Large scale (e.g. harbour charts for Portsmouth, Lisbon, New York, Sydney)
  • Maps (continents, countries, towns).

General charts and maps

These date from the 16th to the 20th century and form the major share of the General Collection of more than 10,000 items. Most are printed maps and charts, though there are manuscript examples. They cover the world and a large number are British Admiralty charts from the late 18th to the end of the 19th century. Leading private chart-making companies in Britain are well represented, e.g. Imray, Laurie, Norie, and Wilson, all of whom were responsible for producing the familiar 'Blue Back' charts; plus work by other famous British, French, Dutch, German, Italian, and American makers and publishers.

Individual collections

These chart and map collections, though integrated with the General Collection, are held separately under the names of people or companies who assembled them, often royal or mercantile navy officers. Material may be manuscript or printed, sometimes a combination of both, and totals more than 800 items.


Stokes Collection

Manuscript and printed charts drawn by or published from the surveys of Admiral John Lort Stokes (1812–85). Stokes served between 1825–43 on the Beagle, first under Fitzroy, and later under Wickham, before taking command of the ship in 1840. He undertook valuable charting work round the coasts of Australia and New Zealand, and subsequently in Devon. The collection was his personal property and contains good examples of his own and contemporary hydrographers' work.


Duckworth Collection
A large compilation of manuscript and printed charts produced by Admiral, Sir John Thomas Duckworth Bt. (1748–1817). Duckworth served with distinction in the Mediterranean and West Indies and the collection mainly covers these regions. In 1803, he became commander-in-chief in Jamaica and secured the surrender of the French army on the island of San Domingo. Following Nelson's victory at Trafalgar, Duckworth left the blockade of Cadiz and pursued a French squadron to the Caribbean where he defeated it at San Domingo on the 6 February 1806. Of particular interest are the manuscript surveys of Jamaica and San Domingo.


Duff Collection
Vice-Admiral Robert Duff enjoyed a varied career in the Royal Navy, serving in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Mediterranean. He fought at Quiberon Bay, 1759 and the reduction of Martinique, 1762. He became governor and commander-in-chief at Newfoundland, 1775 and commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean, 1777–80. The extensive collection of 18th century printed and manuscript material reflects Duff's service record, featuring charts and maps of the Mediterranean, West Indies, and Atlantic coasts of North America and Europe.


Lockyer Collection
Dated 1900–15, these include a few manuscript surveys by Captain Hughes C Lockyer, but mostly printed maps published by the Geographical Section of the General Staff, War Office, showing the Aegean Sea, Dardanelles and Gallipoli during World War I. Lockyer commanded the battleship HMS Implacable in the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas during the conflict and saw action with the ship during the Dardanelles campaign in early 1915.


Westlake Collection
Previously owned by Thomas Westlake, these printed charts by various makers are mostly mid-19th century and cover a wide area, concentrating mainly on the Indian Ocean, China Sea, and North and South Pacific.


Northey Collection
British Admiralty charts, printed mid- to late 19th century, associated with the North Atlantic, South Pacific, and Indian Ocean; formerly owned by Captain Frank Northey.


Goodsall Collection
Once owned by Walter Goodsall, items are mainly mid-19th century printed British Admiralty charts of the Atlantic Ocean, English Channel, and North Sea. There are also a significant number of manuscript charts concerned with cable laying in Atlantic and Mediterranean waters, drawn by Goodsall himself.


Moriarty Collection
Printed charts and manuscript surveys produced by Henry A Moriarty, master RN. Dating from the 19th century, they include plans of the Mediterranean and Aegean seas.


Greens of Blackwall Collection
Manuscript and printed plans and surveys by various authors, made over a wide period, though many are early to mid-19th century. Topics include Blackwall, Cubitt Town, the Isle of Dogs, Deptford, Greenwich and other London Thameside locations, notably London Docks and their surroundings. There are items by architect, Daniel Asher Alexander, designer of the London Docks (completed 1805), who also designed the colonnades linking the main National Maritime Museum buildings with the Queen's House.

De Gomme Collection
Sir Bernard de Gomme (1620–1685), chief engineer to the Board of Ordnance, produced these manuscript plans of fortifications from 1662–1669. He is thought to have drawn them originally for diarist Samuel Pepys, who was secretary to the Admiralty, 1672–79, and 1684–88. The surveys include several of Harwich, though the main area covered is the River Medway and the forts at Chatham, Gillingham and Sheerness.


Penrose Collection
Manuscript charts and plans originating from the early 19th century, mainly covering the coasts of France and Spain and the Mediterranean; formerly owned by Vice-Admiral, Sir Charles Penrose, CCMB, KCB (1759–1830).


Close Collection
Maps and charts from just after the Great War, partly the work of naval and military cartographer Albert Close. Themes covered by the collection concentrate on the naval campaign in the North Sea during the conflict, including plans of the Battle of Jutland (31 May 1916), and military plans of the war's progress on the Western Front.


Baker Collection
A very small collection of post-1900 charts. It contains: a 1904 manuscript plan of Fareham Creek drawn by Sub-Lieutenant Arthur Baker RN; several printed British Admiralty charts of the Mediterranean dating 1914 to 1917, all with manuscript editions; and a plan of the Dardanelles and Gallipoli issued by the Survey Department of the War Office in 1917.


Ericsson Collection
Series of early 20th century printed charts of the Baltic Sea, published by the Imperial Russian Marine Ministry; formerly owned by Commander C H Ericsson.


Des Barres Collection
Unbound copies of the same charts in J F W Des Barres' Atlantic Neptune, dated 1777 to 1781 (see Henry Newton Stevens collection, below); plus one or two surveys not in the larger compilation, detailing the eastern seaboard of North America.


Beaufort Collection
Ten charts, plus an index, of Karamania, published by the British Admiralty in 1819, from survey work undertaken in Turkey by Captain Francis Beaufort (1774–1857) between 1810 and 1812. Beaufort served as Hydrographer of the Navy, 1829–55, became an admiral and was knighted.

Portulan charts and maps

Fifty unique and valuable surveys, from the mid-15th to early 18th century, including the Museum's earliest chart, by Bertran and Ripol, dated 1456, showing the Mediterranean, Black Sea, and North East Atlantic. Most are manuscript on vellum, with a few printed items. Coverage is wide, though the Mediterranean Sea and coasts of Western Europe figure prominently, particularly in the earliest examples. (NB 'portolans', or bound volumes of written sailing instructions and charts, are part of the Atlas Collection, see research guide P2.)


Post 1900 British Admiralty chart collection
British Admiralty charts produced and published throughout the 20th century by the UK Hydrographic Office (now based in Taunton, Somerset); the latest charts being recently withdrawn surveys from the present catalogue (see below). Coverage is world wide and charts are listed in the post-1900 Catalogues, using Admiralty chart catalogue numbers, instead of the GGCC. In total over 18,000 surveys.


Current British Admiralty chart collection
The most up to date navigation charts available to naval and mercantile ships. New editions and publications are distributed at regular intervals by the UK Hydrographic Office at Taunton, Somerset (or by the hydrographic branches of the RAN and RNZN). Withdrawn material is incorporated into the post-1900 British Admiralty Chart holdings and retained for research. Their coverage is world wide and a complete guide to admiralty publications is shown in the annual Catalogue of Charts and Publications (NP 131).

Special chart and map collections

These are important in concept and have specific historical significance. The two most notable are:


Henry Newton Stevens - Atlantic Neptune
Large collection (176 folders) of charts, plates and views, often different variations of the same survey, though some items may be unique. These printed charts cover the eastern coast of North America from the St. Lawrence River and Nova Scotia, to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. The Atlantic Neptune was published at intervals 1777–81 by British army engineer Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres (1722–1824), from his own and others' work for the British Admiralty. Atlantic Neptune appeared in final complete form in 1784.


Grenville Collection
Around 666 maps (with some charts), chiefly of Europe, assembled by Whig politician and statesman William Wyndham Grenville (1759–1834) as Foreign Minister 1791–1801. Manuscript and printed material, held in 131 mock book slip cases, labelled by region. Three well known publishers, Faden, Arrowsmith and Sayer are well represented. Access and information can be attained from the Grenville catalogue.

Next steps

Other guides in the series which may be useful for researching charts and maps:

Research guide P2: Altases, pilot books and sailing directions in the National Maritime Museum

For general research help see:

Research guide A2: Principal records for maritime research at the National Maritime Museum


Although care has been taken in preparing the information contained in this document, anyone using it shall be deemed to indemnify the National Maritime Museum from any and all injury or damage arising from such use

Last updated April 2008

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