Charting the course for Queen Victoria’s Royal Yacht

A glass-fronted chart case and set of charts from Queen Victoria’s Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert (II)

A chart case from the Her Majesty’s Yacht Victoria and Albert (II), containing 284 charts, covering the entire globe, and demonstrating The British Admiralty’s mastery of the seas at the height of the British Empire.

The chart case contains 10 pilots providing detailed charts for navigation from the British Isles to: Africa and the Cape of Good Hope; North America and the West Indies; Australia; China; The East Indies; The Pacific; The English Channel and Ireland; The Mediterranean; The English Channel, North Sea and Baltic; and The South-East Coast of South America. Ranging from 30 charts contained in the China pilot to a mere 14 charts in the Africa pilot.

The pilots

All the pilots, although composite in nature follow a similar arrangement, each begin with a manuscript contents sheet written in a neat copperplate script, listing the titles of the charts together with the chart’s Admiralty number. The majority of the pilots then commence with the same four charts: Chart No. 2060: The North Atlantic Ocean Eastern Part; No. 2059: The Atlantic Ocean; No. 2598: [Map of the World] Curves of Equal Magnetic Variation for the Year 1880; and No. 1598: The English Channel, 1882.

The pilots show the great expansion of British Admiralty surveying throughout the 19th century: from acquiring manuscript surveys from returning merchant and naval vessels, supplemented with the acquisition of privately produced charts by the likes of Sayer, Heather and Norie, to having a fleet of 12 ships carrying out surveying work across the whole world.

One of the earliest areas to be systematically surveyed by the Admiralty was the west and east coasts of Africa, including the southern coast of Saudi Arabia.

The British Admiralty in Asia & Africa

Britain at the beginning of the nineteenth century was beginning to look for an expansion of her trade along the east coast of Africa; in 1821 preparations were made at the Admiralty for an expedition to survey the African coast. The work was entrusted to Captain William Fitzwilliam Owen (1774–1857), and between 1822 and 1826, Owen surveyed much of the west, and east coasts of Africa, the south coast of Arabia, and the River Gambia. Owen’s work was not without incident, whilst in Muscat, he invited the Sultan on board the ships, but was therefore forced to temporarily tow away the huge number of pigs on board to avoid offending the Muslim Sultan; it is reported that the whole cove echoed with their squeals. These incidences aside, it was these surveys together with his work in the India Ocean (represented in the pilots here by: Nos. 598; 721; 594; and 595) that earned him the respect of the Admiralty, who presented him with a silver punch-bowl in the form of a globe of the earth surmounted by Neptune and supported by figures representing the four continents. Other charts of note relating to Africa contained in these pilots include: No. 1771: Captain Edmund Palmer’s chart of St Helena the most accurate survey of the island carried out in the 19th century; and No. 1691: Lieutenant Bedford’s survey of the Ascension Islands, 1838.

In Asia British influence had, with the conquering of India, dramatically increased by the beginning of the nineteenth 19th. This, coupled with her acquiring footholds in Southeast Asia, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, led the Admiralty to send several voyages to the Far East, the most important of which was Captain Richard Collinson’s (1811–83) surveying work. Collinson, in command of HMS Plover spent the years 1842 to 1846 charting the Chinese coast, the first systematic charting of the waters, producing charts on which all successors were based (Nos. 2660a, 2660b, 2661a, and 2661b). Chart No. 1480, ‘Yang-Tse-Kiang from the Sea to Nanking’, his important survey of the Yangtse River from Shanghai to Nanjing, still bears his name.

In 1836, Collinson had been a lieutenant on HMS Sulphur, a surveying vessel in the Pacific, under the command of Captains Beechey and Belcher. On her return voyage via China, in 1841, the vessel became involved in the First Opium War, and specifically in the capture of Wangtong on the Pearl River delta. Whilst in the area Captain Belcher surveyed Hong Kong, the first scientific survey of the island (No. 1466). Belcher would return to the Far East in 1843–46 in command of HMS Samarang in order to survey the South China Seas, and like Collinson providing a template on which all subsequent surveys were based. The work also includes Captain J.W. Reed’s important survey of the Singapore Straits carried out on HMS Rifleman, between 1865 and 1869 (No. 2403). Reed would also resurvey the waters between Singapore and Hong Kong.

Britain’s dominance of the Indian subcontinent, would draw her into what became known as the ‘Great Game’: Britain and Russia’s struggle for de facto control of Central Asia. To this end the British fought several proxy wars, one such was the First Anglo-Persian War (1856–57). Commander Charles Constable, son of the painter John Constable, was attached to the Persian Expeditionary Force, as a surveyor aboard the ship Euphrates. On the conclusion of the war, Constable was ordered to survey the Arabian Gulf, which occupied him from April 1857 to March 1860, with Lieutenant Stiffe as assistant surveyor. The survey (Nos. 2837a and 2837b) which contains the first detailed survey of Abu Dhabi, would become the standard work well into the 20th century.

During the time that Constable was surveying the Gulf, the Suez Canal, one of the greatest civil engineering feats of the 19th century was under construction. When it opened in 1869, it would reduce the distance from London to the Arabian Gulf from 11,300 nautical miles to 6,400 nautical miles, and cut the journey time from London to Singapore from 58 to 42 days. The canal is depicted in chart No. 2555, based on surveys carried out by the French Navy in 1876, with soundings taken by HMS Shearwater.

The opening of the canal also bought a renewed interest in both the Mediterranean, Red, and Arabian Seas. Britain had during the 19th century acquired several strategically important islands in the Mediterranean, most notably Malta and Cyprus. The present work contains Captains Graves’ and Spratt’s chart of Malta and Gozo (No. 194), and Valetta harbour (No. 195), surveyed in 1863, as well as Graves’ exceedingly rare chart of Cyprus (No. 2074) of 1849.

The work also contains the first meteorological atlas of the Red Sea, which states in its introductory text:

“Very few observations have been obtained prior to the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, and nearly all the material which has been used is of necessity for the steamships, which follow much the same track within very narrow limits”

The steamship had come to dominate global shipping by the end of the 19th century, and two further charts point to their use: chart No. 9 of the Arabian Sea “shewing the winds & currents during the south-west monsoon with the probable best track for steamers from Bombay to Aden”; and chart No. 1188, the ‘Coal and Telegraph Chart’ of 1899, marking the steamship’s refuelling stations.

The British Admiralty in Australia & North America

The charts discussed up until now where often driven by British commercial considerations, be that on the East African coast, the shores of India, or far flung China. However, the Admiralty from the time of Cook were also heavily involved in voyages of exploration. One of the greatest voyages was that of HMS Beagle, now principally remembered for Darwin’s discoveries, she was also responsible for several important surveys; included in the present work are, Captain Fitzroy’s survey of the Falkland Islands (Nos. 1354, 1354A and 1354B); and that of the Magellan Strait (No. 554) – the first scientific survey of the Straits, and carried out by Fitzroy on the First (1826–31) and completed on the Second voyage of the Beagle (1832–36).

The Beagle’s Third voyage (1837–43) took her to Australia; now under the command of Captain J. C. Wickham, who together with his second in command Lieutenant Stokes, carried out extensive surveys of the west, and south coast, including the Bass Strait and Tasmania (Nos. 1695a, 1695b, 2759a, 2759b, 1079). Lieutenant Stokes, as commander of HMS Acheron, would between 1848 and 1855, produce the first systematic survey of New Zealand (Nos. 1212, 2053, 2054). With the Australian Gold Rush of the 1850s, the Admiralty began to take a greater interest in Australian waters. Captain H.M. Denham of HMS Herald, spent from 1852 to 1860 charting the eastern seas of Australia and covering the Great Barrier Reef and waters as far as Fiji (Nos. 2763, 2764, and 2691), he would also be responsible for the third survey of Sydney Harbour in 1857 (No. 1069).

The charting of waters around the great southern continent would lead to several expeditions even further south, to the Antarctic. The Ice Chart (No. 1241), first published in 1866, maps numerous voyages of exploration, including Cook’s, Bellingshausen, Weddell, and Ross and also includes John Thomas Towson’s work on “Icebergs in the Southern Ocean” (1859), and other papers from the Hydrographic Office. As the advertisement below the chart states the principal reason for the work’s publication was not only in order to map the known limits of the Antarctic pack ice, but also to plot the previous sightings of icebergs – each marked by a symbol denoting the month in which it was sighted – which, “drifted by the influence of winds and currents to low latitudes, have been found seriously to embarrass, and delay, as well as to imperil navigation”. The text goes on to qualify the placement of the bergs on the chart, by stating that iceberg placement and frequency has been known to vary considerably from year to year. Thus an “arbitrary boundary has been drawn on the chart, distinguished by colour the free or clear; from the more doubtful and indeed dangerous parallels”.

In North America the charts concentrate on Canadian and West Indian waters, with the charts of the United States principally taken from U.S. naval surveys; one chart (No. 2670) from Halifax to Delaware even credits Des Barres survey of 1770! Other charts of note are Captain Bayfield’s surveys of Halifax Harbour (No. 2320), and the St Lawrence River (No.2516). Bayfield, the father of Canadian hydrography, would between 1816 and 1856 survey almost the entire shoreline from Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean, and produce the first set of sailing directions for the St Lawrence River and the Gulf. In the Caribbean, Commander J. Parson’s survey of 1869 is included (Nos. 2485 and 502); as is Commander Stanley’s survey of Royal and Kingston Harbours (No. 456).

HMY Victoria and Albert (II)

The HMY Victoria and Albert (II) was the second yacht of this name and was built and launched at HM Dockyard, Pembroke in 1855. Measuring 300 feet in length by 40 feet in the beam, it had a displacement tonnage of 2479 and was capable of 14¾ knots. During her first voyage in 1855, and on many subsequent occasions, she proved to be a good sea boat. Queen Victoria used her numerous times, including periodic reviews of the fleet, inspection of ships and official visits to various United Kingdom and continental ports. The yacht was also used by several members of the royal family, most notably Edward Prince of Wales’s wife, later Queen Alexandra, who commissioned the yacht extensively in the 1890s to visit her family in Denmark, and her extended family in St Petersburg.


1. THE ADMIRALTY. Officer’s Atlas. Africa & Cape of Good Hope Station. Folio (670 × 540mm), manuscript index, 14 engraved charts, blue buckram covers, lettered in gilt.

2. THE ADMIRALTY. Officer’s Atlas. North America & West India Station. Folio (670 × 540mm), manuscript index, 19 engraved charts, blue buckram covers, lettered in gilt.

3. THE ADMIRALTY. Officer’s Atlas. Australian Station. Folio (670 × 540mm), manuscript index, 24 engraved charts, blue buckram covers, lettered in gilt.

4. THE ADMIRALTY. Officer’s Atlas. China Station. Folio (670 × 540mm), manuscript index, 30 engraved charts, (lacking chart of the Sunda Strait), blue buckram covers, lettered in gilt.

5. THE ADMIRALTY. Officer’s Atlas. The East India Station. Folio (670 × 540mm), manuscript index, 28 engraved charts (chart of the Andaman Islands, backed on linen and loosely inserted), blue buckram covers, lettered in gilt.

6. THE ADMIRALTY. Officer’s Atlas. Pacific Station. Folio (670 b× 540mm), manuscript index, 25 engraved charts, blue buckram covers, lettered in gilt.

7. THE ADMIRALTY. Officer’s Atlas. Channel & Western Station. Folio (670 × 540mm), manuscript index, 27 engraved charts, blue buckram covers, lettered in gilt.

8. THE ADMIRALTY. Officer’s Atlas. Mediterranean Station. Folio (670 × 540mm), manuscript index, 30 charts, five charts backed on linen and loosely inserted, blue buckram covers, lettered in gilt.

9. THE ADMIRALTY. Officer’s Atlas. Channel, North Sea & Baltic Station. Folio (670 × 540mm), manuscript index, 22 engraved charts, blue buckram covers, lettered in gilt.

10. THE ADMIRALTY. Officer’s Atlas. Brazils Station. Folio (670 × 540mm), manuscript index, 19 engraved charts, blue buckram covers, lettered in gilt.

11. THE ADMIRALTY. Meteorological Charts of the Red Sea, London, 1895. Folio (555 × 340mm), title, preface, introduction, 24 lithograph maps, blue buckram covers, lettered in gilt.

12. THE ADMIRALTY. Charts showing the mean barometrical pressure over the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. London, 1887. Folio (690 × 520mm) Title, introduction, four double-page charts of the Atlantic, four single sheet charts of the Indian Ocean, four double-page charts of the Pacific Ocean, 10 charts on three map sheets.

Introduction: “The Series in this Atlas are for the months of February, May, August, and November, selected to represent the Mean Barometrical Pressure for Winter, Spring Summer, and Autumn respectively in either Hemisphere. Four index charts, on a smaller scale, exhibit for the same months the lines of equal pressure (isobars) over the entire globe”.

13. THE ADMIRALTY Coal and Telegraph Chart [Compiled in the Hydrographic Department] No. 1188. London, 8 August 1899. Large Corrections to 1899.

Engraved chart, inset of the Mediterranean Sea, and Suez Canal. Dimensions: 680 × 1140mm.