Horsburgh’s chart of the Pearl River Delta
By HORSBURGH, James , 1841

To Chas Marjoribanks Esqre and the other Members of the Honble East India Company’s Factory at Canton. This Chart of Choo Keang or Canton River, Is Inscribed by Their Obedient Servant, Jas Horsburgh.

Asia China Hong Kong
  • Author: HORSBURGH, James
  • Publication place: James Horsburgh
  • Publisher: London
  • Publication date: July 1831 corrections to 1841.
  • Physical description: Engraved chart, hand-colour in part, dissected and mounted on linen, housed in original brown cloth slipcase.
  • Dimensions: 1000 by 665mm. (39.25 by 26.25 inches).
  • Inventory reference: 20451


James Horsburgh’s rare chart of the Pearl River Delta.

The chart stretches north to south from Canton (Guangzhou) to Canzhou Island, and west to east from Dashi Bay to Hong Kong. The chart was first published by James Horsburgh in 1831, and the present edition has been corrected and updated to 1841. Place names are now written in Chinese characters, as well as in English; to the lower left has been added an inset chart of the Bay of Cum-Sing-Moon, from a survey by Captain Rees in 1833; the islands in the lower right have been renamed, for example “Young-Hoy” has become “Yung-Gae”, with five new bearing lines marking sea hazards appearing. The extensive descriptive text remains unaltered.

James Horsburgh (1762-1836) hydrographer to the East India Company, the foremost surveyor of Chinese waters of his day, was born and raised in the coastal town of Elie in the county of Fife.  At the age of 16 he entered the naval profession as a humble cabin boy. He spent the majority of his formative years out in the Far East. On a return trip to London, in 1786, as first mate of the ship Carron, he made the acquaintance of Alexander Dalrymple, hydrographer to the East India Company and the British Admiralty. So impressed with Horsburgh’s work was Dalrymple, that he undertook to publish the charts and sailing directions that he had compiled. Horsburgh would later return to England on a permanent basis in 1805, were he would publish his East India Pilot, a work containing fifteen charts, which he produced between 1805 and 1815, and covered the navigation from England to the China Sea. It was these charts, together with his comprehensive ‘Directory for Sailing to the East Indies’, that would gain Horsburgh the position of Hydrographer to the East India Company in 1810; a post he would hold until his death in 1836.

Rare: we have been unable to trace an institutional example of the 1841 chart. OCLC records one institutional example of the chart, dated 1831, at Harvard, and one, dated 1847, at the University of Winsconsin. The chart is not recorded in ‘Charting the Pearl River Delta’, published by the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, in 2006.


  1. The Hong Kong Maritime Museum, ‘Charting the Pearl River Delta’, Hong Kong, 2006.