The first accurate navigational chart of the Galapagos
By ARROWSMITH, Aaron , 1823

Chart of the Galapagos Surveyed in the Merchant-Ship Rattler, and Drawn by Capt: James Colnett, of the Royal Navy. in 1793 1794.

Australasia & the Pacific Pacific
  • Author: ARROWSMITH, Aaron
  • Publication place: London
  • Publisher: A. Arrowsmith, 10 Soho Square, Hydrographer to His Majesty
  • Publication date: [1798] with additions and corrections to 1817 [but 1820-1823].
  • Physical description: Large engraved chart (770 by 575mm to the neat line, full margins showing the plate mark), trimmed with linen, one or two pale stains in the cartouche and lower margin.
  • Dimensions: 834 by 676mm (32.75 by 26.5 inches).
  • Inventory reference: 12996


Arrowsmith’s first chart of the Galapagos Islands was published in 1798 to accompany James Colnett’s ‘A Voyage to the South Atlantic and Round Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean’. The map was published separately by Arrowsmith from 1805. The current example is a reprinting of the 1817 edition, recording Arrowsmith’s appointment as “Hydrographer to His Majesty” in 1820. Arrowsmith’s address is shown as 10 Soho Square, and cartographically the chart has “Additions & Corrections to 1817”, largely drawn from John Fyffe’s chart of 1815.

These changes are: the addition of Dower’s Isle, now known as Isla Genovesa; Erasmus Isle appears southeast of Brattle, and quite close to Cape Woodford; Crossman’s Isle appears where Duncan Isle was located on the 1798 chart; Herdar’s Rocks are north of Champion Isle; Indefatigable Isle appears, presumably named by Arrowsmith after Fyffe’s ship, and replacing Fyffe’s Porter’s Isle; “Post Office” is added to Charles Isle; and Jervis Isle is now omitted.

Arrowsmith traces Colnett’s complex route through the islands in the sloop Rattler, which had been converted to a whaler. His voyage, commissioned by the Admiralty, was charged with finding suitable anchorages for British whalers to refit and replenish supplies in the Pacific. Accordingly, Arrowsmith’s map is annotated with invaluable notes throughout showing the location of freshwater and other useful resources: Charles Isle has an ideal “Careening Place, Water and Plenty of Wood”; and Pt. Essex on the southern tip of Albemarle Isle has a “Good Landing for Boats, Wood & Guaners [sic] in abundance”.

Colnett’s account of his voyage, and Arrowsmith’s accompanying charts, were instrumental in opening up the south Pacific sperm whale fishing industry. Initially a fur trader, Colnett (1755-1806) went to sea in 1770 as an able seaman aboard the Hazard, later he joined the Scorpion where he served with one Lieutenant James Cook. In December of 1771 he was with Cook on the Resolution, where he served as midshipman throughout Cook’s second voyage. During the voyage Colnett was the first person to sight New Caledonia, and so Cook named its headland Cape Colnett.

John Woram records that probably the earliest depiction of the Galapagos Islands is on a fragment of a vellum chart held at the Library of Congress, as part of the Edward Stephen Harkness Collection, which the LoC dates to 1561. Subsequently, both Mercator and Ortelius included the islands on their world maps of 1569 and 1570. The first detailed chart of the archipelago was drawn by William Ambrosia Cowley as ‘The Islands of Gallappagos: discover’d by Capt; Cowley A. 1684’, in his manuscript journal, held at the Morgan Library. That map was printed by Herman Moll as ‘The Gallapagos Islands Discovered by Capt; John Eaton’, in 1699.

Arrowsmith’s chart remained current for almost exactly 40 years: this example was purchased by master whaler Francis Post of New Bedford in 1832, along with a handful of others published by Arrowsmith, just prior to setting sail for a whaling voyage that would take him away from home for four years and across two oceans. After Colnett’s there were other visitors to the islands. Duperrey’s voyage took him there in 1822, but his published charts were an amalgam of observations from Vancouver’s voyage of 1791 and Basil Hall’s of 1822, who wrote in his journal that they “had no time to survey these islands”. It would not be until 1839, when Captain Robert FitzRoy’s ‘Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of his Majesty’s Ships Adventure and Beagle, between the Years 1826 and 1836, describing their Examination of the Southern Shores of South America, and the Beagle’s Circumnavigation of the Globe’, was published that a more detailed map than Arrowsmith’s became available to navigators. That voyage is now probably best known for being accompanied by a young Charles Darwin as ship’s naturalist, whose observations of different forms of the same species on different islands in the archipelago contributed significantly to his theory of evolution.

Aaron Arrowsmith (1750-1823) was the finest cartographer of his generation. Although he received little formal education it is believed that he was taught some mathematical instruction by William Emerson, author of several books on the application of mathematics to the area of cartography. Around 1770, Arrowsmith moved to London to seek employment. It is believed that he worked for William Faden before joining John Cary Sr. in the early 1780s. There he provided the measurements for John Cary’s early publication detailing the roads from London to Falmouth, his first signed work. Arrowsmith set up on his own in 1790 and over the next thirty years produced some of the most beautiful and elegant maps of the era.

Rare. We can find no other records of an example of this edition to sell publicly; OCLC records no institutional examples.


1. Frances Post (1808-1859), inscribed by him on the verso of the map “Galapagos Islands, 2.25, Francis Post June 1832”. Francis Post was a nineteenth century whaling master out of New Bedford, Mass. Aboard the Huntress between 13th August 1832 and 13th March 1836 he voyaged the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, purchasing this map for $2.25 just two months before sailing. His Log-book of the journey is held at the Bedford Whaling Museum, and gives accounts of the Coast of Brazil, “On shore”, Japan, Hawaiian Islands, Coast of Chile, “On the Line”, Tonga Islands, French Rock, and False Banks whaling grounds. His correspondence is housed in the Dartmouth Historical Society Library.