The foundation map of nineteenth century South America
By ARROWSMITH, Aaron , 1814

Outlines of the Physical and Political Divisions of South America; delineated by A. Arrowsmith partly from scarce and original documents, but principally from manuscript maps and surveys made between the years 1771 and 1806 corrected from accurate astronomical observations to 1810.

America South America
  • Author: ARROWSMITH, Aaron
  • Publication place: London
  • Publisher: Published by A. Arrowsmith, No.10 Soho Square Hydrographer to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales
  • Publication date: 4th January, 1811. Additions to 1814.
  • Physical description: Engraved wall map on six sheets, all with original outline hand-colour, inset of Patagonia and the Falkland Islands lower right, a few old folds reinforced.
  • Dimensions: 2390 by 1980mm (94 by 78 inches).
  • Inventory reference: 2313


Arrowsmith’s monumental map of South America.

Arrowsmith specialised in large multi-sheet maps. These were generally separately-issued, and are now very scarce. His five great wall maps of the Americas were particularly well-received, and became “foundation or prototype maps of the area and were extensively copied by other publishers” (Tooley). These five wall maps were of North America (first published 1795), the United States (1796), the West Indies (1803), Mexico (1810), and South America (the present map) (1810). They were generally republished many times, as new information became available.

The present map is the second state of the map, with additions to 1814. The map has been slightly revised by Arrowsmith with first issue, with changes in the coast line between Buenos Aires and Rio, and on the northeast coast, near Maranham. The second state sometimes accompanied Antonio de Alcedo’s ‘The Geographical and Historical Dictionary of America and the West Indies’. (1815).

Aaron Arrowsmith (1750-1823), ​”easily the foremost cartographer of his time” (R.V. Tooley), was the founder of the Arrowsmith dynasty of cartographers. Born in County Durham, he was in London by 1777 when he witnessed the will of Andrew Dury, a mapseller and publisher, and was probably training with him; he may have trained with William Faden, Geographer to the King, but was certainly employed by John Cary in 1782, as he is credited with the survey work for ​’Cary’s Actual Survey, of the Great Post Roads between London and Falmouth’, published in 1784; he is frequently credited with some of the survey work for Cary’s county atlas, ​’Cary’s New and Correct English Atlas: being a set of county maps from actual surveys’ (1787), but the sources are silent on this and by this time Arrowsmith had established his own business.

Arrowmsith’s maps set a new standard; he was assiduous in analysing and verifying his sources, discarding not only the fictional but also the uncertain, going to printed and manuscript sources for his information, and engraved in a clear and highly legible style. Arrowsmith was also diligent in revising and improving his maps to keep them current, and served as an inspiration for the next generation of (particularly American) surveyors.


  1. Tooley, R.V. The Mapping of America, p. 98, no. 77b
  2. Phillips. Maps of America, p. 806.