Albin Roussin’s Le pilote du Brésil was created in direct response to momentous events, that led to the opening of Brazil to international trade for the first time and the rise of Brazil as a distinct socio-economic and political entity, leading to the countr’s independence. This febrile period sparked an Anglo-French rivalry to become Brazil’s prime trading and diplomatic partner. However, Brazil’s coasts were exceptionally treacherous to navigate, and due to Portugal’s longstanding policy of cartography secrecy, few reliable published sea charts of the country’s coastal stretches and harbours existed. Various parties proceeded carried out scientific surveys, and something of a contest developed to produce the best and most useful charts of Brazil for the benefit of merchant mariners and navies. Many consider the charts within the present atlas to be the ‘winners’ of this competition.
Brazil is a land of astounding natural and human resources. By the 18th century, Brazil had become the crown jewel of Portugal’s global empire and, as tended to be the case with other global empires, Brazil and Metropolitan Portugal were locked in a mercantilist relationship. Brazil was one of the vertices of Portugal’s Transatlantic ‘triangle trade’, in that Portuguese Africa supplied Brazil with slaves (the lifeblood of its agrarian economy), while Brazil supplied Portugal with precious commodities (sugar, cotton, diamonds, precious metals and valuable hardwoods) in exchange for European manufactured good. This relationship was paternalistic and heavily skewed to Portugal’s favour, with Brazil forbidden from trading directly with foreign powers or developing its own manufacturing base. Moreover, Portuguese-Brazilian trade was run by inefficient cartels and nepotistic alliances.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Portugal in late 1807, caused Portugal’s entire royal court to relocate to Brazil. On November 29, 1807, a massive flotilla under the protection of the British Royal Navy, carrying Dom João (later King João VI), the Prince Regent of Portugal, and 15,000 of his nobles, officials and their families, set sail across the Atlantic.
Upon the flotilla’s arrival in Brazil, in January 1808, Rio de Janeiro became the capital of the Portuguese Empire, so turning the structure of colonialism on its head.
The loss of the Metropolitan Portugal, compelled Dom João to open Brazil to foreign trade. He proclaimed the Carta Régia (Royal Charter) of January 28, 1808, which ordered that “all and every kind of commodities, wares and merchandise transported either in foreign vessels belonging to the powers that remain at peace with my royal crown or in ships belonging to my vassals are to be admitted by the customs of Brazil”. Critically, the proclamation was aimed squarely at Britain, then the only major trading power that remained truly at peace with Portugal.
Charting the Coasts of Brazil: An Urgent Economic Imperative
At the time of the declaration of the Carta Régia, very few accurate published maps of the country’s coasts or major harbours existed. This was by intent, as Portugal had long maintained a policy of ‘cartographic secrecy’. The hydrography of Portugal’s colonies had since the times of Vasco da Gama been carefully controlled by the office of the Cosmógrafo-Mor [Chief Cartographer]. Generally, the publication of charts was strictly forbidden, lest they could be used by foreign powers, pirates, or smugglers. While some decent published charts of the harbours of Rio de Janeiro, Bahia and Recife-Olinda existed, for the most part, the coasts of Brazil remained enigmatic to foreigners.
Brazil’s coasts, particularly its middle stretches, were famously treacherous, home to hard-to -avoid offshore reefs and islets and strong currents, a precise knowledge of which was necessary to avoid catastrophe.
In the absence of a comprehensive corpus of published charts, Portuguese mariners had long relied upon the excellent published textual navigational directions of the ‘Roteiro do Brasil’, contained within the late Cosmógrafo-Mor Manoel Pimentel’s sailing guide to Portuguese colonies, Arte de navegar (first published in 1712, since reissued), combined with the aid of skilled Brazilian pilots, plus, their own closely held manuscript charts. Moreover, many of the captains who sailed between Portugal and Brazil specialized in the route, giving them years of practical experience that could be used in lieu of charts.
Following the singing of the Carta Régia, a race commenced between London’s leading cartographers to create charts of Brazil to meet the demands of the Royal Navy and merchant mariners. Highlights these works include William Heather’s A New Chart of the coast of Brazil from St. Ann’s Islands to St. Sebastian: drawn from the best surveys (1808), A New Chart of the Coast of Brazil from Maranham to Rio Janeiro (1810) and A New Chart of the North Coast of Brazil: shewing the entrances and courses of the Rivers Para and Amazon (1810); William Faden’s A New Chart of the North Coast of Brazil from Seara to the Island of Sn. João Baptista (1809); and Aaron Arrowsmith’s, Chart of the Coast of Brazil from Cape Castellanos to Santos (1809); Chart of the Coast of Brazil from Santos to the River Plate (1809); and a Chart of the Coast of Brazil from Cape St. Rocque to… Castellanos (1809).
Additionally, Arrowsmith issued a fine but small-format sea atlas, The Brazil Pilot; or, A Description of the Coast of Brazil (1809), while William Faden issued Joseph Foss Dessiou’s The Brazil Pilot, or, Sailing directions for the coast and harbours of Brazil… directions for the River Plate (1818), which featured nautical direction accompanied by a fine general chart.
Critically, while the charts of Brazil published in Britain in the wake of the Carta Régia represented a great leap forward, serious deficiencies remained, posing grave jeopardy to mariners. While many of the charts featured accurate and extremely useful information, the quality of their coverage was often inconsistent. There was also a strong bias towards charting routes or ports that the British favoured, at the expense of others, while many of the offshore reefs and atolls were left un-surveyed. By the end of the 1810s, even captains armed with the best printed charts, could often not be assured of making safe passage to Brazil without the aid of Brazilian pilots, whose services were in short supply.
Turning back to the political-economic situation, Brazil’s elite and merchant classes were profiting greatly from the ‘colony’s’ newfound access to global markets, even if this engagement was heavily skewed towards Britain. Moreover, Brazil had become increasingly self-reliant, developed its own manufacturing base and ‘national institutions’ (ex. a printing press, universities, military academy, etc.), so establishing the basis for Brazil’s own intelligentsia.
Dom João (who became King João VI in 1816) recognized that Brazil had grown far beyond its traditional status, and in 1815, he formed the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves, within which Brazil become a co-equal member of the empire.
However, rifts were developing within the Portuguese royal family, the House of Braganza. Some members of the family, eventually led by Dom Pedro (later Brazilian Emperor Pedro I), the fourth son of João VI, developed a strong attachment to Brazil, and did not want to return to Portugal. Supported by the country’s elite, merchants, and the developing intelligentsia, he wanted Brazil to maintain a high degree of autonomy.
On the other hand, the ‘old school’, led by João VI, who longed to return ‘home’ to Lisbon, and were nostalgic for at least a partial return of Portugal’s paternalistic relationship with Brazil.
By the end of the 1810s, tensions between the sovereigntists and old school within the royal court, and on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, were reaching a fever pitch. This febrile environment opened an opportunity for foreigners (other than the British) to robustly engage with Brazil.
The French Connection: Captain Albin Roussin’s Mission to Brazil
France returned to royalist rule in 1815, an instead of the licking its wounds after losing the Napoleonic Wars, the county rebuilt its economy and navy with remarkable speed. It immediately embarked upon an unapologetically muscular foreign policy, with a particular emphasis upon interfering in the affairs of Latin American countries, which were either engulfed in revolutionary turmoil, or were on the verge of such. France sought to bust-up Spain and Portugal’s traditional monopolies towards becoming a major trade, investment and military player in the region.
Brazil was seen as the biggest target for possible French intervention, and the rift within the House of Braganza presented a perfect opportunity. While João VI’s ‘old school’ regime was ardently pro-British (and reflexively anti-French), the new generation of Brazilian sovereigntists (led from 1820 by Dom Pedro), were open to developing a significant relationship with France.
However, while there were a few French merchant mariners and intelligence assets who provided some useful firsthand information, the reality was that France had very little direct knowledge of Brazil and limited political and social connections within the country.
Importantly, France believed that its greatest commercial opportunities, at least initially, lay in trading through ports other than Rio de Janeiro, which was utterly dominated by British and Portuguese trading houses. Other ports, such as São Francisco do Sul, Santos, São Sebastiaõ, Victória (today Vitória), Ciará, São Luís do Maranhão and Belém do Pará, were seemingly neglected, or underused, by the established powers, while the great ports of Bahia and Recife could accommodate a French presence. The locals would certainly desire French manufactured goods, while those ports had fine access to raw materials valued in France.
However, the existing charts of the approaches to many of these ports were far from adequate, and in some cases were even dangerously inaccurate. The French Naval Board realized that extensive scientific surveys would need to be undertaken for France to realize it ambitions in Brazil.
Enter Albin Reine Roussin (1781 – 1854), one of the great sailor-statesmen of Restoration France. The son of a Dijon lawyer, he enlisted in the French navy at the age of 12, serving on the fleets that France assembled for its planned invasion of Britain. During this time, he received stellar training as a hydrographer from the master Jean Petit-Genet. From 1803 to 1810, Roussin was posted to Réunion, where he fought with bravery and skill, eventually in command of his own vessel, during France’s ill-fated campaign in the Indian Ocean. He returned to France in 1810, whereupon he was promoted to Captain, and was personally awarded the Légion d’honneur by Napoleon.
In 1812 and 1813, Roussin commanded his own vessel roaming the open Atlantic, whereupon he captured 15 enemy vessels, making him something of a celebrity in French maritime circles. During the ‘Hundred Days’, Roussin remained loyal to King Louis XVIII, which gave him considerable political capital when the Royalists gained final victory.
The horrific spectacle surrounding the wreck of the French vessel, Méduse, in 1816, off the poorly-charted coast of Mauritania, an event made world famous by Théodore Géricault’s painting The Raft of the Medusa (1819-20), led the French Navy to appoint Roussin to lead a surveying mission to scientifically chart the coasts for West Africa from Mauritania down to Guinea. During his time in the Indian Ocean, Roussin had become a renowned specialist in surveying offshore reefs and atolls, vital skills for this mission. Roussin’s fantastic charts of West Africa were one of the great feats of maritime surveying of the era.
In 1818, the French Naval Ministry decided to sponsor a highly important and sensitive mission Brazil, led by Captain Roussin. The expedition was to have multiple purposes, both overt and clandestine. Officially, its mandate was to scientifically survey the coasts of Brazil to the highest standards, with an emphasis upon covering the areas that had been poorly treated by the British charts, such as approaches to many key ports and mapping the infamous offshore reefs. Essentially, Roussin’s task was to complete the scientific hydrographic coverage of Brazil, while employing the ‘next generation’ of technical surveying methods.
Additionally, Roussin was to forge friendly connections with key officials, leading citizens, and merchants in various ports, such that France would useful connections going forward. He was also to make observations on the region’s geography, commerce and cultures.
More controversially, Roussin had secret instructions to reconnoiter the forts, gun emplacements, troop strength and the number and quality of warships, as well as to monitor the foreign presence (i.e., the British presence), in each of the ports he visited. Some of these tasks would have to have bene done clandestinely, with great care, in what was a febrile environment.
Roussin carefully selected his team, choosing two highly talented young surveyors to be his chief technical lieutenants, both of whom were former proteges of the legendary hydrographer Charles-François Beautemps-Beaupré. Alexandre-Pierre Givry (1785-1867) had served with great distinction under Roussin on the recent West African surveys, while Charles-Louis Gressier (1791-1886) was a perfectionist who would be best known for his exacting surveys of the coasts of France. Givry and Gressier were responsible for the physical execution of the surveys, while Roussin supervised to make sure all work corresponded to his high standards and signature methods.
Roussin’s party would travel aboard the corvette La Bayadère (which had served on the captain’s recent West African surveys) and the brig Le Favori, vessels perfectly outfitted for the task.
Throughout most of the years 1819 and 1820, Roussin and his team tirelessly reconnoitered and surveyed the coasts of Brazil, from Santa Catarina, in south, all the way up to Maranhão, in the north, focusing upon the ports and nautical hazards that were cited as priorities. Careful observations were made of the natural environment, while visits to ports yielded valuable contacts and information. Roussin was a charming man, and in almost all cases he found that the locals, far from being suspicious, were welcoming of his presence, and saw his surveying of their coasts to be a public service for the common good.
Upon Roussin’s return to France, his mission was declared a great success. His manuscript charts were universally admired, and he gained precious intelligence that was vitally useful in allowing France to enter the Brazilian market with gusto. In recognition of his service, Roussin was made a baron and was appointed to the Council of the Admiralty. The Portuguese crown, in honour of his surveys, awarded Roussin the high award of the Commander of the Order of the Cross.
The Atlas in Focus
The French Navy saw the publication of Roussin’s charts as an urgent imperative. Many of the eventual 15 large charts were initially issued separately, and serially, from 1822 onwards.
All the charts are crisply engraved in a spartan, empiricist style, to convey information in a clear and precise fashion, while only the details known by scientific survey are depicted (there was no room for conjecture). The coastlines are exactingly delineated, and the cities, forts, ports, topographic features, inlets, and rivers are shown and labelled. Many of the charts show the tracks of Roussin’s vessels, while the seas are marked by copious bathymetric soundings and hazards.
In 1826, the Dépôt général de la Marine, decided to publish all Roussin’s Brazil charts and the full text of his nautical directions as the first scientific large format sea atlas of Brazil. It would become the ultimate guide for sailors travelling to Brazil and was seen as the gold standard for the hydrography of the country for many years.
Importantly, Roussin’s work focused upon the bulk of Brazil’s coastlines, extending from the Ilha de Santa Catarina, in the south, up to Maranhão, in the north. The only areas omitted were the Rio Grande do Sul (then seen as of being little economic interest) and the Amazon Estuary (too technically challenging for time allotted for the mission). Additionally, the atlas covers the approaches to Cayenne, French Guiana, a convenient base for French involvement in Brazil.
The atlas consists of two parts. The first, the text, features the Introduction (1-5); a list of members of the mission (p. 6); nautical directions for cruising the coasts, approaching key ports an avoiding the great offshore reefs of Brazil, in 12 chapters (pp. 7-35); while concluding with a set of four nautical tables (pp. 36-40). Notably, the exhaustively detailed nautical directions far surpass all its predecessors in its accuracy and detail.
The second section features 16 charts, engraved upon 15 plates (14 of which are double-page). Seven of the charts (I, II, V, VIII, Xa., XI, XII) are overview maps, with Chart I embracing the entire coast from Santa Catarina to Maranhão, while the other six are sections of the same, executed to a larger scale.
Eight of the charts (III, IV, VI, IX, Xb., XIII, XIV, XV) are large scale, focusing upon specific ports or anchorages, or approaches to the same. These harbours include Santa Catarina, São Sebastão, Victória (today Vitória), Bahia, Recife, and São Luís do Maranhão and Cayenne.
Chart VII is the mission’s masterly survey of the Arquipélago de Abrolhos, a series of five small islands and reefs located well off the coats, south of Bahia, that were long one of most lethal hazards in the South Atlantic. This is the first survey of the Abrolhos and is arguably the most technically impressive chart in the altas. Likewise, Chart XIII, which shows the approaches to Maranhão, features a detailed survey of the dangerous, far-offshore Manuel Luís Reef.
LIST OF CHARTS (16 in Total, on *15 plates):
*All plates are double page save for Plate VI.
- Carte réduite de la Côte du Brésil: Comprise entre l’Ile Sa. Catharina et Maranham.
- II. Carte réduite de la Côte du Brésil comprise entre l’Ile Santa Catharina et le Cap Frio levée en 1819.
III. Plan du mouillage situé au nord-ouest de l’Ile Santa Catharina à la Côte du Brésil levé en 1819.
- Carte particulière des environs de l’Ile Sn. Sebastiaõ à la Côte du Brésil levée en 1819.
- Carte réduite de la Côte du Brésil comprise entre le Cap Frio et Porto Seguro levée en 1819.
- Plan de la Baie de Espirito Santo située à la Côte du Brésil, levé en 1819. (single page).
VII. Carte réduite des Ilots et du Canal des Abrolhos situés à la Côte du Brésil, levée en 1819.
VIII. Carte réduite de la Côte du Brésil comprise entre Porto Seguro et Pernambuco levée en 1819.
- Carte réduite de la Baie de Todos os Santos et de ses attérages situés à la Côte du Brésil, levée en 1819.
Xa. Carte réduite de la Rade de Pernambuco et de ses attérages situés à la Côte du Brésil, levée en 1819. (printed on same plate as Xb).
Xb. Plan de la Rade de Pernambuco levé en 1819. (printed on same plate as Xa).
- Carte réduite de la Côte du Brésil comprise entre Pernambuco et Ciará, levée en 1819.
XII. Carte réduite de la Côte du Brésil comprise entre Ciará et Maranham, levée en 1819 et 1820.
XIII. Carte réduite des attérages du Port de Maranham situés à la Côte du Brésil, levée en 1820.
XIV. Plan de la Rade et du Port de Maranham situés à la Côte Septentrionale du Brésil, levée en 1820.
- Plan de l’embouchure de la Rivière de Cayenne et des mouillages extérieurs levé en Mars 1820.
A Note on Rarity
The atlas is rare; it was a very expensive work, so was not mass produced, while the survival rate of large format sea atlases is very low. While we can trace somewhere in the vicinity of dozen complete examples in institutional collections, we cannot trace any sales records since two different examples appeared at auction in 2003 (Christie’s and Reiss). The present example of the atlas is, of course, unique owing to its royal provenance and exquisite binding.
A Royal Provenance: The Library of the Crown Prince of France
The present example of the atlas has a stellar provenance, coming from the library of Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans (1810 – 1842), who from 1830 was the Crown Prince of France, the heir apparent to King Louis Philippe I. The atlas is lavishly bound in full red morocco, with gilt tooling and nautical designs, and featured the prince’s signature ‘FO’ monogram.
Notably, in lieu of the 2 printed leaves normally supplied for the title page for the second (charts) part of the work, and the table for contents for the charts, here these they are provided in exquisitely drafted manuscript, bearing the same content as the normal printed leaves. This is likely due the fact that the present example of the atlas was a ‘advance presentation copy’, perhaps issued before these relevant leaves were printed. Our experience is that publishers of such atlases, after printed the text and assembling the charts first, while see these leaves as ‘add-ons’, which were often the last leaves to be printed, often after the proofs and advance copies of the atlas were issued.
The prince’s library was sold off in pieces during the 1850s, as was that of his father, with isolated volumes today found in many fine libraries throughout Europe and North America.
Ferdinand Philippe was charismatic and highly intelligent, having studied at the École polytechnique. He was a major patron of artists and a sincere bibliophile. Tragically, he died after a freak accident, falling off his carriage, while only aged 31. Many believe that had he lived, the French monarchy would have survived much longer than it did, as he was extremely popular with the common people, unlike his father, who was deposed in 1848.
In 1822, not long after Roussin’s mission, Brazil, declared its independence from Portugal, making Dom. Pedro the Emperor of Brazil. Brazil pursued an open economic policy and welcomed trade and investment from many countries, of which France was a major player. Aided by Roussin’s charts, innumerable French vessels visited Brazil’s ports, trading manufactured good for commodities that fetched great profits at home. Brazil and France also developed strong cultural ties that have endured to the present day.
In 1825, following the Brazilian War of Independence (1822-5), France was the first European power to recognize Brazil’s sovereignty.
France also began to meddle heavily in regional politics. Notably, in 1828, then Admiral Baron Roussin was sent to Brazil, to pursue ‘gunboat diplomacy’, if necessary, to gain compensation from Brazil for having seized French ships in Uruguay during the Cisplatine War. Roussin brazenly sailed into Rio de Janeiro harbour, ignoring the city’s artillery, and gained an audience with Emperor Pedro I, whereupon the dispute was resolved amicably. Roussin would continue to be involved in notable exploits and would cap his career by serving two stints as the French Navy Minister (in 1840 and 1843).
Roussin’s charts served as the authoritative maps of record for the places depicted for many years, being copied by numerous chartmakers.
Importantly, the present atlas, which was issued on only a single edition, must not be confused with the publication of the text of Rossin’s navigational directions without maps, in octavo format, with editions issued in 1827 and 1845, or the translations into other languages that followed.
References: Bibliothèque nationale de France: V-884; David Rumsey Map Collection (Stanford University): 14364.000; Newberry Library: Ayer 135 .R86 1826; OCLC: 458774608, 831211671.