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BRISBANE, Australia. Australia, East Coast: Queensland: Brisbane River surveyed by Staff Comr. Bedwell & Navg. Lieut. Connor. R.N. 1873 With corrections to 1899.


The first advanced scientific survey of Brisbane’s Harbour, the British Admiralty’s rare large-scale sea chart, based on the work of Commander Edward Parker Bedwell and Lt. Edward Connor.

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This important landmark of the coastal surveying of Australia depicts the first advanced scientific survey of the estuary of the Brisbane River, featuring the capital of Queensland and its route of access to Moreton Bay.  It is based on surveys conducted in 1873 by Commander Edward Parker Bedwell and Lieutenant Edward Connor, as part of an extraordinary effort jointly sponsored by the British Admiralty and the Queensland government.  The chart was first issued in 1875, with the present example being of the third edition, printed in 1899, featuring new information gained over the preceding generation, as the chart is labeled in the lower margin “Large Corrections” up to “Sep. 1899”.  The chart is today very rare, the present example is the only one we have been able to locate as having appeared on the market in the last 25 years.



The sea chart is divided into two sections, the upper, larger section features the mouth of the Brisbane River and the adjacent waters of Moreton Bay.  The town of Lytton appears in the lower part of the section, and the waters feature copious hydrographic information, including bathymetric soundings, compass variations, navigational sightlines, remarks on hazards, with lighthouses and buoys heightened by red and yellow accents.  The lower third of the sheet features the river from Gibson Island over to include downtown Brisbane as far west as Albert Park.



Significantly, the map includes a fairly detailed early street plan of the city with all major buildings outlined and labeled, such as: ‘House of Parliament’, ‘Government House’, ‘Public Offices’, ‘Town Hall’, ‘Theatre Royal’, ‘Opera House’, ‘St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church’, ‘Synagogue’, ‘Masonic Hall’, the ‘Observatory’, various banks, and many other curious sites.



Queensland, with much of its coastline guarded by the Great Barrier Reef, and many of its best areas for settlement, such as Brisbane, located deep along inshore waters, was always considered to be an especially challenging and dangerous region for hydrographic surveying.  All of the great early surveyors, James Cook, Matthew Flinders, and Phillip Parker King had either sailed by or into Moreton Bay, but none had surveyed the estuary of the Brisbane River.



The first survey of the river was carried out by Lieutenant John Oxley in 1823-4, aboard the HM Cutter Mermaid.  This was done in preparation for the foundation of a penal colony in 1825, at North Quay, in what is now the city of Brisbane.  This was followed, in 1839, by a survey of Moreton Bay and the approaches to the Brisbane River conducted by Commander John Clements Wickham, aboard the HMS Beagle, famously the ship that previously carried Charles Darwin on his legendary voyages of natural discovery.  Wickham’s survey resulted in the publication of the Plan of the North Entrance into Moreton Bay (1846), which featured the Brisbane River Estuary.



Brisbane attained a high level of importance in 1859, when it was selected to become the capital of the newly established state of Queensland.  However, the state’s leaders had a major challenge on their hands, as Queensland’s immense, intricate and unusually dangerous coastlines were not particularly well charted, compared to most other regions of the Australian littoral.  As the road system was embryonic, and would remain so for quite some time, by far the most important means of transport was by water.  The lack of accurate charts threatened to hinder Queensland’s development, unless concerted action was taken.



By 1860, even the maritime approaches to the state capital were not adequately mapped.  Oxley’s survey of the Brisbane River was not done to sufficiently high scientific standards, and the Wickham survey’s coverage of the Brisbane River was of comparatively small scale and lacked critical detail.  Moreover, the changing positions of the shoals in the Brisbane River and the adjacent parts of Moreton Bay also rendered Wickham and Oxley’s charts somewhat outdated.



Normally the responsibility for surveying Australia’s coastlines rested exclusively on the British Admiralty.  The problem, in this case, was that properly and thoroughly charting Queensland’s coasts promised to be a remarkably expensive and time consuming process, an endeavor that was not sufficiently high on the Admiralty’s list of priorities.  



In 1860, the state government proposed a progressive solution to the problem. It was estimated that supporting a proper hydrographic program for Queensland would cost £3,000 per annum.  If the Admiralty would supply staff, instruments and provide for the publication of charts to the amount of £1,500 per annum, then the Queensland authorities agreed provide the surveyors with the use of vessels and lodging to a matching amount.



In 1861, the Admiralty agreed to Queensland’s proposal and Master James Jeffery was appointed as Queensland’s first Admiralty Surveyor.  Provisionally, a local vessel was hired to chart various points on the coast, such as the Great Sandy Strait, Hervey Bay, and the mouth of the Mary River.  In 1863, the Queensland government had a dedicated surveying vessel, the HMS Pearl, specially constructed.  From 1864 to 1866, Jeffery surveyed parts of Moreton Bay and Keppel Bay.



In 1866, Jeffery was replaced as Queensland’s Admiralty Surveyor by Master (Staff-Commander from 1870) Edward Parker Bedwell (1834-1919).  Bedwell joined the Royal Navy in 1848 and served under in the Crimean War.  In 1854, he had the privilege of personally delivered the news of the key British victory at the Battle of Alma to the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Command in Malta.  In 1857, he became a navy surveyor and was sent to chart parts of the rugged coastlines of British Columbia, where he learned skills that would prove invaluable in Australia.



Bedwell continued Jeffery’s survey of Moreton Bay, from 1866 to 1868, before moving on to chart other areas of Queensland’s coasts, such as the Great Barrier Reef.  In 1873, he was joined by Lieutenant Edward Connor (1846-1903), who had previously worked on surveys in the Mediterranean, the English Channel, and most notably in the Straits of Magellan.



In 1873, Bedwell and Connor conducted what was the first advanced scientific survey of the Brisbane River estuary, represented on the present chart.  They employed the HMS Pearl, and the new surveying vessel, launched in 1872, the HMS Sabina.  Given that the survey would aid access to the busting port of Brisbane, Queensland’s gateway to the world, this survey was by far the most important aspect of the Queensland-Admiralty’s joint charting programme.



By the late 1870s, much of Queensland’s coastlines had been charted to the satisfaction of the government, with the resulting charts playing a vital role in assisting the development of the state.



At the end of 1879, the Queensland government decided to conclude its joint venture with the Admiralty, as it was considered that most of the mission had already been accomplished, and the annual budget for the programme had swelled to almost £8,000, of which the admiralty only covered £2500.  Going forward, such an annual liability was considered to be an untenable burden for the state treasury.  From that point onwards, Queensland and the Admiralty cooperated on an incidental basis.  Nevertheless, what had been accomplished in 18 years, in terms of surveying hundreds of miles of heavily indented and reef strewn coastline to such high scientific standards, was truly impressive.



The present chart is very rare.  Like most large separately issued working sea charts, the vast majority of them perished after years of continuous use aboard ship.  The present example survives in remarkably fine condition.  We are aware of three editions of the chart: the 1st edition dated 1875 (known in 3 institutional examples), the 2nd edition dated 1882 (known in 1 institutional example), and the 3rd edition (the present chart) dated 1899, which is known in only a single institutional example (at the British Library), with no records in dealers’ catalogues or at auction during the last 25 years.



References: OCLC: 556715226; Cf. B. Kitson & J. McKay, Surveying Queensland 1839-1945: A Pictorial History (Brisbane: Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Water and the Queensland Museum, 2006), pp. 67-72.

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