Sea chart showing Java in the middle, Bali on the right-hand side, Borneo above and Sumatra left. From ‘Neptune orientale’.
Jean-Baptiste D’Après de Mannevillette (1707 – 1780) was one of the most important hydrographers of the Enlightenment Era. He hailed from a minor, but well-connected, noble family and as a teenager apprenticed under the French Royal cartographer Guillaume De L’Isle. In 1728, he joined the Compagnie des Indes and travelled to China. During the voyage, he conducted astronomical observations that were radically better than those of his predecessors, and he corrected the geodetic coordinates of numerous places.
D’Après de Mannevillette was horrified by the severe inaccuracies that appeared upon many of the key charts that the French government and trading companies relied upon. Upon his return to France, he embarked upon a mega-project to completely redraw all of the key French charts for the Indian Ocean and Asian navigation, including the route to China, the Red Sea, the coasts of India, Malaya, the northern parts of Indonesia, Indochina and China. He painstaking poured through the best sources, both French and foreign, and did an admirable job sorting the wheat from the chaff.
D’ Après de Mannevillette published his charts within a sea atlas entitled Le Neptune Oriental (Paris, 1745), which consisted 22 charts. The publication received rave reviews, as the excellent charts were highly valued for making practical navigation much easier and, in some cases, were even credited with saving lives. This led to his appointment to lead the new hydrographic office of the Compagnie des Indes called the Dépôt des Cartes et Plans de la Navigation des Indes.
D’ Après de Mannevillette then embarked on a three decade project to correct and greatly expand his atlas. The new editions of the Le Neptune Oriental, including the present chart, was issued in 1775. It included 67 charts were exquisitely engraved by the master Guillaume De la Haye. D’ Après de Mannevillette’s charts were imbued with great authority and many were copied in other countries, with some being considered the charts of recorded as late as the 1840s.