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LISBON HARBOUR, Portugal: A Topographical Chart of the Entrance to the River Tagus describing the Coast from Cape Roca to Sacarem with the Harbour and Environs of Lisbon. The Nautical Part if from a Survey taken in 1806 by W. Chapman, Master of the Royal



An Excellent sea chart of Lisbon Harbour, made under the direction of the British Admiralty, considered the finest and most accurate nautical map of the Mouth of the Tagus of the first half of the 19th Century.

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This attractive and engaging sea chart features all of Lisbon Harbour and Mouth of the Tagus River, long one of Europe’s greatest natural harbours and commercial ports.  Based on careful triangulated surveys of the shorelines and systematic bathymetric soundings of the adjacent sea floor, the chart presents the most complete and accurate picture of the harbour available during the first half of the 19th Century.  The topography of the coastal areas, with the hills, towns and urban areas, roads and landmarks, such as windmills and lighthouses, are all carefully depicted.  Notable details include the ‘Tower of Belem,’ a masterpiece of Manueline architecture completed in 1519, that guards the harbour, and the cityscape of Lisbon, of which the ‘References’ in the lower right label 54 key sites. 

The seas are replete with nautical information, including the delineation of the ‘North Catchop’ and ‘South Catchop,’ the dangerous shoals that guard the harbour’s mouth, as well as sightlines that, if followed correctly, could guide ships safely through the gauntlet.

The chart is adorned with four fine coastal profile views, in the upper right is the ‘View of Belem and the Castle, on the River Tagus’ and a prospect of the ‘South Channel’; while in the lower left are two views of the ‘Rock of Lisbon,’ taken from different perspectives.

While Lisbon possessed one of the finest and largest natural harbours in the world, its entrance was considered especially treacherous, with strong currents and hidden submarine hazards.  During the period immediately before and during the Peninsular War (1807-14), a part of the Napoleonic Wars, Britain’s Royal Navy used Lisbon as its main base of operations in Iberia.  The Royal Navy officer William Chapman (1749 – 1832) first surveyed Lisbon Harbour in 1806, the year before Napoleon invaded Portugal, Britain’s oldest ally.  The British returned to Lisbon in 1808 and evicted the French forces from Portugal, henceforth Lisbon became an active port for British and other allied vessels.  While some of the existing published charts of Lisbon Harbour were decent, they still featured omissions and errors, which in some circumstances proved problematic.  

It was in this context that Chapman’s chart of Lisbon was first published, under the direction of the Admiralty, by William Faden in 1810.

The chart received rave reviews upon its publication, with one contemporary commentator opining:

“The plan of the soundings of the bar and harbour of Lisbon, by Mr. Chapman, is proof that masters in the navy could render essential service, were they properly encouraged …There are indeed several charts and sailing directions of this dangerous port, already published, but none contain so many and so accurate topographical views of the right bank of the mouth of the Tagus and adjoining coast.” – The Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine Or Monthly Political Literary Censor, vol. 12 (London, 1811), p. 185.

Over the next generation, the chart was progressively improved due to further surveys and observations, leading to the present edition, issued in 1837.  Further editions were issued at least as late as 1866.

The Chapman chart of Lisbon Harbour is rare in any of its editions, and we can find no other examples appearing on the market during the last 20 years.

References: National Maritime Museum (Greenwich): G225:2/6(1); Duarte de Sousa Collection, vol. 2, no. 163.

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