This fine sea chart depicts the neighbouring bays of St. Augustin’s (Anantson̈o) and Tullea (Toliara), which were important re-victualing places for ships sailing along the west coast of Madagascar. The chart is highly detailed, featuring copious nautical information, including bathymetric soundings, the locations of ideal anchorages, navigator’s sight lines, and the marking of hazards. There are also useful notes, such as the location of the ‘Wooding and Watering Place’ at St. Augustin’s Bay. The composition is completed by five elegant mariners’ coastal profile views, in the upper right.
In particular, St. Augustin’s Bay was perhaps the finest natural anchorage along the Madagascar side of the Mozambique Channel. Since the passage was traversed by Europeans for the first time by Vasco da Gama, in 1498, during the first European sea voyage to India around Africa, it has been one of the most important shipping lanes in the world. While sheltered from the open Indian Ocean, it was a very dangerous passage, as it featured difficult winds and currents, along with several especially tricky nautical hazards. Beyond that, it also left ships vulnerable to attacks by pirates or vessels of enemy nations; such that a lack of knowledge of the navigation ensured that one would become easy prey.
Tullea (Toliara), while not quite as accessible as its neighbouring harbour, was well-sheltered, abounded in natural produce and was favoured by many mariners. Today it is home to Toliara, a vibrant port city of 160,000 that is the capital of the Atsimo-Andrefana Region.
The present chart was issued during the 1790s, when Britain was engaged in an epic struggle against France for dominance over the Indian Ocean. Britain conquered the Seychelles from France in 1794, and, in 1810, captured both Mauritius and Réunion (although the latter of which would be retuned to France in 1814). At the same time, Britain worked to consolidate her dominance over the Indian Subcontinent, while expanding her presence in Southeast Asia from its bases at Georgetown (Penang, Malaysia) and Bencoolen (Bengkulu, Sumatra). Thus, the present chart, which provides vital information on such key waypoints along a major sailing route into the Indian Ocean, such as St. Augustin’s and Tullea Bays, would have been especially invaluable.
Importantly, the present chart would still have been the authoritative chart of record of the bays during the period from 1816 to 1828, when Britain made an (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to gain political suzerainty over Madagascar by backing King Radama I in his bid to unite the entire island under his rule (which was largely successful).
The present edition of the chart was issued by the leading chart-making firm of Robert Laurie & James Whittle, as part of their The East-India Pilot, or Oriental Navigator (London, 1797), the most influential atlas of African and Asian navigation of its generation. It is the second edition of the chart, the first having been issued by their predecessors in the business, Sayer & Bennett, in 1778.
Sayer & Bennett, in turn, likely derived the present chart from a French manuscript chart, created by the circle of Jean-Baptiste-Nicolas-Denis d’Après de Mannevillette, “Bayes de St. Augustin et de Tullea à la coste occidentale de Madagascar levées en 1755 et 1768” (circa 1770), that is today held in the collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF: FRBNF44398757). This chart’s rendering of St., Augustin’s Bay is taken from William Nichelson’s A Chart of St. Augustin’s Bay, on the Island Madagascar As Surveyed by Wm. Nichelson, (Master of His Majesty’s Ship Elizabeth) in the Year 1758 (London, 1767), which was published by William Herbert. Captain William Nicholson was a Royal Navy captain who made many fine charts of harbours in Madagascar, India and the Philippines while commander of the HMS Elizabeth between 1758 and 1764. The rendering of Tullea Bay is from an 1768 French survey.
References: Afriterra Collection, no. 1551; OCLC: 861361983.