Copper engraving on thick paper, with original extension fly-leaf of remarks contemporarily pasted to left blank margin (Very Good, chart clean with strong engraving impression; fly-leaf on much thinner paper, a little creased with a discreet closed tear), 42 x 61 cm (16.5 x 24 inches) + extension fly-leaf.
This is the very rare first edition, first state of Captain William Nichelson’s highly attractive chart and mariner’s view of Tioman Island (Malaysia), then an important waypoint for navigation between the Straits of Malacca and the Far East. It is based on an a manuscript chart by Nichelson, the master of the HMS Elizabeth, drafting during his visit to the island in January 1763, and was first published within the third edition of William Herbert’s important atlas of oriental navigation, A New Directory for the East Indies (London, 1767). Nichelson’s work is by far and away the finest 18th Century depiction of the Tioman, and was copied for some decades by various map publishers. The present example of the chart is marquis, as it features the often-lacking fly-leaf of nautical remarks, contemporarily pasted to the chart’s left blank margin.
Tioman Island (Malay: Pulau Tioman) is roughly 20 km (12 miles) long and 12 km (7.5 miles) wide, located in the south China Sea about 32 km (20 miles) off of the east coast of mainland Malaysia. Described by Time magazine as one of the World’s most beautiful islands, Tioman is mountainous and covered in jungle, while its shores are surrounded by coral reefs. Today it is a nature preserve and one of the most popular scuba diving sites in Southeast Asia.
Historically, Tioman was a key waypoint for mariners sailing between the Malacca Straits and the Far East, one of the World’s busiest sailing routes. Of particular relevance, during the period when the present chart was made, the island was one of the most popular stopovers for ships of the British East India Company travelling between India and Canton, China. The island abounded in fresh water and ample food stores and, perhaps most of all, was relatively safe from attacks from the fearsome Malay Pirates that stalked the inshore waters of the mainland.
The present work captures Tioman from the southwest, squarely facing what is today known as Nipah Bay, long one of the island’s favoured re-victualing points. It is both a both a sea chart, mapping the southwestern littoral of Tioman, as well as a mariner’s profile view, depicting the island’s appearance from sea. The chart aspect of the work carefully delineates the shoreline, with copious nautical information in the seas, including bathymetric soundings and the locations of inshore reefs and sandbanks. The shoreline features useful notes, such as the locations of watering places and a sandy beach, ideal for small landing vessels. Above, the corresponding mariner’s view shows the dramatic topography of the island, rising up to the summit of Gunung Kajang, a 1,038 metre-high mountain.
Pasted to the chart’s left-hand blank margin is a fly-leaf extension sheet supplying a wealth of information on the chart. The fly-leaf, printed on thin, perishable paper, is an especially rare survivor, seldom found on existing examples of the chart. Included upon the fly-leaf are three sections, the first of which, the ‘References’, explains the symbols employed on the chart, as well as further details with respect to the nature of the rivers, vegetation, watering places, nautical hazards and anchorages. Below, the ‘Remarks’ discuss Tioman’s geodetic coordinates, and the tides of the surrounding seas. Finally, the ‘Directions’ detail the best approach to the island’s southwest coast, noting that this part of island is an especially fine haven during the period of the Northeastern seasonal monsoons.
The present first printing of Nichelson’s chart-view of Tioman, published by William Herbert, was greatly esteemed by contemporary mariners and was widely copied. Most notably, a derivative of Nichelson’s chart, entitled A Plan of the Bay on the South West Side of Pulo Timon was published within the highly popular sea atlas, The East-India Pilot, or Oriental Navigator, first issued in 1778 by Sayer & Bennett, and reissued by Laurie & Whittle in 1797. However, while The East-India Pilot editions preserved the content and style of Nichelson’s original work, the perspective was slanted rightwards, creating a noticeably different visual affect.
For comparison, please follow this link to the Laurie & Whittle edition of A Plan of the Bay on the South West Side of Pulo Timon, held by the Biblioteca Nacional de España:
William Nichelson: Important Maritime Surveyor of Asian and African Harbours
The present chart is based on a manuscript drafted by the Royal Navy officer William Nichelson (fl. 1758 – 1797), an experienced mariner and cartographer who, beginning in 1764, collaborated closely with William Herbert. From 1758 to 1764, Nichelson, while Master of the HMS Elizabeth, toured the coasts of southern Africa, India and Southeast Asia, where he made several charts that revealed his superb talent as a maritime cartographer. These include the finest 18th Century charts of Bombay, India and Manila, Philippines; as well as works that depict harbours in South Africa, Madagascar, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Malaya. Most of Nichelson’s charts were first printed by Herbert within the 1767 edition of A New Directory for the East Indies.
Additionally, Nichelson wrote an account of his navigation in Africa and Asia, meant to accompany Herbert’s A New Directory, entitled Sundry remarks and observations made in a voyage to the East Indies on board H.M.S. the Elizabeth: from the beginning of the year 1758, to the latter end of 1764: with the necessary directions for sailing to and from India … being a proper supplement for the New Directory for the East Indies (London: William Herbert, 1765).
In 1770, Nichelson became the Master Attendant of the Royal Navy’s Portsmouth Ship Yard. This senior administrative role ensured that Nichelson was the overseer of all technical facilities at one of the world’s largest naval bases. He later published a general work on sailing, A Treatise on Practical Navigation and Seamanship (London, 1792) and played a role in suppressing the Portsmouth Naval Mutiny of 1797.
The present first issue of the Tioman chart was first published within the 1767 (third) edition of Herbert’s A New Directory for the East Indies, and subsequently appeared within the 1776, 1780 and 1787 editions of the atlas.
Historical Context: Britain’s Rise in Southeast Asia & the Far East
The present chart is a manifestation of the rise of British power in Southeast Asia and the Far East during the second-half of the 18th Century, and its increasing presence in the South China Sea, in particular.
For centuries, the South China Sea lay along Asia’s busiest shipping lanes, being the main gateway from the West to the Far East. While Britain came to dominate these waters during the 19th Century, until the 1750s, Britannia was merely an ‘occasional visitor’ to the region. During the 16th and early 17th Centuries, the straits were dominated by Portugal. However, upon the Dutch East India Company’s conquest of the Portuguese base of Malacca, in 1641, the Dutch and their regional allies dominated Southeast Asian waters, even as they were still traversed by vessels of many nations.
The English (later British) East India Company (founded 1600), which had a monopoly on all British trade with Asia beyond the Levant, briefly contested Dutch hegemony in the Spice Islands during the 1610s and 1620s, but for generations thereafter, it was prevented from maintaining any permanent bases in Southeast Asia and the Far East. British trading voyages through the South China Sea were relatively few and far between and, thus, there were scarcely any serious British efforts to chart the straits and related waters. Moreover, the EIC did not have any organised system for preserving and dissemination of the hydrographical intelligence that their mariners may have acquired, such that much valuable charting was lost to enduring practical use.
The period of the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) marked a turning point for British fortunes in Asia. Britain supplanted France as the dominant maritime power in the Indian Ocean, leaving her free to expand her influence eastwards. The Netherlands was by this time a declining power, and was in no position to directly confront the Royal Navy. The British were now free to navigate (and chart) the Straits of Malacca and South China Sea with little fear of other Western powers (although Asian pirates were an enduring peril).
Moreover, the EIC’s vessels came to have new cause to traverse the South China with much greater frequency. In 1757, after decades of foreign pressure, China finally agreed to implement what became called the ‘Canton System’, by which European powers could maintain permanent factories near the port of Canton, from which they could access the massive Chinese market via the Cohong (a special Chinese monopoly of merchants). The EIC quickly became by far and away the greatest beneficiary of this arrangement and shipping between India and Canton, often stopping over at Tioman, sky-rocketed. Additionally, from 1762 to 1764, the British occupied Manila, Philippines (which they had seized from Spain), which further increased British shipping through the South China Sea.
Nichelson’s production was the best chart of Tioman available to the EIC and the Royal Navy during the critical period between 1767 and the 1790s, which saw the ascendency of British trade and power in the Southeast Asia and the Far East. Even though the American Revolutionary War (1775-83) had been a disaster for Britain in North America, during the same period, she actually gained the upper hand over her French and Dutch antagonists in Asia. The EIC’s founding of George Town (Penang) in 1786, gave Britain here fist enduring permanent base of significance in Southeast Asia. During the era of the Napoleonic Wars (1796-1815), Britain’s Royal Navy supplanted Dutch maritime power in the East Indies and, in particular, gained control over the much the navigation of the South China Sea. This was consolidated during the British occupation of Malacca between 1811 and 1815.
Following the war, the British founded Singapore in 1819, which eventually became Southeast Asia’s busiest commercial port. In 1825, the Netherlands ceded all of her territories in Malaya to Britain, leaving the EIC with suzerainty over what is today mainland Malaysia and Singapore. From this time onwards, Britain had military control and commercial dominance over the South China Sea.
William Herbert & The New Directory of the East Indies
During most of the first half of the 18th Century, the East India Company (EIC) had no organised system for compiling and disseminating, let alone publishing sea charts and sailing directions. Since the death of John Thornton, their energetic official hydrographer, in 1708, hydrographic intelligence gathering had become chaotic, as good manuscript charts made by captains in Asia were often used only episodically before being lost or consigned to some archive, potentially never to be seen again. Very few decent charts of Asian waters were published in Britain, and EIC captains often had to sail to India and beyond with faulty and, in some cases, dangerously inaccurate maps. By the 1750s, the toll of ships lost due to navigational errors was driving up insurance premiums, let alone the cost in blood and treasure.
In 1754, the EIC supported William Herbert in a grand endeavour to gather the best available hydrographic intelligence towards publishing charts of unprecedented accuracy of Asian and African navigation. This represented a great leap forward in the preservation and dissemination of maritime cartography by the EIC.
William Herbert (1718–95) was an English bookseller who had spent the years 1738 to 1745 in India in the employ of the EIC. While there, he gained an impressive knowledge of the geography and hydrography of the Indian Ocean and South and Southeast Asia. Following his return to London, he established a print and map-selling business at ‘the Globe under the Piazzas, London Bridge’. Herbert was well aware that the established authoritative English sea atlas of the African and Asian navigation, John Thornton’s The English Pilot. The Third Book (London, first issued in 1703, and since in various editions, latterly by the firm of Mount & Page) was, by his time, dangerously out of date. The EIC and the Royal Navy had a desperate need for a more progressive, reliable atlas of these waters.
Herbert resolved to create a new, improved atlas, carefully selecting the best sources from unpublished manuscript charts in British archives, as well as the most progressive foreign printed sources, such charts from the first edition of Jean-Baptiste d’Après de Mannevillette’s Le Neptune Oriental (1745). Herbert issued the first edition of his atlas, A New Directory of the East Indies (London, 1758), which featured 30 charts. A second edition, expanded to include 48 maps, was issued in 1759. However, later that same year, Herbert suffered a setback when his shop burned down, so delaying the issue of the subsequent editions of the atlas.
The involuntary hiatus turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Herbert, freed of the daily grind of managing a publishing shop, was able to dedicate more time to seeking new sources and chart-making. He discovered new caches of charts and worked closely with the rising star of the EIC, Alexander Dalrymple, who would subsequently go to print many great charts of the Asian waters, eventually becoming the official hydrographer to the EIC.
In 1764, Herbert entered into a fruitful collaboration with William Nichelson, a mariner and excellent cartographer who had returned from six years’ service in India and Africa with his own magnificent manuscript charts. In 1767, Herbert published a greatly augmented and improved (third) edition of the New Directory, featuring Nichelson’s work, including the present chart of Tioman Island.
In 1776, a fourth edition of the New Directory was issued, which was expanded to include 136 charts. Herbert retired later that year, and his work was continued by his successors, Henry Gregory I, Henry Gregory II and the latter’s partners, who issued follow up editions of A New Directory in 1780 (as dated, but actually issued in 1781) and 1787.
The New Directory was highly regarded during its time and played an important role in both commercial and military navigation during a critical period of British expansion in Asia. That being said, is seems that the atlas was reserved for the use of professional mariners and pilots, and was never issued in mass production. As the atlases were thus heavily used at sea, very few examples of any of the editions have survived, accounting for the great rarity of charts today. A New Directory heavily influenced the atlas published by Robert Sayer & John Bennett, The East India Pilot, or Oriental Navigator (London, 1777-82), as well those issued by their successors, Robert Laurie & James Whittle.
Importantly, Herbert’s New Directory represented the first step towards the EIC’s formal organization of institutions to collect, manage and disseminate hydrographic intelligence. It laid the foundation for Alexander Dalrymple’s endeavours, which included the publication of over 400 excellent charts of Asian and African waters, and the development of an active and organised EIC Hydrographic Office. In turn, the success of the Company’s hydrographic enterprise was one of the leading factors that convinced Britain’s Admiralty to found their own Hydrographic Office, in 1795, an organization that would revolutionize maritime cartography throughout the world.
A Note on Rarity
The present chart is very rare. We cannot trace any other examples of the present first printing (Herbert edition) of the chart as appearing on the market since 1991.
References: Rodney Shirley, Maps in the Atlases of the British Library, vol. 2, M.HERB-1b, no. 43 (p. 1181); Frédéric Durand & Richard Curtis, Maps of Malaysia and Borneo: Discovery, Statehood and Progress (Singapore, 2014), no. 53, p. 129; OCLC: 796243259; Biblioteca Nacional de España: MR/6/I SERIE 53/285.