Charles-Paul BROSSARD DE CORBIGNY (1822 – 1900).
Paris: Régnier, Graveur & Imprimeur, for the Dépôt des Cartes et Plans de la Marine, 1874.
Bichrome lithograph (black, blue) with full original wash hand colour, dissected into 8 sections and mounted upon original tan linen with pastedown label to verso bearing mss. short title (Very Good, lovely bright original colours, overall clean, just some very minor spots and toning, some wear to linen backing along folds), 95.5 x 130 cm (37.5 x 51 inches).
France had a long history of involvement in Vietnam, in the form of trade, Roman Catholic missionary activity, and of offering military assistance to domestic stakeholders. France was instrumental in supporting the Hué-based Nguyen Dynasty in uniting Vietnam under their rule in 1802, as evidenced by the numerous Vauban-style citadels that dotted the country. Their reward from the Nguyen Regime were preferential trading privileges and the right to expand their missionary activities in the country as they saw fit. However, beginning in the 1830s, the Nguyen court gradually turned against the French presence in their country, imposing restrictions on trade and harassing missionaries. While France protested, the Nguyen seemed undeterred.
Matters came to a head when France launched the Cochinchina Campaign (1858-62), an invasion of Vietnam. While originally intended to be a punitive strike with the objective of getting the Nguyen to back down and return Franco-Vietnamese relations to the pre-1830s status, ‘mission creep’ ensured that it ended up becoming a full-scale war. The French encountered surprisingly strong resistance and had to pour vast resources into the conflict. While France was eventually triumphant, the war costed far more men and hundreds of millions more Francs that anyone expected.
The heavy toll of the war motivated France to demand that Vietnam pay a very high price upon the peace settlement. At the Treaty of Saigon (June 5, 1862), Vietnam was compelled to cede three (of the six) provinces of Cochinchina (the southern third Vietnam). These provinces were Bien Ho, Gai Dinh and Dinh Tuong, located near the mouth of the Mekong River, and which included Saigon. Plus, Vietnam agreed to pay France large financial indemnities over the coming years.
Unexpectedly, France now found itself in control of a sizeable piece of Vietnam, founding the colony of Basse-Cochinchine (Lower Cochinchina), that was to be provisionally governed by the French Navy.
In 1867, Admiral Pierre de la Grandière successfully pressured Vietnam to the three additional provinces of the region, Chau Doc, Ha Tien and Vinh Long, thus giving France control of all Cochinchina.
In 1871, the colony of Cochinchine was formed, with Admiral Marie-Jules Dupré serving as its first governor (in office 1871–1874).
France later used Cochinchina as a base to conquer the remaining two-thirds of Vietnam, being Annam (Central Vietnam) and Tonkin (Northern Vietnam), during the Tonkin Campaign (1883-6). In 1887, Vietnam, along with Cambodia and Laos, was consolidated into the mega-colony of the Union of French Indochina, an entity that existed until Vietnam’s independence.
The Present Map in Focus
The present large-format attractively rendered work represents the apogee of the cartography of Cochinchina (‘Cochinchine française’) from the period after it was consolidated into a French colony in 1871. Commissioned by Governor Admiral Dupré, it was drafted by the navy Lieutenant Charles-Paul Brossard de Corbigny, a highly skilled hydrographer and intrepid explorer who had made his name in Senegal. He distilled the map from Théophile Bigrel’s Carte générale de la Cochinchine française (1873), a colossal and incredibly rare 20-sheet map of the colony, a work which Brossard de Corbigny had a major hand in creating.
In a grand tableau, to an ample scale of 1:125,000, Cochinchine unfolds, divided into its 19 inspectorates, coloured in lovely bright hues, while the lowland topography of the Mekong Delta, with its numerous rivers, channels, canals and marshlands is captured with unprecedented accuracy, predicated upon recent scientific surveys. All cities, towns and villages are depicted, while the colonial capital of Saigon, can be seen centre right, as the border with Cambodia winds in the interior. As explained in the ‘Signes conventionnels et abréviations’, in the lower right, the map shows the locations of French military outposts (squares surmounted by the tricoleur), telegraph stations (‘T’ symbols), Christian missions (crosses), pagodas, which could be used at navigational markers (shown pictographically), markets (rectangles), the upper limits of navigation on rivers (an anchor), while various types of lines show the delineation of highways, courier roads, terrestrial telegraph lines, submarine telegraph lines, plus, various acronyms for topographical features are identified.
The map’s exacting depiction of such a wealth of information makes it an indispensable source for those researching Southern Vietnam at what was a critical juncture.
Charles-Paul Brossard de Corbigny: Explorer and Groundbreaking Mapmaker of France’s Colonial Domains
Charles-Paul Brossard de Corbigny (1822 – 1900), was a French naval officer, explorer and highly talented hydrographer/cartographer. Born in Orléans, he attended the elite École Polytechnique before enrolling in the French Navy. His first postings were in the
West Indies and South Atlantic, before he was called to serve, from 1853 to 1862, as a senior aide to the Governor of Senegal, who for much of this time was the legendary colonizer Louis Faidherbe. In that capacity, Brossard de Corbigny was responsible for several groundbreaking maps (both hydrographic and topographic) of Senegal and Gambia which formed the basis for the modern scientific cartography of the region.
In 1862, Brossard de Corbigny was stationed in the Indian Ocean, where he notably explored Madagascar, visiting Tananarive (Antananarivo), its capital in the deep interior.
In 1863, he was deployed to Cochinchina as a senior aide to Admiral Louis Adolphe Bonard, the chief of French forces in Southeast Asia, whereupon he participated in a critical diplomatic mission to the Vietnamese capital of Hué. Brossard de Corbigny remained in Cochinchina for some years (save for a brief secondment to Brest in 1868), conducting various hydrographic and topographic surveys that contributed to the creation of the present map. In 1875, joined by his brother Lieutenant Jules-Marcel Brossard de Corbigny, likewise a notable hydrographer, he executed an important and sensitive mission to survey the coasts of Annam, in preparation for a possible future French invasion of the region. Along the way, they visited the Vietnamese Emperor in Hué, whereupon, on behalf of Paris, they signed a key diplomatic treaty. The resulting charts proved highly valuable to the French when they invaded Annam in 1883.
Brossard de Corbigny closed out his active career, with the rank of Rear Admiral, serving as the Commander of the Pacific Naval Division from 1880 to 1882. During his semi-retirement in Paris, he was an esteemed ‘elder statesman’ consultant to the Naval Hydrographic Service.
A Note on Rarity
The present map is extremely rare, it seems that only small quantity of examples was produced for high-level official use, while many would have perished due to heavy use. The present example comes down to us in such fine condition, as it was safely housed for generations in the chateau of a French noble family. We can trace only a single institutional example of the map, held by the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
References: Bibliothèque nationale de France: GE SH 19 PF 1 QUATER DIV 21 P 9; OCLC: 1177080915; Henri CORDIER and M.A. ROLAND-CABATON, Bibliotheca indosinica dictionnaire bibliographique des ouvrages relatifs à la péninsule Indochinoise, tom. 3 (Paris, 1912), p. 1599; Félix FOURNIER, Exposition, catalogue général des produits exposés (Paris, 1875), p. 595; Paul GAFFAREL, Les explorations françaises depuis 1870 (Paris, 1882), p. 84; Alfred GRANDIDIER, Rapport sur les cartes et les appareils de géographie et de cosmographie, sur les cartes géologiques, et sur les ouvrages de météorologie et de statistique (Paris, 1882), p. 151.