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					Guide reference: Military Records Information 36
Last updated: 4 September 2009
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Admiralty charts (maps)

Admiralty charts (maps)


  1.   What is an Admiralty chart?
  2.   Where to find Admiralty charts
  3.   Admiralty charts in The National Archives
  4.   Finding a particular chart at The National Archives
  5.   Copperplates of Admiralty charts
  6.   Manuscript charts, early printed charts and foreign charts
  7.   Further reading

1. What is an Admiralty chart?
Hydrographic charts are maps designed as aids to navigation at sea. The National Archives holds
many such charts, including hand-drawn (manuscript) charts as well as printed ones, and foreign
charts as well as charts produced in Britain, Section 6 of this research guide describes our holdings
of foreign, manuscript and early printed charts.

Admiralty charts are hydrographic charts produced by the British Admiralty. The Hydrographic Office
was established as a sub-department of the Admiralty in 1795 and issued its first officially published
Admiralty chart in November 1800. Admiralty charts are the most common type of chart among
the records held at The National Archives and our holdings of them cover seas and coastal areas in
all parts of the world.

Most Admiralty charts delineate the coastline and high and low water marks, and record the depth
of water as established from soundings. They record navigational hazards such as reefs and
wrecks, and navigational aids, such as lights, buoys and beacons. Most charts have a compass
indicator, often an elaborate compass rose. Most also have some indication of scale, either a scale
bar or representative fraction, or a border showing degrees of latitude and longitude. Where direct
indication of scale is absent, as on older charts, the scale is usually noted in the appropriate
published Catalogue of Admiralty Charts, Plans, and Sailing Instructions (available on microfiche in
the Map and Large Document Reading Room at The National Archives).

One of the characteristics of an Admiralty chart is that it is continually updated and corrected.
Obsolete charts were regarded as dangerous and were to be destroyed because they presented a
potential navigational hazard. Dates of survey and compilation are minutely recorded, as are those
of the corrections continually made to maintain the accuracy and utility of the chart. These
corrections were often made by amending the existing copper plates on which the chart was
engraved and re-publishing it as a new edition; in other instances the chart was completely re-
drawn. Note, however , that, particularly in the early years of the Hydrographic Office, published
Admiralty charts drew on earlier surveys. In extreme cases this means that some charts may be
based on surveys made more than a century earlier. For example, Admiralty chart 751, the chart
of Maculla Bay which was listed in the first published catalogue of 1825, bears a survey date of

Some Admiralty charts contain little information on areas inland of the foreshore other than that
required to assist in making a landfall. Others include extensive representations of land features,
and may also have coastal elevations and topographic views as insets. Nineteenth-century charts
in particular may include ground plans of sites of archaeological interest, or details of coastal forts
and other defences, as well as pictures of natural features. Some insets contain detailed charts of
harbours. Admiralty charts record names given to coastal features and include many names no
longer in use today. In many instances they also provide the best and most easily accessible maps
of small oceanic islands. Some charts record surveys of navigable rivers.

Initially, Admiralty charts were identified only by means of a title, broadly describing the area
covered. Since 1839, each chart has also been assigned a number, printed at the bottom right
hand corner of each sheet. The number is now considered to be the prime reference indicator for
the chart. Some chart numbers include letter prefixes and suffixes, but note that the prefix AC used
in The National Archives card catalogues represents former National Archives practice and does not
appear on the chart itself. When charts were redrawn, the chart number could fall vacant and
subsequently the same number may have been re-used for a chart of a different title and area. For
example, chart 483 has at different times related to a chart of St Jago, in the Cape Verde islands -
or to Thursday Island, in the Torres Straits off the north coast of Australia; chart number 695 has
similarly been used for the Cook Straits and for Madagascar.

2. Where to find Admiralty charts
The National Archives does not have a discrete collection of Admiralty charts, but numerous
Admiralty charts have been identified in the public records, and many more remain as yet
undiscovered. Record series containing substantial numbers of charts are listed in section 3, below.

The national record set of Admiralty charts is maintained by the Hydrographic Office of the Ministry
of Defence, which remains an authorised place of deposit for its own records. It holds an almost
complete set of printed Admiralty charts, as well as many related records. Advance appointments
are required if you wish to see charts held at the Hydrographic Office.

The largest readily accessible collections of Admiralty Charts are held by the map department of the
British Library and the other legal deposit libraries. If you require a large number of charts, or
specific editions, it is best to use these collections. Charts held by the British Library may be seen
by holders of British Library Map Library readers' tickets.

The Royal Geographical Society also holds a significant, but incomplete, collection of Admiralty
charts and operates a public search room. The National Maritime Museum likewise has a large
collection of Admiralty charts, and some original surveys, but requires arrangements to be made in
advance of a visit.

2.1 Useful Addresses

UK Hydrographic Office

Archive Research Manager
The United Kingdom Hydrographic Office
Admiralty Way
Tel: 01823 337900 ext 3409
Fax: 01823 352561

British Library Map Library

British Library Map Library
96 Euston Road
Tel: 020 7412 7702

Royal Geographical Society

The Map Library
Royal Geographical Society
1 Kensington Gore
Tel: 020 7591 3044

National Maritime Museum

The Caird Library
National Maritime Museum
Park Row
SE10 9NF
Tel: 020 8858 4422

3. Admiralty charts in The National Archives
The Admiralty charts in The National Archives are those collected or used by government
departments and the armed services in the normal course of administrative or operational
functions. They may include editions, states and printed amendments not represented elsewhere,
although most are of standard issue. Many charts bear manuscript additions and amendments
relating to their use. Individual charts may also accompany correspondence indicating errors and
desirable amendments. As well as complete Admiralty charts, the public records include portions
cut from whole charts. Military and civilian personnel sometimes traced or copied charts in the
course of their duties and examples of these also survive among the records. The following series
are known to contain significant numbers of Admiralty charts:

 Catalogue                                 Description
ADM 1      Admiralty and Secretariat Papers 1660-1976
ADM 7      Admiralty and Secretariat Miscellanea 1563-1953. The case files
           relating to the search for Sir John Franklin include numerous successive
           editions of early charts of Arctic America.
ADM 116    Admiralty and Secretariat Cases: 1852-1960
ADM 137    War of 1914-1918: Admiralty Historical Section: Packs and
           Miscellaneous Records 1860-1925
ADM 199    Admiralty: War History Cases and Papers: 1939-1956
ADM 231    Admiralty: Naval Intelligence Reports 1883-1965. Charts illustrating
           reports on foreign naval strength, coastal defences, etc.
CAB 11     Committee of Imperial Defence: Colonial/Overseas Defence
           Committee: Defence Schemes 1863-1939. Charts illustrating
           memoranda and instructions to Colonial Governors and officers
           commanding, concerning schemes for local defence, port regulations,
CO 700     Colonial Office: Maps and Plans: Series I 1595-1927
CO 1047    Colonial Office: Maps and Plans: Series II 1779-1947
CO 1054    Colonial Office: Maps and Plans: Post -1940 Collection 1897-1984.
           Includes items which accrued in the Foreign Office after 1940.
FO 925     Foreign Office: Maps and Plans: 1700-1940
WO 32      War Office: Registered Files: General Series: 1845-1985
WO 78      War Office: Maps and Plans: 1627-1953. Include numerous Admiralty
           charts annotated to show the location and effectiveness of coastal
WO 192         Fort Record Books: 1892-1957. Many of the books that relate to coastal
               forts contain Admiralty Charts.

In addition many Admiralty station records, ships' logs, Colonial Office and Foreign Office original
correspondence series, and Embassy and Consular archives are known to contain Admiralty charts.

The surviving original artwork for the views and sketches of coasts and rivers that appear on many
Admiralty charts is held as a discrete collection in series ADM 344. These records must be seen
under supervision in the invigilation room.

4. Finding a particular chart at The National Archives
For general advice on searching for charts and other cartographic records, see Maps, plans and
architectural drawings. What follows are specific suggestions for locating Admiralty charts within
the records.

Increasing numbers of Admiralty charts are described in detail in Discovery, our catalogue and can
be searched by keywords. Others charts are currently only accessible via other forms of
description. Some are described fully in topographically-arranged printed catalogues or
supplementary card catalogues. Others are listed more briefly in the Summary Calendar of
uncatalogued maps and indexed in its subject indexes under the heading 'Charts: Admiralty'. There
are also two specialised means of reference: a card index arranged in chart number order and
microfiche copies of various editions of the published Catalogue of Admiralty Charts, Plans, and
Sailing Instructions issued by the Hydrographic Department periodically from 1825, and annually
from 1886 (hereafter called the Admiralty Chart Catalogue). All of these additional finding aids are
available in the Map and Large Document Reading Room.

None of these finding aids are fully comprehensive. Many charts have never been described
individually and it is likely that considerable numbers of them remain to be discovered within ships'
logs, Admiralty station records, and a wide range of other public and private documents now held
by The National Archives.

4.1 Starting with a known chart number

Where individual charts are fully described on the our catalogue, the chart number is noted in the
'Map designation' field. This can be searched by using the 'Advanced search'. Search for Admiralty
chart [number]. Where a catalogue entry describes a copy or tracing of a chart, or several
charts, the chart number will instead appear in the 'description' field.

The numerical card index to British Admiralty charts includes many charts not yet described on our
catalogue. It provides a brief indication of the geographical area covered by each chart and The
National Archives document reference used to order it. The numerical card index does not give
dates of survey, publication or revision and does not include partial charts, tracings or copies.
Because of the Admiralty's habit of re-using numbers, remember to check that the area indicated
on the card index corresponds to the area you require. The card index is also cross-referenced to
paragraph numbers in the published catalogues Maps and Plans in the Public Record Office , volume
2: America and West Indies [AM] and volume 3: Africa [AF or AFR], which provide fuller
descriptions of the charts. A similar index to charts described in the published catalogue Maps and
Plans in the Public Record Office , volume 4: Europe and Turkey is included within the volume.

The subject index volumes of the Summary Calendar of Maps and Plans contain lists of charts
arranged in chart number order under the heading 'Charts: Admiralty'. These include some charts
not yet listed in the published catalogues, card index or our catalogue.

4.2 Starting with a place name or geographical area

Those Admiralty charts described on our catalogue can also be found by searching directly for
place names, for example Australia AND chart AND Admiralty. This will also pick up some
tracings, portions of charts and records relating to charts, where these have been catalogued in
detail. Chart titles are more likely to contain relatively broad place designations (such as 'English
Channel'), than the names of individual towns or other features. You can also restrict the search by
date for greater precision.

The printed catalogues and supplementary catalogues contain descriptions of charts alongside
those of other kinds of maps and are arranged topographically, making searches by geographical
area relatively straightforward.

4.3 Using the Admiralty Chart Catalogue

The microfiche copies of the Admiralty Chart Catalogue provide a comprehensive listing of the
charts that have been published by the Hydrographic Office. You can use a combination of the
geographically-arranged area listings, place name indexes, and index maps to find the chart that
you require. The appearance of a particular chart in the Admiralty Chart Catalogues does not
necessarily mean that The National Archives has a copy, but you can use the chart numbers and
descriptions supplied to search our own catalogues more effectively. Knowing a chart's number and
title also makes it easier to find in another institution's collections if we do not hold a copy.

The format of individual Admiralty Chart Catalogues has varied over time, but all are sub-divided
into broad geographical areas. From 1832, these areas are also identified in a list of contents at
the beginning of each volume, and thus appear within the first few frames of each set of
microfiche. Over time, the broad areas have been sub-divided further. The charts are listed within
each area in a sequence that may reflect geographical logic or chart number, but is not
alphabetical. Note that in some cases the Admiralty Chart Catalogue shows a shelf number (where
the charts were stored in the Hydrographic Office) as well as the chart number: take care not to
confuse the two numbers.

Before 1839, Admiralty charts were not numbered. If you have found your chart title in an earlier
Admiralty Chart Catalogue, you will need to use the geographical headings and descriptions in the
1839 Catalogue as a guide to repeat your search and so determine the chart number. Some
charts published by the Hydrographic Office between 1800 and 1838 were completely withdrawn
before the issue of the 1839 Catalogue and were never assigned chart numbers. These can only be
searched for in The National Archives' own catalogues by title or place name.

Most volumes of the Admiralty Chart Catalogue also contain an index of place names which are
cited within the chart title but are not the principal 'filing point'. The index gives the page numbers
within the geographical area listings on which the place name appears. The Catalogues also include
indexes or cross-references arranged by chart number.

From 1911 onwards, the Admiralty Chart Catalogues also contain index maps (sometimes known
as graphic indexes). Initially, the primary means of reference used to determine each particular
chart number remained the citation of the chart title within the geographical area listings, but from
about 1950 the Catalogues rely far more heavily on these index maps for this purpose. The area
shown on each chart is indicated by straight lines drawn on a base map and the chart number
appears at one corner of the area so delimited. The accompanying text gives the precise title of the
chart, and the scale to which the chart is drawn as well as publication and edition dates. Graphic
indexes dating from after the Second World War are particularly useful for checking whether a place
or area not explicitly mentioned in a chart title is covered by a particular numbered chart.

4.4 Other methods of searching

Where charts are described in detail on our catalogue, you can also search by scale and for the
names of individual surveyors. Speculative searches of records, both within the series noted in
section 3 of this research guide and elsewhere, may reveal previously unrecorded charts, as well as
records relating to their creation or use.

5. Copperplates of Admiralty charts
The National Archives has one example of a copperplate of a British Admiralty Chart: number 2657
'Japan. South Coast of Honshu. Gulf of Tokyo or Yedo' (1881, corrected to 1948) in MPZ 1/22
(formerly PRO 10/1384).
The microfiche set of Admiralty Chart Catalogues includes a separate catalogue of copper plates.
These plates were formerly held by the Hydrographic Office and six of them can still be seen there.
The other plates have been deposited in appropriate national institutions, including the National
Maritime Museum and the British Library. The largest portion of the plates (including the surviving
plates by Dalrymple and Horsburgh) were presented to the Admiralty Library, which also keeps a
list of all the plates and their custodians.

Admiralty Library

Admiralty Library
Naval Historical Branch
Ministry of Defence
24 Store, PP 20, Main Road
HM Naval Base
Tel: 02392 725297
Fax: 02392 724003

6. Manuscript charts, early printed charts and foreign charts
Early hydrographic charts included medieval portalans and manuscript pilot books. Only one
example of a medieval portolan has so far been identified at The National Archives: MPB 1/38
(extracted from E 122/164/10), showing the eastern Mediterranean and part of the Black Sea.

By the seventeenth century, printed charts and pilot books were being published commercially.
Many printed charts of seventeenth and eighteenth century date are found among The National
Archives' holdings both as individual sheets and in atlas form. Individual sheets within a bound atlas
or pilot are often not individually catalogued, and the atlases, catalogued under country, continent
or world headings, must be searched speculatively. Series known to contain early printed charts
include: the State Paper Office Map Collection (SP 112), War Office Map Library (WO 78),
Admiralty Miscellanea (ADM 7), and the library classes of atlases ZMAP 2 and ZMAP 3.

Naval officers and other seamen continued to draw charts by hand into modern times. The record
series of Hydrographic Department original surveys (ADM 352) contains many manuscript charts
dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. Published Admiralty charts were largely based on surveys
such as these. Charts were very often drawn by hand in ships' logs and journals; for instance, the
records of voyages of exploration (including those of Captains Cook and Bligh) in ADM 55 include
many charts.

The public records also contain numerous examples of hydrographic charts produced by nations
other than Great Britain. Many of these foreign charts are described individually in our catalogue,
published catalogues or supplementary catalogues, but there are no specific indexes to them. As
with Admiralty charts, many early and foreign charts, both manuscript and printed, remain to be
discovered within the records. Please tell us if you find a previously unrecorded chart.

7. Further reading
The following recommended publications are available in The National Archives' Library.

Vice-Admiral Sir Archibald Day, The Admiralty hydrographic service 1795-1919 (HMSO, 1967)

Rear-Admiral GS Ritchie, The Admiralty chart: British naval hydrography in the nineteenth century
(1967, new edition 1995)

Admiralty manual of hydrographic surveying (HMSO, 1938)

M Chriss and GR Hayes, An introduction to charts and their use (third edition, 1964)
Derek Howse and Michael Sanderson, The sea chart: An historical survey based on the collections
of the National Maritime Museum (1973)

AHW Robinson, Marine cartography in Britain: A history of the sea chart to 1855 (1962)

Peter Whitfield, The charting of the oceans: Ten centuries of maritime maps (1996)

Guide reference: Military Records Information 36
Last updated: 4 September 2009

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