Anson Circumnavigation

Cartography and the Narrative of the Anson Circumnavigation (1740-44) from the 18th-20th Centuries by Katherine Parker

The circumnavigation of Commodore George Anson (1740-44) was part of the global conflict surrounding the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748). Anson was sent to hinder Spanish trade in Western South America and, if possible, capture a Manila treasure galleon as it sailed to Acapulco. He was successful on both counts, although he lost most of his squadron’s ships and 1,400 of 1,900 men, mostly to scurvy. While the original voyage was bellicose in intention, the narrative of the voyage, chronicled in a bestselling official voyage account published in 1748, framed the expedition as a feat of navigational skill. Part of this reframing was done with the accompanying maps, charts, and views.

Over time this narrative changed, as did the nature and content of the cartographic materials. Anson’s account was reprinted in various forms over one hundred times and in several languages between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. The story shifted from a navigational treatise which demanded accurate charts to an adventure story for boys with maps as adornment to a historical event that required maps not to understand a distant place, but a distant time. This shift signals a continued relevance yet changeable cultural meaning for the Anson expedition particularly and cartographic materials in books more generally. The maps included in this display highlight the ways in which size, format, and language could affect the cartographical materials, which in turn influenced the narrative of one of the most important, and under-recognized, circumnavigations in the history of navigation.

A voyage round the world in the years 1740-1744 by George Anson
“An Old Salt’s Yarn.” In Richard Walter, A voyage round the world in the years 1740-1744 by George Anson, edited from the original narrative, with notes, by D. Laing Purves. Edinburgh: W. P. Nimmo, Hay, & Mitchell, 1897.
This illustration, included in an abridgement from the original narrative, shows how the story shifted over time from a navigational treatise and political manifesto to an adventure story for boys. The older sailor fondly recounts the dedication and perseverance of Anson and his crew, and the young man listens attentively to a story that has lost its expediency and has passed into lore. John Barrow, Second Secretary to the Admiralty, said in 1839 that Anson’s was, “a voyage which, is still about the most delightful of any with which we are acquainted; and we believe, has sent more young fellows to sea, than even the renowned Robinson Crusoe.”* Other nineteenth century editions were also aimed at boys or printed as part of juvenile libraries. They seldom contained maps, due to their small, cheap format and the increased familiarity of readers with maps and the Pacific.
Mappemonde ou description du globe terrestre; dressee sur les memoires les plus
            nouveaux, et assujettie aux observations astronomiques, Par le Sr. Robert de Vaugondy
            fils. A Paris, Chez Les Srs. Robert Geoges. ordes. du Roy, Quay de l'Horloge du
            Palais, Ante. Boudet Libraire-Imprimr. du Roy, rue St. Jacques. Avec Privilege 1752. C
            Cochin filius delin. P.F. Tardieu sculp.
“Mappemonde ou Description du Globe Terrestre” Gilles Robert de Vaugondy Paris: Robert and Boudet, 1752
News of Anson’s circumnavigation spread quickly upon his return in 1744. Maps of his voyage appeared not only in accounts of the expedition, but also on separate sheet maps and in atlases. This double hemisphere map by Gilles Robert de Vaugondy includes Anson with another recent voyager, Jean-Baptiste Charles Bouvet de Lozier. Both men had led voyages that resulted in new geographic information. They were Europe’s most famous navigators in the early 1750s, a fame attested to by their tracks on this map.
A voyage round the world, in the years MDCCXL, I, II, III, IV. By George Anson, esq : now Lord Anson, commander in chief of a squadron of His Majesty's ships, sent upon an expedition to the South-seas
“A Chart of the Southern Part of South America.” In Richard Walter, A Voyage Round the World…first edition London: J. and P. Knapton, 1748 Plate XIII
This chart was one of three included in the first edition of the official account, which had a total of 42 plates. It corrected previous misunderstandings of the area around Cape Horn and was accompanied by a detailed description of how the chart was compiled. It also showed two courses, one which does not correct for the western current--where Anson thought he was--and the other which does--where Anson actually was. Due to this miscalculation and reliance on faulty charts, Anson’s squadron took three months to navigate the Horn, resulting in hundreds of deaths. As the account’s introduction explains, the charts in the official account had to be as accurate and transparent as possible, as poor cartography could, in practice, kill.
Nieuwe wereld kaart, waar in de Reizen van den Hr. Anson rondsom de wereld, met een gestipte Linie worden aangewezen
NIEUWE WERELD KAART, waar in de REIZEN van den Hr. ANSON Rondsom de Wereld met een gestipte Linie worden aangewezen. S.J. Baalde, 1765, Courtesy of the Nation Library of Australia.
The Voyage was not only published in various formats, but in many languages as well. In the eighteenth century, it appeared in French, Dutch, Swedish, German, Italian, and Russian. This Dutch version of the “Shewing” chart was published in the mid-1760s. The Anson voyage was of sufficient interest to Dutch readers two decades after the initial expedition to appear in an affordable octavo edition. This popularity can be explained by the continuing voyages of Byron, Wallis, Carteret, and Bougainville, which kept readers across Europe focused on the Pacific region.
A voyage round the world, in the years MDCCXL, I, II, III, IV. By George Anson, esq : commander in chief of a squadron of His Majesty's ships, sent upon an expedition to the South-seas. Compiled from papers and other materials of the Right Honourable George Lord Anson, and published under his direction
A Chart of the Southern Part of South America, In Richard Walter, A Voyage Round the World…first edition J. and P. Knapton, 1748
This chart was one of three included in the first edition of the official account, which had a total of 42 plates. It corrected previous misunderstandings of the area around Cape Horn and was accompanied by a detailed description of how the chart was compiled. It also showed two courses, one which does not correct for the western current--where Anson thought he was--and the other which does--where Anson actually was. Due to this miscalculation and reliance on faulty charts, Anson’s squadron took three months to navigate the Horn, resulting in hundreds of deaths. As the account’s introduction explains, the charts in the official account had to be as accurate and transparent as possible, as poor cartography could, in practice, kill.