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.