1869 Imray Chart of South China Sea, Coasts: Hong Kong, Hainan, Vietnam

East India Archipelago. [Western Route to China. Chart No. 5]. - Main View

1869 Imray Chart of South China Sea, Coasts: Hong Kong, Hainan, Vietnam


Do You Know the Way to Cam Ranh Bay?


East India Archipelago. [Western Route to China. Chart No. 5].
  1869 (dated)     52.5 x 42.5 in (133.35 x 107.95 cm)     1 : 1150000


A large and highly detailed 1869 James Imray and Son blueback chart or nautical map of the South China Sea (or, for Vietnamese, the East Sea) region between Hong Kong, Hainan, and Vietnam. It provides a tremendous amount of information for the navigator, including a large inset of the waters off Hong Kong, seven other insets, and coast profiles.
A Closer Look
The chart covers from just beyond the Pearl River Delta, south past and including Hainan, and most of the coast of Vietnam to Phan Thiet, some 100 miles east of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and a similar distance up the coast from the Mekong Delta. It was used for actual navigation and there are pencil marks and manuscript updates associated with maritime use.

Soundings are provided all along the coast and around islands, cays, and other features in the South China Sea. Currents, shoals, banks, hazards, anchorages, beacons, magnetic variations, the best routes to and from Hong Kong, and other maritime features are recorded. Some areas of coast are only tentatively mapped, indicated with a dotted line. Helpful explanatory notes point out information such as the nature of coastal waters and terrain, the location of coaling stations, and whether certain islands and coastal areas were heavily populated. Settlements and elevation are illustrated on land to aid with navigation.

Eight insets provide more detailed charts focusing on Hong Kong, Nha-Trang, Cam-Ranh, Port Xuan-Dai, Touron (Da Nang) Bay, Cape Boung-Quioua (near the border of today's Quảng Bình and Hà Tĩnh provinces), Yu-Lin-Kau (Yulin Port, 榆林口), and Gaalong (Yalong) Bay (亚龙湾). Several of these are excellent natural harbors and consequently have been utilized as commercial and military ports in the 20th and 21st centuries. At top-left, profiles of the entrance to four of these harbors are depicted. A legend appears at top-right, along with a warning that much of the coastline was only partially and imperfectly delineated.

The maddening complexity of the Pearl River Delta is immediately apparent, in part a reflection of greater familiarity with that region by British hydrographers, but also a genuine representation of the innumerable bays, inlets, coves, islets, hazards, and other challenges for any ship attempting to navigate these waters.
Contested Waters
Among other reasons, this chart is notable for its careful documentation of features in the South China Sea, including the Paracel (西沙 / Hoàng Sa) Islands, the Macclesfield Bank (中沙大環礁), and the northernmost portion of the Spratley (南沙 / Trường Sa) Islands. These features have been at the center of territorial disputes between China, Vietnam, and other countries for decades, which have intensified in recent years.
Blueback Charts
Blueback nautical charts began appearing in London in the late 18th century. Bluebacks, as they came to be called, were privately published large format nautical charts known for their distinctive blue paper backing. The backing, a commonly available blue manila paper traditionally used by publishers to wrap unbound pamphlets, was adopted as a practical way to reinforce the low-quality paper used by private chart publishers in an effort to cut costs. That being said, not all blueback charts are literally backed with blue paper. The earliest known blueback charts include a 1760 chart issued by Mount and Page, and a 1787 chart issued by Robert Sayer.

The tradition took off in the early 19th century, when British publishers like John Hamilton Moore, Robert Blachford, James Imray, William Heather, John William Norie, Charles Wilson, David Steel, R. H. Laurie, and John Hobbs, among others, rose to dominate the chart trade. Bluebacks became so popular that the convention was embraced by chartmakers outside of England, including Americans Edmund March Blunt and George Eldridge, as well as Scandinavian, French, German, Russian, and Spanish chartmakers. Blueback charts remained popular until the late 19th century, when government subsidized organizations like the British Admiralty Hydrographic Office and the United States Coast Survey began issuing their own superior charts on high quality paper that did not require reinforcement.
Imray's 'East India Archipelago' Series
This chart was part of series of nine maps issued by Imray entitled 'East India Archipelago' (subtitled 'Western Route to China') covering from the East Indies to the central China coast. Imray's charts are notable for their detail and their availability to traders and other mariners, as opposed to the charts of the Admiralty, which were primarily intended for government and military use. Imray nevertheless drew on Admiralty charts, while also incorporating information directly from mariners (each chart requests communication for improvements to future editions). Thus, his were typically the most detailed and up-to-date charts available on the private market.

This series of charts was particularly important for traders bound for Hong Kong, Shanghai, or other 'treaty ports' in China. A thorough understanding of currents, trade winds, coastal hazards, and other factors was absolutely necessary for increasing the likelihood of a safe journey to and from China. Even the adoption of steam powered ships did not fully overcome these obstacles, while adding new ones, such as the need to stop at coaling stations.
Publication History and Census
This chart was produced by James Imray and Son in 1869, seemingly the first edition, with a stamp dated 1870, suggesting possible updates. Later editions appeared with printed dates of 1871, 1878, and 1881, usually with a blue stamp dated to the following year, as here. The only example noted in institutional holdings in the OCLC is an example of the 1881 (stamped 1882) edition at the National Library of Australia.


James Imray (May 16, 1803 - November 15, 1870) was a Scottish hydrographer and stationer active in London during the middle to latter part of the 19th century. Imray is best known as a the largest and most prominent producer of blue-back charts, a kind of nautical chart popular from about 1750 to 1920 and named for its distinctive blue paper backing (although not all charts that may be called "blue-backs" actually have a blue backing). Unlike government charts issued by the British Admiralty, U.S. Coast Survey, and other similar organizations, Imray's charts were a private profit based venture and not generally the result of unique survey work. Rather, Imray's charts were judicious and beautiful composites based upon pre-existing charts (some dating to the 17th century) and new information gleaned from governmental as well as commercial pilots and navigators. Imray was born in Spitalfields, England, the eldest son of a Jacobite dyer also named James. Imray did not follow his father profession, instead apprenticing to William Lukyn, a stationer. He established himself as a bookseller and bookbinder at 116 Minories Street, where he shared offices with the nautical chart publisher Robert Blanchford. In 1836 Imray signed on as a full partner in Blanchford's enterprise, christening themselves Blanchford & Imray. At this time the Blanchford firm lagged far behind competing chart publishers Norie and Laruie, nevertheless, with the injection of Imray's marketing savvy the firm began a long rise. James Imray bought out Blanchford's share in 1846, becoming the sole proprietor of the chart house, publishing under the imprint of James Imray. Relocating in 1850 to larger offices at 102 Minories, Imray was well on track to become the most prominent chart publisher in London. In 1854, when Imray's 25 year old son, James Frederick Imray, joined as a full partner, the firm again changed its imprint, this time to James Imray and Son. The elder Imray was a master of marketing and was quick to respond to trade shifts and historic events. Many of his most successful charts were targeted to specific trade routes, for example, he issued charts entitled "Cotton Ports of Georgia" and "Rice Ports of India". Other charts emerged quickly following such events as the 1849 California Gold Rush. Imray's rise also coincided with the development of governmental mapping organizations such as the Admiralty and the U.S. Coast Survey, whose work he appropriated and rebranded in practical format familiar to navigators. Imray's death in 1870 marked a major transition in the firm's output and began its decline. Though Imray's son, James Frederick, excelled at authoring pilot books he had little experience with charts and issued few new publications. Most James Frederick Imray publications issued from 1870 to 1899 were either revisions of earlier maps prepared by his father or copies of British Admiralty charts. Charts from this period are recognizable as being less decorative than the elder Imray's charts following the stylistic conventions established by the Admiralty. The Admiralty itself at the same time began to rise in prominence, issuing its own official charts that were both cheaper and more up to date than those offered by private enterprises. By the end of the century the firm was well in decline and, in 1899 "James Imray and Son" amalgamated with the similarly suffering "Norie and Wilson", which was itself acquired by Laurie in 1904. Today it continues to publish maritime charts as "Imray, Laurie, Norie and Wilson". More by this mapmaker...


Average. Map exhibits some edge wear with loss. A few tears, one extending into the title, repaired and reinforced on verso. Area of loss on upper border, above the 'T' in 'East' reinstated. Overall toning. Original blue paper backing.


OCLC 220430819 (1881 edition).