1814 Thomson Map of the English Channel, English and French Coasts

The British Channel. - Main View

1814 Thomson Map of the English Channel, English and French Coasts


Mare Britannicum.


The British Channel.
  1814 (dated)     20.25 x 25.25 in (51.435 x 64.135 cm)     1 : 790000


A fine example of John Thomson's 1814 map of the English Channel, published in 1817 in his New General Atlas.
A Closer Look
England is depicted from Cornwall eastward as far as Canterbury and the Strait of Dover, while the French coast is covered from Goulet Harbor eastward to Boulogne. Coastal settlements and nearby inland ports, including London and Bristol, are noted in considerable detail. Some hazards, lighthouses, islets, and other features are indicated on the water, including the Eddystone Lighthouse at left, which, when originally built in 1698, was likely the first ever offshore lighthouse. An interesting element of the map is the naming of regions, such as English shires and French départements, along the coast.
Historical Context
During the Napoleonic Wars, which would end at Waterloo just one year after this map was engraved, the English Channel became a major hotbed of smuggling and war profiteering, with English textiles flooding into continental Europe. The close proximity of the coasts, with only 24 miles separating Dover and Calais, as noted here, made such operations relatively practicable despite the channel's notoriously choppy waters.
Publication History and Census
This map was engraved by John and George Menzies of Edinburgh in 1814 for issue in the 1817 edition of Thomson's New General Atlas. It is not independently cataloged among the holdings of any institution aside from the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, while Thomson's entire atlas is more widely distributed in institutional collections.


John Thomson (1777 - c. 1841) was a Scottish cartographer, publisher, and bookbinder active in Edinburgh during the early part of the 19th century. Thomson apprenticed under Edinburgh bookbinder Robert Alison. After his apprenticeship he briefly went into business with Abraham Thomson. Later the two parted ways, John Thomson segueing into maps and Abraham Thomson taking over the bookbinding portion of the business. Thomson is generally one of the leading publishers in the Edinburgh school of cartography which flourished from roughly 1800 to 1830. Thomson and his contemporaries (Pinkerton and Cary) redefined European cartography by abandoning typical 18th century decorative elements such as elaborate title cartouches and fantastic beasts in favor of detail and accuracy. Thomson's principle works include Thomson's New General Atlas, published from 1814 to 1821, the New Classical and Historical Atlas of 1829, and his 1830 Atlas of Scotland. The Atlas of Scotland, a work of groundbreaking detail and dedication would eventually bankrupt the Thomson firm in 1830, at which time their plates were sequestered by the court. The firm partially recovered in the subsequent year allowing Thomson to reclaim his printing plates in 1831, but filed again for bankruptcy in 1835, at which time most of his printing plates were sold to A. K. Johnston and Company. There is some suggestion that he continued to work as a bookbinder until 1841. Today, Thomson maps are becoming increasingly rare as they are highly admired for their impressive size, vivid hand coloration, and superb detail. More by this mapmaker...

John Menzies (October 27, 1772 - October 16, 1857) was a Scottish engraver active in Edinburgh during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Menzies mastered engraving as an apprentice to James Rymer. In 1811, he partnered with his younger brother, George Menzies, to found the engraving firm of J. and G. Menzies, which was active until about 1831. Later his son, also named John, joined the firm and they engraved jointly under the imprint of J. Menzies and Son. At its height, the Menzies firm employed three men and three apprentices. Menzies engraved maps for Thomas Brown and John Thomson, among others. After his death, his son, John Menzies II (1819 – 1891), continued the family business until about 1891. Learn More...


Thomson, J., A New General Atlas, (Edinburgh: Baldwin, Cradock, Joy) 1817.     Thomson's New General Atlas was first published in 1817 and continued to be published until about 1821. This is the first of Thomson's major cartographic works and the atlas for which is most celebrated. The New General Atlas follows in the Edinburgh School, which eschews excessive decoration in favor of a more minimalistic fact-based cartographic vision, as established by John Pinkerton, Laurie and Whittle, John Cary, and others in the previous decades. The maps are notable for their massive scale, heavy stock, elegant color work, and easy-to-read typefaces. Although the atlas stopped being published after 1821, Thomson continued to offer 'supplementary' maps that could be tipped into the atlas as late as 1830, when he declared bankruptcy. The maps in the Thomson Atlas were engraved by Thomas Clerk, William Dassauville, Nathaniel Rogers Hewitt, James Kirkwood, Robert Kirkwood, John Menzies, George Menzies, Edward Mitchell, John Moffatt, Samuel John Neele, Robert Scott, and James Wyld.


Very good. Closed tears extending one-half inch into printed area from top margin professionally repaired on verso. Light offsetting.


Rumsey 1007.015.