Military and maritime

Before photography, what role did handmade images play in military and maritime enterprise?


A watercolour view of Mont Orgueil by Thomas Phillips.

The military tradition

Article by:
Ann Payne

Documenting national defence was a key purpose of topographical drawings. Ann Payne explores examples of military art in the British Library’s collections.

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An engraved view of the port of Lisbon by François Allix after Alexandre Jean Noël.

Alexandre Jean Noël's collection of Spanish and Portuguese ports (1788–1790)

Article by:
Mercedes Cerón

An abortive set of prints of European ports drawn by Alexandre Jean Noël is given close examination by Mercedes Ceron.

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Lord Adam Gordon's View of Harlaem from Morisania in the Province of New York

Lord Adam Gordon goes to North America

Article by:
Mercedes Cerón

Mercedes Ceron looks at a rare set of watercolours in the King's Topographical Collection documenting Lord Adam Gordon's journey to the North American colonies.

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Survey of the Country on the Eastern Bank of the Hughly, by Mark Woods.

A map of Kolkata in 1785

Article by:
Rosie Dias

A single map may serve many purposes. A survey of the River Hooghly near Kolkata in India by East India Company Captain Mark Wood, now in the British Library, is no exception, as Rosie Dias discovers.

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View of Glendalough in Wicklow, Ireland, by Peter Van Lerberghe

The military roads of county Wicklow

Article by:
Finola O'Kane

Art historian Finola O’Kane explores the history, design and representation of Wicklow's military roads in military and tourism contexts.

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William Hodges' panoramic view of Matavai Bay, Tahiti, with Point Venus and Mount Orofena

A global gaze: British artists, landscape spaces, and the wider world in the late 18th century

Article by:
John McAleer

Dr John McAleer explores how both British, and non-European, professional and amateur artists engaged with the British Empire via the medium of landscape art.

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Waterfall near Haliyal with John Johnson sketching in the foreground; a leaf from Johnson's sketchbook

Soldier artists in India

Article by:
Patricia Kattenhorn, Dr Margaret Makepeace

Whether drawing for official purposes or for pleasure, soldier-artists contributed a rich source to the visual imagery of colonial India in the 18th and 19th centuries.

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A General View in Ootacamund, by Robert Havell after Richard Barron.

Recording and representing India: the East India Company's landscape practices

Article by:
Rosie Dias

The East India Company produced thousands of views that helped to consolidate its authority over much of south Asia in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Rosie Dias discovers some examples from the British Library's India Office collections.

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A View of the South Side of the Fort of Gwalior

What is a travel print?

Article by:
Douglas Fordham

Douglas Fordham looks at the complex role printed illustrations played in the making, meaning, and marketing of British travel literature in the 18th and 19th century.

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View of Étretat in Normandy by Louis Garneray

Louis Garneray and topographical painting as border control

Article by:
Kelly Presutti

Kelly Presutti explores how topography was deployed as an instrument of state formation in Louis Garneray's Vues des Côtes de France.

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William Daniell, A View of the East India Docks, published by William Daniell, London, 1808, aquatint with hand-colouring, plate 49.6 x 86 cm, on sheet 59.2 x 93.1 cm, British Library, London, Maps K.Top.21.31.5.c.PORT.11.TAB.

The New London Docks (1800–1830)

Article by:
Alice Rylance-Watson

From 1800, London’s dock system was revolutionised, and many commemorative prints were published to celebrate the transformation. William Daniell’s prints of the new docks represented London’s modernisation in particularly exultant terms. Alice Rylance-Watson explores.

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View of the entrance into King George III Sound

Beyond Sydney

Article by:
Michael Rosenthal

Michael Rosenthal investigates four watercolours that a midshipman, John Sykes, made of King George III Sound in Western Australia, when the Vancouver expedition spent time there in September 1791, and which are now in the King's Topographical Collection at the British Library.

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Copy Chart of the Society Islands, by James Cook after Tupai’a.

Collecting the Pacific

Article by:
Phil Hatfield

The first encounters of the Pacific by explorers such as Captain James Cook and Joseph Banks opened Europeans' eyes to a rich new world. Dr Philip Hatfield recalls this age of discovery as told through the topographical collections of the British Library.

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Richard Ligon's Map of Barbados

Mapping the British Caribbean in the early modern Atlantic world

Article by:
Peter Moore

Dr Peter Moore shows how three maps of Barbados promoted a flattering image of British colonialism in the Caribbean.

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City of Cork, by Samuel Alken after Thomas Sautelle Roberts.

Cork City and Harbour

Article by:
Finola O'Kane

Early topographical views of Cork emphasised its connection to the sea, but this was to change over the course of the 18th century, as Finola O'Kane discovers.

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Aquatint showing the Trelawny Parish Maroons ambushing British troops on the Dromilly Estate, Jamaica

Slavery, freedom and the Jamaican landscape

Article by:
Miles Ogborn

Jamaican Maroons fought two major wars against the British during the 18th century. With reference to maps and views in the King's Topographical Collection, Miles Ogborn investigates these communities of escaped slaves and their attempts to retain their freedom in a landscape of slavery.

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igures surveying the eastern end of Loch Rannoch as part of the Military Survey of northern Britain; one figure using a circumfrentor; another holding a flag; trees throughout the scene; hills in the distance.

Surveying Scotland

Article by:
John Bonehill, Stephen Daniels

Looking at original drawings and maps in the King’s Topographical Collection, Stephen Daniels and John Bonehill explore Paul Sandby’s contribution to the Military Survey of Scotland (1747–55): a ground-breaking project which influenced today’s Ordnance Survey.

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Ozias Humphry, Pagoda at Lucknow taken from Mr Wombwell’s house, 13 March 1786. British Library Add. MS 15962, f.19

Travellers abroad

Article by:
Ann Payne

Ann Payne explores British Library drawings by professional and amateur artists working abroad, on military campaigns, diplomatic missions and voyages of discovery.

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View of the entrance into King George III Sound

Beyond Sydney

Article by:
Michael Rosenthal

Michael Rosenthal investigates four watercolours that a midshipman, John Sykes, made of King George III Sound in Western Australia, when the Vancouver expedition spent time there in September 1791, and which are now in the King's Topographical Collection at the British Library.

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A View of Bethlem (Maps K.Top.122.23)

Views of the Middle Colonies

Article by:
Brett Culbert

Brett Culbert discusses Thomas Pownall’s observations of the changing landscapes of the New World from his visit from 1753–60.

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klencke atlas folio 38

The Klencke Atlas

Article by:
Tom Harper

Tom Harper tells the story of the Klencke Atlas. One of the largest atlases in the world, it was presented to Charles II by the Dutch merchant and scholar Johannes Klencke in 1660.

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Attributed to Richard Lee, View of the Town and Harbour of Calais, about 1541, Cotton, Augustus I.ii.70.

The paper revolution: the origin of large scale technical drawing under Henry VIII

Article by:
Anthony Gerbino

The first important transformation of English medieval design practice occurred in a military context, during the reign of Henry VIII. Pioneering plans, surveys and designs by leading Tudor engineers are housed in the British Library, particularly within Sir Robert Cotton’s manuscript collection. Anthony Gerbino, Senior Lecturer in Art History at the University of Manchester, explores further.

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Waerachtighe Beschrijvinghe van drie seylagien, by Gerrit de Veer.

Icescapes: Printing the Arctic

Article by:
Phil Hatfield

Arctic ice has long proved a stern adversary to explorers, especially those seeking navigable passages through the polar regions. Dr Philip Hatfield explores the representation of this fearful foe by explorers across the centuries.

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Castletown

Ralph Thoresby’s album of 17th century views of the Isle of Man

Article by:
Eva Wilson

Eva Wilson discusses the history and scope of the earliest surviving pictorial record of the Isle of Man, an album of views owned by antiquarian Ralph Thoresby.

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Watercolouring showing the Chinese Emperor Receiving the Macartney Embassy

William Alexander Pictures China

Article by:
Alice Rylance-Watson

In the late 18th century trade with China was an important emerging market for the East India Company, and the British Empire. Alice Rylance-Watson explores how the artist William Alexander engaged with China in his capacity as draughtsman to the first ever official embassy to the country.

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Further themes

Antiquarianism

How did amateurs, collectors and enthusiasts record the past before the development of history as a modern discipline?

Country

Idyllic views, working landscapes and natural wonders: explore the allure of picturing the countryside.

Military and maritime

Before photography, what role did handmade images play in military and maritime enterprise?

Science and nature

Discover images of the natural world treated as objects of fascination.

Town and city

Pictures of the built environment: how do they reveal religious, political and social history?

Transforming topography

Changing ideas about the nature and purpose of views and records of place.