This study of John Arrowsmith's maps was begun in 1991, paper maps were the norm and long before digital maps became available in libraries. The project initially was conceived to assist users of Arrowsmith maps to realize that his imprints were not always accurate statements of a map's contents and that apparently identical maps were in fact different from one another. This task began as a journal article, but as more and more material became available, a series of articles, and then finally a book, became the aim. By their very nature maps speak for themselves. However, a problem which was soon apparent was the prohibitive cost of publishing all the maps, in a traditional book with the required high quality of publication. The arrival of digital formats, provided a strategy to overcome this problem. Electronic publishing to the web became the standard approach to dissemination of large amounts of graphic information particularly where the costs of publishing in the traditional print format would be unsustainable. Accordingly, this web page provided a solution to the cost problems inherent in print format and an effective means of marketing and distribution.

The maps chosen for this study are those relating to Australia found in John Arrowsmith's London Atlas, which through successive editions, had a life of 24 years, from 1834 until 1858 (D. Prescott, 2005), however some copies of his later edition of 1858 include maps imprinted to the early 1860s. Apart from the major focus on the states of the Australian plates in the atlas this study also includes references to the appearance of these maps in publications other than the atlas and also to their independent existence outside the life of the atlas as part of Arrowsmith's map stock available for individual purchase.

John Arrowsmith was a prodigious publisher of maps of Australia, the most important for the nineteenth century He began his map publication 50 years after white settlement recording the discovery and exploration of the Australian continent during the height of exploration activity. Comparison of his 1838 issue of Australia from surveys made by order of the British government…and his last issue of this plate in 1862 shows the gradual unveiling of the continent over this period as the blank spaces shrink and retreat before the advance of settlement. In addition to his atlas plates Arrowsmith produced many maps for Parliament and for the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society and for individual authors as well as grand maps such as his Eastern provinces map of Australia in six sheets (Map of the Eastern Provinces of Australia; constructed from Official and other original documents, adjusted to the maritime surveys of Flinders, King, Wickham, Stokes, Blackwood, Stanley &c &c. by John Arrowsmith, 1850. British Library Maps 90090.(7.) Another edition for 1853. British Library Maps 90090.(9.)).

The Maps

This study involved locating about thirty copies of John Arrowsmith's atlas in libraries around the world and identifying what Australian plates each of these atlases contained. The date span of the copies located covered the entire period of Arrowsmith's output of the atlas from 1834 to 1858. During the study copies of some of the Australian plates were also located in works other than the London Atlas.

The maps found in copies of this atlas are listed in the MAPS text. Not all the map titles listed occur in each copy of the atlas. Very quickly after its appearance, John Arrowsmith adopted a style of 'bespoke' publishing which made these atlases individually custom made productions, tailored to the purchaser's requirements. It is therefore imperative to treat these atlases as individual publications for the purposes of cataloguing, as they vary both in the number of maps and which titles were included. In this study each map title has been treated as though it were a chapter in a book and fully discussed and illustrated at this point.

Initially Arrowsmith included three maps of Australian interest in his 50 plate atlas when it first appeared in 1834. As Francis Herbert (1989) tells us John Arrowsmith obviously had hoped to issue his atlas of 50 maps in 1832 but it did not appear until 1834. In this first issue Australia is represented by three plates, namely Discoveries in Australia (Plate 35), Discoveries in Western Australia (Plate 36) and Van Diemen's Land (Plate37). These three maps in effect show the extent of British exploration in the southern part of the Australian continent after almost 50 years of British occupation.

By the time Arrowsmith's atlas title page records '1838' as the date of publication the new and revised Australian plates are appearing. To the original three plates for the continent maybe added a further three, namely Australia from surveys made by order of the British government combined with those of D'Entrecasteaux, Baudin, Freycinet &c., &c., the Eastern Portion of Australia and The Maritime Portion of South Australia. The first issues of all three maps record 1838 as the first date of issue, the west and east halves of the map of Australia being issued on the same date, viz .1st May 1838 while the Maritime Portion of South Australia appeared on 5th June 1838. This was quickly followed by the first issue of The South Eastern Portion of Australia in August 1838, The District of Adelaide, South Australia in February 1839 and The Colony of Western Australia in October 1839. Obvious bespoke items are the two charts on one sheet entitled Cockburn Sound / King George's Sound and a further chart of the west coast entitled Map and chart of the west coast of Australia these last two titles only occurring in one particular copy of the atlas in each case. The last map title to be added, South Australia shewing the division into counties of the settled portions, came very late in the 1858 last edition of the atlas.

States of a map

The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'state' as 'an etched or engraved plate at a particular stage of its progress'. While the National Committee for Geography (London) Cartography Subcommittee in their Glossary of technical terms in cartography defines 'state' (National Committee for Geography, London, 1966) as:

An issue of a map which differs in some way from all other issues of the same map. The term has a particular application in the historical study of engraved maps where its use should be confined to such issues of a map made from the same plate. See Verner, 1965
The critical words in this definition are 'issues made from the same plate', which excludes other versions as for example the same map drawn at a different scale.

The known number of 'states' for any plate is not something that is easily determined without lengthy investigation of a corpus of examples taken from that plate. This particular study is attempting to do just this. Arrowsmith's style of working involved correcting and adding new information sometimes only of a trivial nature but leaving the imprint untouched. It has not been determined whether or not this was a methodology he learned from his uncle. Therefore I suggest the date of any Arrowsmith maps (including John Arrowsmith's maps, and those of his uncle Aaron, and his cousin Samuel's) should be treated circumspectly until verified by the internal content.

As a consequence it is entirely possible for many different versions of the same imprint to exist. These versions are known as 'states' rather than 'editions'. For the Australian maps under study a methodology of recording states has been developed which will allow later discoveries of states not listed here to be interpolated into the present listing.

Dating Method

The dating method employed is to provide a chronological sequence for each map title, the first in the sequence being the earliest issue of the title. Thus for example seven states have been identified for the map 'Discoveries in Western Australia 'with the imprint dates '1833', '1834' and '1838'. These states are virtually identical there being no change to the map content; there may however be other changes such as change of address or the addition of a marginal title. All the maps have been shown as issues of the date '1833' and numbered in the following manner, e.g. 1833/1 for the earliest issue and 1833/7 (1838) for the last issue. In cases where the Arrowsmith imprint does not agree with the actual date of the map the Arrowsmith imprint is shown in italicised brackets following the assigned date viz. 1833/7 (1838).

Recording every change made to a state of the map is both unnecessary and labour intensive. The aim of this study is to enable library cataloguers, rare map collectors, map dealers and others to quickly ascertain differences between states. Therefore the most notable differences are recorded but not all, simply sufficient to enable a firm decision to be arrived at about the map under scrutiny.

Archival Sources

As this study has been conducted in Australia for the most part with one or two visits to overseas institutions the problem of accessing archival sources has proven a stumbling block as there are no graphic images available on the archival sites used. The Australian Joint Copying Project which was established in the latter years of the last century can not provide the quality images necessary for this work. I therefore in this presentation am providing titles only of suggested sources which Arrowsmith consulted for his work.

Published resources


  • Cartography Subcommittee of the British National Committee for Geography, Glossary of technical terms in cartography, The Royal Society, London, 1966. Details

Conference Papers

Journal Articles

  • Gerritsen, Rupert, 'Arrowsmith's Australian Maps', Map Matters, no. 19, November 2012. Also available at http://www.australiaonthemap.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/MapMatters19-Spring20122.pdf. Details
  • Herbert, Francis, 'The 'London Atlas of Universal Geography' from John Arrowsmith to Edward Stanford: Origin, Development and Dissolution of a British World Atlas from the 1830s to the 1930s', Imago Mundi, vol. 41, 1989, pp. 98-123. Details
  • Prescott, Dorothy F., 'Australia as depicted by John Arrowsmith in his London Atlas', Journal of the International Map Collectors Society, no. 133, Summer 2013, pp. 17-22. Details
  • Prescott, Dorothy F., 'The John Arrowsmith Australian Maps Project', University of Melbourne Collections, no. 12, June 2013, pp. 34-44. Details
  • Verner, Coolie, 'The identification and designation of variants in the study of early printed maps', Imago Mundi, vol. 19, 1965, pp. 100-105. Details