Atlas The London Atlas of Universal Geography (1832 - 1861)


John Arrowsmith produced his great atlas in 1834 although intending to have completed it by 1832. It was the best large scale atlas available at that time compared with contemporary products. The atlas was in folio format and consisted of two preliminary leaves and 50 plates of maps. The preliminary leaves were a title page which contained a dedication to John Middleton, followed by a Preface with Contents (Herbert, 1989). The arrangement of plates was as follows; 2 world maps, 19 maps of Europe, 5 maps of Africa, 12 maps of Asia (including Australia) and of the Pacific Ocean, and 12 maps of the Americas. The title, preface describing his sources for the atlas and the contents page vary only in their imprint date from issue to issue of the atlas.

As Herbert tells us 'cartobibliographical chaos commences early' (Herbert, 1989, p.104). The resultant uncertainties created thus make it impossible to accurately designate 'editions' of this atlas with any certainty. Users of this atlas should note that the atlas after the first few issues becomes a customized production with extra plates being added after the original 50 plates as early as the 1838 issue. To compound matters these extra plates are nowhere listed on the Contents page which remains unchanged for the entire life of the atlas. Dating of title page, preface and contents are frequently contradictory and issues of this atlas regularly differ from one another. Dated title pages identified to date (Aug.2010) are 1834, 1835, 1838, 1839, 1840, 1842 and 1858. There may well be others not yet discovered.

Surveying his output on Australia from a modest beginning of three plates Arrowsmith progressed to eight plates in one of the copies discovered, no doubt a bespoke item, however the norm is around five to six plates in the later issues. In all Arrowsmith published thirteen plates on Australia in the London Atlas but some of the earlier plates were superseded by later productions. The later 'editions' of the atlas are more valuable for Australian collectors as they contain a greater number of Australian plates.

After John Arrowsmith's death in 1873 his plates and stock were acquired by Edward Stanford of London who ultimately produced his own London Atlas of Universal Geography in which two Arrowsmith plates were used. One can do no better than consult Herbert's comprehensive study for the details (Herbert, 1989, pp.98-123). Of interest to this study is Stanford's use of the two plates 'Australia from surveys made by order of the British Government …' and the 'Eastern Portion of Australia'. These two sheets made up the continent of Australia but Arrowsmith had designed them as individual plates in order to fit them into his folio sized atlas where they first appeared in the 1838 issue of the London Atlas as extra plates added after the original 50 plates of the Contents list.

The Maps of Australian interest

In this first issue of the Arrowsmith Atlas dated 1834 Australia is represented by three plates, namely, Discoveries in Australia [Plate] 35, Discoveries in Western Australia [Plate] 36 and Van Diemen's Land [Plate] 37. These three maps in effect show the extent of British exploration in the southern part of the Australian continent after almost 50 years of their occupation.

They continued to be issued until 1838 when Arrowsmith substituted a new title 'The south eastern portion of Australia (35)' in place of the 'Discoveries in Australia [Plate] 35'. The latter title was obviously at too small a scale to allow him to show all the information that he had acquired.

Arrowsmith was obviously also dissatisfied with his 'Discoveries in Western Australia', the map that he had introduced into the atlas in 1833 just prior to publication in order to make his representation of the Australian continent more balanced. Perhaps not enough thought was given to the scale as again this map fails on that score like the other discovery map. However rather than produce an entirely new plate he fiddled with the plate and achieved an extra 3 minutes of a degree in the latitudinal extent of the map and an extra 2 minutes of longitude to the east. With this refashioned plate he then went on to publish the map as 'The Colony of Western Australia'. This is discussed in detail under the history of this map. In the end the only way that he can update this map with the latest discoveries by Surveyor General J. S. Roe in 1848-1849 is to add an adjacent plate on the right which provided another 3 degrees 40 minutes of longitude or 36 centimetres of width. By this time the plate had lasted almost as long as its producer had in business and is last issued from Arrowsmith's final address at Hereford Square where he was in retirement.

Also published for the first time in the 1838 issue of the atlas were two more important maps, 'Australia from surveys made by order of the British Government …' [52], a sheet covering the western half of the continent, and the 'Eastern portion of Australia.' [53] the matching right hand sheet. These two maps were to become the two most important Australian maps in the atlas. They appeared in May 1838 and were quickly followed by a third new title in June 1838 Arrowsmith's 'Maritime portion of South Australia' which has been found as plate [54] in an 1838 issue of the atlas. It is suggested that these six titles were considered by Arrowsmith to do justice to the representation of Australia in his atlas.

After 1840 any Australian titles that appear are it is suggested bespoke items probably selected by intending immigrants. The first of these encountered was the one sheet map showing the two charts of Cockburn Sound and King Georges Sound. These two harbours served respectively the towns of Perth and Albany in Western Australia. They appear on a loose sheet map [35a] inserted into a copy of the 1840 atlas held in the Library of Congress, no other copies of this chart have been encountered in any other copies of the atlas. Also in this same copy of the atlas is a plan of Adelaide 'The district of Adelaide, South Australia as divided into country sections from the surveys of Colonel Light' which furthers the likelihood that the atlas was for an intending immigrant.

A late issue of an atlas held by the British Library holding 72 plates rather more than the norm has a unique item 'Map & chart of the west coast of Australia ; from Swan River to Shark Bay including Houtman's Abrolhos and Port Grey from the surveys of Capts. Grey, Wickham, King and from other official documents' / compiled by John Arrowsmith. This copy is another example of a private gathering of plates.

As new maps appeared, prepared in some cases for other works such as Parliamentary Papers, Arrowsmith might substitute them in place of an older or not as detailed map. An example of this treatment is the inclusion of 'South Australia shewing the division into counties of the settled portions of the Province from the Surveys of Captn. Frome Rl. Engrs. Survr. Genl. Of the Colony 1842. An updated version of this title later appeared in Francis Dutton's South Australia and its mines.

It should be pointed out that the maps included in his atlas were also available as loose maps from stock and that these were revised more often than those in the atlas a fact that Arrowsmith noted in his advertising. This study covers both atlas and loose sheet issues from what ever source and it is entirely possible that further items may come to light in the future. The London Atlas continues to intrigue as collectors speculate as to what might be found in the future.

Published resources

Journal Articles

  • 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

Dorothy F. Prescott