South and East Coasts of Australia in Five Charts…

South and East Coasts of Australia in Five Charts…


James Imray

Published 1891, London

Size: 41" X 51"

Condition: Very Good. Light Soiling.


A rare and important blue back chart of the South and East Coast of Australia that was originally published by the firm of Imray and Son in 1883 and periodically updated with this being the 1891 edition.  The chart, which focus principally on Tasmania, also includes seven insets that depict in greater detail, with helpful navigation notations to the mariner, Hobart, Port Dalrymple, Port Phillip, Port Western, Portland, Belfast and Lady Bay.
It is important to note that this chart is important not only for the nautical information that it provides for sailors and merchants alike, but also for what it leaves out.  In particular, there seems to be scant evidence of any of the coastal fortifications that had been established in this strategic area for the defence for one of Australia’s major economic centres, Melbourne.  In fact, It has been said that Port Phillip Bay would end up being one of the most, if not the most, heavily defended harbours in the British Empire.  As such, it was the fear of imperial German interests in the Pacific that forced such a defensive posture, and ultimately led to Australia becoming a Commonwealth in 1901.
It should also be noted that nautical charts, and blue black in general, are rare because of the wear and tear associated with working nautical documents.  However, when they do survive the vagaries of time, they often offer an interesting view into the past where nautical information was still a work in progress. 
Although admiralty charts, began to be sold to the public in 1821by the Hydrographic Office of the Admiralty, which had a reputation for greater accuracy, the privately sold bluebacks, were the preferred choice of the important and growing merchant fleet. It has been argued that the continued demand for the bluebacks resulted in large part because of their focus on specific and important trade routes, as opposed to the Navy’s need for greater accuracy in more distant and obscure shores.  Furthermore, the heavier inks applied, and the use of the Mercator’s projection with the occasional rhumb line, made for an easier reading by a less demanding merchant fleet for accuracy, but well entrenched in their historical ways and preferences.  
As such, bluebacks continue to be sought after by collectors because of their ability to convey a past where a sailors experience was as important as the chart itself. Trade routes were often well trotted such that charts could forgo a certain amount of accuracy, in exchange for the familiar components with charts of the past such as the ornate script used for cartouches, and the overall look and feel of the chart itself. 
This chart is thus of historical significance in that it covers an area of strategic importance at a juncture when defence of the young Australian colonies were paramount  and when economic development were such that Australia would become a Commonwealth within a decade of its publication.

(Sources: Fisher, S., The Makers of the Blueback Charts.)