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Charting a course at the Hydrographic Office

All days are special,  some more so.

Today I drove to Taunton and had an incredible day at the Admiralty Hydrographic Office research department.

I was looking for period drawings of Botany Bay (Laperouse) and Gibraltar (Nelson)  for 2 marine paintings I am planning and thanks to Guy Hannaford, what a day I had! 

The Hydrographic Office traces it’s beging to the late 18th century as a department and it’s origins I was told, to the Dutch raid on the Thames and Medway during which the Dutch navy successfully navigated difficult rivers and destroyed or carried off an embarrassing amount of British naval property. Later during the recriminations a very angry King Charles asked  how was it possible and the answer – charts.

Did the English have charts was said to be King Charles next question and no was the answer.

Buy Dutch charts was the Royal command!

Incidentally, King Charles II introduced the Dutch marine artist  William van der Velde to London as his official marine artist.

I found with Guy’s help most of what I needed including some amazing 19th century and even earlier, one dated 1770, drawings and charts.

I found myself allowed to handle original documents.

I was shown “The Coffin”, a treasure, a custom made oak case in which were stored original marine art by Serres who was official marine artist to King George III, (this post has now lapsed in modern Philistine Britain). Water colours of amazing 1 metre plus long panoramas of the French and Spanish coasts made about 1800 while aboard and to help British men of war blockading Napoleon’s Europe.  at_UKHO_IMG_8726_wp.jpg

Can you imagine a commission like that?

I was introduced to senior staff as “the famous marine artist Gordon Frickers”.

I’m not quite sure how to handle that, suggestions?

I was shown conservation techniques and a huge map dating back to the 1770’s, of the North American coast but more of that another time because it is still some thing of a secret…

That was only part of the day, what else did I see?