Map of the Month

On this occasion, we present a glorious sea chart of the Philippines with many aspects of interest, including not one but two treasure ships.

“A Chart of the China Sea and Philippine Islands with the Archipelagos of Felicia and Soloo” was part of a collection of charts known as the “East India Pilot or Oriental Navigator”. As a whole they were designed to guide a merchant captain from ports in the United Kingdom sailing through the Atlantic, past the Cape of Good Hope and then into the Indian Ocean before reaching harbours such as Bombay, Singapore and Canton. These charts were precious, hugely important and also continuously updated, often from manuscripts and hand written corrections made by navigators of previous voyages. This particular edition dates to 1794 and is published by Robert Laurie and James Whittle, one of the most successful cartographic publishing firms of the Georgian period. In fact, a permutation of the firm still exists today, under the name of Imray, Laurie, Norie and Wilson Ltd., publishers of modern sea charts.

As the title cartouche states on this particular chart, it was sourced from “an original drawing communicated by Capt. Robert Carr and compared with the map of Pedro Murillo de Velarde drawn in Manila in 1734.”

Velarde’s map is an extraordinary wall map of the Philippines and the most detailed survey of the islands up to the early eighteenth century. It was used for reference by mapmakers of the region for over a hundred years. Captain Robert Carr was a veteran of numerous voyages to the Far East, two of which were in command of the East India Company Ship, Barwell. It is very likely that on one of those voyages, he would have returned with a chart of the Philippines made for his own use and offered it to the publishers of the East India Pilot, who would have included it in their next issue of the work.

The beauty, accuracy and attraction of this chart as both a late 18th century scientific document and as an object can be readily observed in both the illustrations in this article and by using the zoom feature on our website which can be reached by clicking on the link at the end, but we would like to draw your attention to two other extraordinary details on it.

In the centre right of this map, just off Cape Espiritu Santo on Samar Island, is a vignette of a sea battle which reads: “The Spanish Galleon Nuestra Senora de Cabadonga taken by the Centurion June the 20th 1743.”

This battle refers to the culmination of one of the greatest circumnavigations of the world up to that time.  In 1740, Commodore George Anson was tasked by the Admiralty during the War of the Austrian Succession to attack Spanish shipping in the Americas and the Pacific. He overcame storms, sickness, starvation and mutiny to attack and take one of the legendary Manila Galleons, which traded between the Philippines and Mexico. Not only did the Nuestra Senora de Cabadonga possess over a million pieces of eight in coinage, it was also carrying a rich cargo, which Anson sold to the Chinese in Macao.

Upon his return to England, Anson was feted and raised to the peerage as the First Baron Anson. His success in the Navy was assured and after seeing more action in the Seven Years War, he became First Lord of the Admiralty and Admiral of the Fleet.

The second extraordinary detail begins just South of the mouth of the Pearl River on the upper left of the map, in the form of a black line which is labelled: “Track of the Royal Captain towards Balambangan in December 1773.” This track can be followed south until it suddenly reaches another note which states: “The Royal Captain Strikes at half past 2 AM”, and this note is immediately followed by another track which is labelled: “Track of the Royal Captain’s Longboat to Balambangan.”

The Royal Captain was an East India Ship which was launched in 1772 in the United Kingdom and sailed to the Far East. It was owned by a shipping magnate, Sir Richard Hotham. What the track is showing us is its ill-fated voyage from Canton towards Balambangan Island where the East India Company maintained a free port. It was fully laden with a rich cargo when it struck an uncharted reef and sank. Fortunately, all of the crew survived to reach Balambangan, with the exception of three members who were intoxicated at the time.

As a postscript to this, noted French archaeologist, Franck Goddio undertook an expedition to locate and salvage the Royal Captain. It took several years, but in 1995 he located the wreck at a depth of approximately 350 meters, a very dangerous depth for any salvage work. In 1999, in conjunction with the National Museum of the Philippines and using extremely advanced techniques and two submarines, with remote controlled arms and now working in depths of up to 850m, Goddio studied the wreck and salvaged 1,847 artefacts from the sea bottom; this is only a small fraction of the full cargo. The site is now being used for testing deep water archaeological techniques. The whole project was filmed as a documentary and shown on the Discovery Channel in the year 2000 under the name, “The Treasure of the Royal Captain.”

To find out more about this treasure map, visit our website here and contact us at Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for marvelous maps and awesome announcements!