n 1982, the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador (PANL) acquired a collection of forty-one published 19th century French naval hydrographic charts of Newfoundland's coastal waters. These charts were sold by the Royal Scottish Geographic Society (RSGS) of Edinburgh, Scotland. The sale catalogue indicated that from its founding, the RSGS had acquired hydrographic charts from the various European navies and was thus kept abreast with Europe's rapidly expanding geographic knowledge of the world. A grant from Heritage Canada's Cultural Property Export and Import Review Board allowed the PANL, in one acquisition, to acquire almost half of the French Navy's 19th century hydrographic chart production for Newfoundland waters. The collection was and remains the only collection of its type in Canada.
he Newfoundland charts were but one element in the French Navy's hydrographic chart series. The 19th century witnessed an expansion of the French colonial empire in Africa and Asia and charts were required of ocean routes, adjoining coastal waters and ports all over the globe as well as for the French coasts and European waters. The total number of 19th century French hydrographic charts is in the thousands.
s a way of bringing order to this increasingly complex chart production, charts were numbered sequentially from 729 after January 1832. These numbers are found in the upper right hand corner of the chart. While the chart number remained constant for the life of the chart, often 50 to 100 years, the bathymetry or water depth information was updated on a regular basis. Most if not all charts have a "Small Corrections" notice in the lower left hand corner, usually it is a Roman numeral for the month followed by the last two numbers of the year in which the correction was made. These corrections included new information from hydrographers about water depths, submerged rocks and new aids to navigation such as lighthouses. Every so often, some charts, especially those for high-traffic areas would have a "Large Correction" line added at the lower center of the chart. This means that there was a new edition of the chart prepared. New information could include rail lines, telegraph lines or changes in the physical structure of a harbour. These changes can only be observed by studying the various editions of a chart at the map archives at the French Navy's Hydrographic Office in Brest, France. The chart file for the Port-au-Port Peninsula, for example, has 10 copies of the chart, all of which have extensive additions to the original bathymetric that was recorded on the initial chart.Please click here for additional information.