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British Admiralty

The Hydrographic Department was established in 1795 as a sub-department of the British Admiralty to survey and produce navigational sea charts of the world's oceans and waterways for the use of the Royal Navy and commercial shipping. It issued its first official chart in November 1800. These charts describe seas, rivers and coasts as well as man-made features such as harbours and shore defences. They often provide the most detailed maps of small and remote oceanic islands. Most show high and low water marks, the depth of water (soundings), hazards such as reefs and wrecks, and navigational aids including lights, buoys and beacons. Though most do not show detail on areas inland of the foreshore, features which were useful in entering harbour or making landfall are sometimes included, as well as and coastal elevations and topographic views. Some 19th century Admiralty charts depict sites of archaeological interest, coastal forts and defences, and natural features. These charts were often revised and updated over many years. We have a range of Admiralty charts published between the late 19th and early 20th centuries.