Indian Ocean hurricane map, printed on Reunion Island

Dressée par H[ilaire] Bridet, Lieutenant de Vaisseau Capitaine de Port a St. Denis / Imp. Lith. et Typ. de A. Roussin, Rue de Eglise 40, OURAGAN DE FÉVRIER 1860. St. Denis, Reunion, April 5, 1860.
Lithographic map (14 ¼”h x 16”w) surrounded by several columns of letterpress, total printed area 18 ¾”h x 26 ½”w plus generous margins, uncolored.

A fascinating and exceptionally rare broadside with a hurricane map depicting a February 1860 storm in the Indian Ocean, produced on Réunion by the island’s preeminent early printer.

The map was compiled and the text written by Hilaire Bridet (1818-94).  Bridet entered the French Navy in 1834, became head the observatory on Réunion in 1857, and harbor master of Saint-Denis, Réunion’s capital, in 1860. Bridet had a long-term research interest in hurricanes, at a time when they were little understood, and his position gave him access to vast amounts of charts, logs and shipmasters’ testimony on the subject. He formulated important “laws of tempests,” namely that 1) hurricanes are vortices, with wind speed decreasing with distance from a central area of calm, and 2) Southern Hemisphere hurricanes have a predictably clockwise rotational pattern. The 1860 hurricane season may have been formative for his thinking, for the following year he published his conclusions in Etude Sur Lles Ouragans de L’Hémisphère Austral (1861). This work was successful enough that it went through at least three editions.

This remarkable broadside features a thematic hurricane map depicting a sizable expanse of the southwestern Indian Ocean, encompassing Réunion, Mauritius and the east coast of Madagascar.  The map tracks the southeastern path of the 1860 hurricane, which passed just to the northwest of the islands of Réunion and Mauritius before hitting the Madagascar coast more or less head on.  Even without the benefit of modern communications, barometric readings, charted on a graph at the base of the map, would have provided enough warning for vessels to leave harbor and attempt to ride out the hurricane at sea. Accordingly, the map depicts the courses of 20 named vessels, most of which appear to have fled the Réunion harbors of St. Denis and St. Pierre in advance of the storm’s arrival.  The map is flanked by a long essay by Bridet, which describes in detail each of the vessels’ experiences in the storm and uses the data to support his theories about the nature and behavior of hurricanes.

This broadside us also interesting for having been printed on Réunion itself by Antoine Louis Roussin (1819-94), the island’s most celebrated early printer.  Born in Avignon, he enlisted in the French naval infantry as a young man and in 1842 was stationed to the island.  He received an honorable discharge in 1843, married a local woman, opened a painting workshop, and for a time made his living as freelance drawing instructor and portraitist. His involvement with printing began by accident in 1846, when he stumbled upon an abandoned lithographic press on the island.  With no formal training, he managed to repair the press and master its operation.  His most ambitious work was Album de l’Île de La Réunion (1858-76), a five-volume set of essays on a diverse range of subjects, including the island’s flora, fauna, natural wonders, and architecture, accompanied by more than 400 lithographic illustrations.

Catalogue General des Livres Imprimes de la Bibliotheque Nationale (1904), vol. XIX, p. 650. OCLC 457142680 and CCfr (Union Catalogue of France) locate only the Bibliotheque Nationale impression. Not in COPAC.


Folds flattened, cleaned with some lingering minor soiling and very faint tide marks at upper corners.