Mammoth “track chart” of the world, recording no fewer than 13 voyages by an American mariner

James Imray & Son, OUTLINE CHART OF THE WORLD INTENDED FOR THE PURPOSE OF MARKING OFF A SHIP’S TRACK. London: Jas. Imray and Son, 89 Minories and Tower Hill, London, 1855 / 1883 / Additions to 1889.
Mammoth navigation chart, segmented and mounted on linen, 40 ½”h x 76”w at neat line plus margins. Extended at upper right with a 3” x 9” lap with the northern extremities of Alaska rendered in manuscript, and heavily annotated with the tracks of no fewer than 13 voyages between 1877 and 1900. Accompanied by a slip of paper bearing the note “Chart of Dads Cruises” in pencil. Housed in an unusual slipcase of leather over boards with an insect pattern stamped in blind then hand-painted. Minor spotting and soiling to chart, but about excellent. The slipcase worn at corners and edges, but holding.

A very rare chart of the world on the Mercator projection, heavily annotated by an American mariner to record a nearly quarter-century at sea.

The title and scale of the chart indicate that it was designed as a “track-chart”, on which mariners could plot their long-distance voyages. For this purpose, the publisher has included engraved lines showing several “Great Circle Tracks”–lines of the shortest navigational routes from principal departure points, marked off in miles–as well as lines reflecting magnetic variation of the compass.

A note below the title describes the chart’s purpose: “This chart is merely intend to mark off vessel’s track, so that for general purpose of navigation reference should be made to the larger Ocean charts….” Another in the Pacific cautions the user that “For the navigation of the North and South Pacific, it is recommended to refer to the charts of these oceans as the scale of this one is too small to permit the islands to be placed with the same accuracy as in the larger charts.”

Unlike working charts, examples of track charts are rarely encountered. OCLC records but a single example of this 1889 edition (at Princeton) and lists the 1855 edition but gives no institutional holdings. Between them, and RareBookHub record only three examples of any edition having appeared on the antiquarian market.

The present example is remarkable, as an unnamed mariner has used it to record no fewer than 13 voyages made between 1877 and 1900:

U.S.S. Constellation [sloop of war, then in use as a training ship], Summer 1877 & 1879

O. & O.S.S. [Oriental and Occidental Steamship] Gaelic [cargo liner], Aug. 1880

U.S.S. Richmond [wooden steam sloop of war], Sept. 5, 1880-May 8, 1882

O. & O.S.S. Oceanic [luxury liner], May 1882

U.S.C.S.S. [United States Coast Survey Ship] Steadfast, Oct. 21, 1882-May 22, 1883

U.S.C.S.S. Blake, May 22, 1883-Nov. 29, 1885

U.S.S. Despatch [screw steamer, then serving as the first Presidential yacht], Dec. 3, 1885-Jan. 15, 1887

U.S.S. Thetis [steam whaler], Jan. 15, 1887-Feb. 1, 1890

U.S.S. Baltimore [cruiser], June 19, 1893-Sept. 19, 1895

U.S.S. Concord [gunboat], Sept. 19, 1895-May 25, 1896

U.S.S. Brooklyn [armoured cruiser], April 2, 1898-March 3, 1900

U.S.S. Villalobos [gunboat, captured from Spain in 1898 and commissioned in the U.S. Navy in 1900], March 3, 1900-Nov. 24, 1900 [Philippine Waters 9800 miles]

U.S.S. Scindia-Ajax [collier], Nov. 24, 1900-[????]

Each voyage is recorded in a different color and/or line form, with progress indicated day by day in a hand so minute as to be in places illegible without magnification. The overall effect is impressive—our unnamed mariner covered many tens of thousands of miles at sea—though the details can be hard to follow.

One intriguing aspect of this mariner’s career is the first decade, during which he transferred in and out of naval service more than once. He seems to have begun with training on the U.S.S. Constellation, followed by brief service on the Gaelic, a commercial vessel, then a nearly two-year voyage on the U.S.S. Richmond, followed by another brief stint on a commercial vessel (the Oceanic), then more than three years on two Coast Survey vessels (the Steadfast and the Blake), then a final return to the Navy, in which he seems to have remained from December 1885 through at least early 1901.

One notable stint is on the U.S.S. Brooklyn during the Spanish-American War: The vessel saw action in the Battle of Santiago, during which the Spanish fleet was destroyed, then sailed through the Suez Canal to the Philippines, where it became flagship of the Asiatic Squadron.  The last voyage listed is on the collier U.S.S. Scindia (renamed Ajax), which began on November 24, 1900 but has no end date, though the voyage track appears to terminate at Norfolk, Virginia on February 28, 1901. Perhaps our mariner died there, while still in service on the Ajax?

Imray & Son
This chart was first published in 1855 by the firm of James Imray & Son, and is so dated in two places outside the lower border. As noted in the title, it was revised in 1883, with further “additions” made in 1889 (One of the sales records in RareBookHub is for an 1878 edition.)

James Imray (1803-1870) was an English publisher specialized in nautical charts and founder of the most successful chartmaking firm of the nineteenth century, so successful indeed that it exists to the present day. The Imrays are best known for their “blue-back charts”, separately published charts sold with blue paper backing to strengthen the paper for handling at sea.

Imray emerges in 1836 as a chartmaker and worked in partnership with Michael Blackford through 1846, the partnership ending when Imray bought out Blackford. Subsequently Imray was joined by his son James Frederick Imray (1828-1891), and the firm operated as James Imray & Son. James the elder died in 1870, at which time the firm was “the leading private chart publisher of the day” (Susanna Fisher), but the son may have been a lesser talent. Faced with a general decline in business and competition from the Admiralty Hydrographic Office, the Imray & Son merged with rival Norie & Wilson in 1899 and then in 1904 with another rival, the firm of Laurie (which had its origins with Philip Overton in the early 18th century). The combined firm remains in operation today as Imray, Laurie, Norie & Wilson, though now it offers digital products side-by-side with paper charts and books.

A rare chart, with a wealth of manuscript additions made over the course of a long career at sea.

References and Location
OCLC #862247761 records only the Princeton example. Rumsey Collection #6839 (now at Stanford). OCLC #558070771 refers to the 1855 printing, with no location noted. Some background on the Imrays from Susanna Fisher, The makers of the Blueback charts: a history of Imray, Laurie, Norie & Wilson Ltd. Further biographical notes on Imray from Worms & Baynton-Williams, British Map Engravers.