Wayfinding: Chart History

Wayfinding 2023
History of the British Admiralty Chart
Surveyed by Captain G. H. Richards, R. N., 1860, with additions in 1864
Cortes Island Navigation Chart

By Mike Manson

This map was produced by the British Admiralty. The survey was started in 1860 by Captain George Henry Richards of the Royal Navy and took a number of years to complete. In 1858, British Columbia was a new colony and there was a huge need for reliable mapping to facilitate commerce and settlement. The only mapping available dated from the voyage of Captain George Vancouver in 1792 and that of the Spanish expedition led by Galiano and Valdés. This new chart provided a base-map of the new colonial lands and the hydrographic information for transiting the inland waters. It also showed detailed soundings for potential future harbours. In addition, detailed navigation information was included, showing sailing instructions to avoid hazards (see the inset at the lower left with instructions for avoiding the reef on Marina Island, including the sketch of the profile of Camp Island).

Other interesting notes are the comments regarding the suitability of the land for settlement, as recorded in notations on Mary Island and the southernmost end of Cortes Island, using the term “open prairie land.”


Over the years, after the first survey of 1860, there were changes made to some place names, in part because of duplication of names on charts by the British Admiralty and by the Canadian Hydrographic Service. Some of our most well-known local changes are of Mary Island to Marina Island, Turn Point to Mary Point, Reef Point to Sutil Point, and Camp Island to the Subtle Islands (labelled points 1 – 4).

In June of 1792, Captain Vancouver had named Point Sarah and Point Mary, some say after his sisters, but by 1863 the new chart referred to Point Mary as Turn Point, and today it is once again known under its original name, Mary Point. As there is no known record of a settler by the name of Turn, it must be assumed that Turn Point had served as a waypoint, hence its name. It would appear that the British Admiralty survey incorporated local names whenever this information was available.
The chart represents a truly monumental effort of work, bringing together many disciplines including navigation, surveying, mathematics, astronomy, drafting and publication skills. However, this version of the chart was not without its limits. The islands of Sonora and Maurelle had not been mapped, no doubt due to the limitations caused by the fast-moving waters at the Hole in the Wall and Surge Narrows, where the survey reported tidal currents of 7 to 9 knots. In 1863, Daniel Pender, aboard the paddle-wheeler the SS Beaver, continued the Richards survey and could get into those areas and others, such as the head of Bute Inlet and the mouth of the Homathko River, an astounding accomplishment given the challenges of the country.
This particular copy of the chart comes from the Office of the Surveyor General of British Columbia and was used in the years after the 1863 hydrographic survey as a base-map of land inventory, and in this case shows the location of Indian Reserves (shown coloured in red) allotted through the Indian Act, and likely also served to indicate areas of land open to pre-emption and settlement.