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CHESNEY, Francis Rawdon.

The Expedition for the Survey of the Rivers Euphrates and Tigris,

carried on by order of the British government, in the years 1835, 1836 and 1837; preceded by geographical and historical notices of the regions situated between the rivers Nile and Indus. In four volumes [sic]. With fourteen maps and charts, and embellished with ninety-seven plates, besides numerous wood-cuts.

Published: London: Longman, Brown, Green. and Longmans, 1850

Stock code: 107979

Price: £750

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First edition. During the first half of the 19th century the British government and the East India Company were much concerned with “the interconnected problems of the ‘sick’ Ottoman empire, the Russian threat to the Near and Middle East and India, and improving communications with India by using steam power” (ODNB). Chesney, an army officer from County Down, had carried out a preliminary survey of the Euphrates in 1831, though his movement was curtailed by local instability in the river’s uppermost reaches. He returned in February 1835 with a professional team of seamen, naval and army officers and engineers, and despite difficult conditions, including the sinking of one of two steamships with the loss of twenty lives, Chesney was able to prove his hypothesis that “the Euphrates was navigable for steam vessels from a point about 120 miles from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf; he believed he had shown how short and rapid a route this would prove to India, and had confirmed his previous views about the tractability of the local Arab tribes … In Britain and India some considered the expedition had been an expensive failure: Chesney denied this. [He] continued to advocate the Euphrates route. He was elected FRS (February 1834) and FRGS, and in 1838 was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society” (idem). His richly illustrated account “includes minute surveys of the history, geography and geology of the area traversed” (Blackmer). Only two of a projected four volumes were published as Chesney lost half of his manuscript on the way to China, which also accounts for the odd numbering the plates (97 were intended for the full work of which only 49 were printed, not in numerical order); the slipcase containing thirteen folding maps, lacking in this copy, is rare.

2 volumes, octavo (242 153 mm). Recent dark red crushed half morocco, raised bands to spines forming compartments ruled and lettered in gilt, red cloth sides ruled in gilt, edges speckled blue. Without the map slipcase. Lithographic frontispiece to both volumes (vol. I folding), 47 lithographic plates (all but one with tissue guard), 25 wood-engravings to the text; vol. I with folding table facing p. 62, 2 double-page folding genealogical tables, cloth-backed folding lithographic colour to rear, opening to approx. 700 900 mm. Lacking the map slipcase as often. Ink-stamp of Glasgow Philosophical Society to frontispiece versos and title-pages. Faint spotting to frontispieces and margins of a few other plates (slightly heavier on nos. XXVIII and XLII) with frontispiece vol. I split along section of fold to no loss, tape-repair to upper outer corner vol. I sig. 2N6 not affecting text, small hole to gutter of first folding table to minimal loss, the very occasional marginal spot as often. A very good copy.

Bibliography: Atabey 233; Blackmer 337; Burrell 164; Howgego C26; Wilson p. 41 & Macro 716 erroneously cite 4 vols.

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