The India Directory, or, Directions for Sailing to and from the East Indies, China, Australia, and the Interjacent Ports of Africa and South America.

Compiled chiefly from original journals of the honourable company's ships, and from observations and remarks, resulting from the experience of twenty-one years in the navigation of those seas.

London: Wm. H. Allen and Co., 1841-43 Stock Code: 126537
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"No other work embraces so great a scope… all that is necessary is contained in the one book" - a superb copy of Horsburgh's "Directory" housed in an American naval officer's book box

An exceptionally well-preserved copy, presented here in an American naval officer's portable book box - as such remarkably uncommon - with the additional appeal of a series of original holograph coastal profiles. This is the fifth edition of this important publication, much enlarged in successive editions from the first of 1809-11, which was to become the standard manual for the eastern navigation. The preface notes that "elaborate directions for the navigation of the Red Sea, by Captains Moresby and Elwon, of the Indian Navy, latterly published by the Honourable East India Company, have... been transferred to this work verbatim; and much additional information on the coast of Arabia, the Persian Gulf, the River Indus, and the Maldiva sic Islands, has been added... as well as several contributions to the hydrography of the West and North-west Coasts of Australia, and of Bass's Straits, by Captain Wickham, of HMS Beagle".

Intended for use at sea, all editions of the Directory are uncommon; of this fifth, Library Hub cites only the copy at the National Maritime Museum among British and Irish institutional libraries; WorldCat adding below two dozen in international holdings. The size of Horsburgh's book and its status as an essential "bible" for mariners on the often treacherous run out to the South Seas means that those copies that do survive are more often than not found in rather compromised condition.

James Horsburgh (1762-1836) went to sea at 16 as an apprentice with a Fife company in the North Sea coal trade. He subsequently settled in India, obtaining work first as a rigger in the Calcutta shipyards, and then on locally-based merchant ships. In 1786 he was first mate on the Atlas in the Bay of Bengal "when, returning from Batavia and Bencoolen to Ceylon, the ship was wrecked on Diego Garcia. Fortunately the crew of the Atlas found there the ships of the Bombay expedition of 1786 sent to investigate the viability of establishing a settlement, and Horsburgh returned to Bombay in the Admiral Hughes after spending only three days on the island" (ODNB). It has been suggested that this incident was key in resolving Horsburgh to compile and collate as much accurate navigational information on the region as he could; "After his shipwreck on Diego Garcia, and particularly during his time as commander of the Anna, Horsburgh developed his interest in scientific observation and charting. As an interested commander of a country ship regularly crossing between India and China, Horsburgh was best placed to collect information and observations bearing on the navigation of the eastern seas, and to compile charts of and sailing directions for those waters Without extensive wealth to remit to Europe on retirement, Horsburgh planned to capitalize on his experience by publishing privately in London a series of charts of the China Sea, Malacca Strait, and Bombay Harbour Horsburgh's efforts between 1806 and 1811 were devoted to compiling comprehensive sailing directions for the East Indies navigation, the first edition of which appeared as Directions for Sailing to and from the East Indies He continued privately to revise and republish his sailing directions, subsequently known as the East India Directory, in editions of 1816-17, 1826-7, and 1836" (ibid.). Horsburgh subsequently became Hydrographer to the East India Company. In 1836, when news of his death reached Canton "a subscription was opened for a memorial to Horsburgh, which resulted in the construction of the Horsburgh lighthouse on the rock of Pedro Branca in the eastern entrance to the Strait of Singapore, for the safety of shipping arriving from China. An equally lasting memorial was the perpetuation of his East India Directory by the admiralty hydrographic office which produced the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth editions in 1841, 1852, 1855, and 1864" (ibid.).

This copy was in the possession of an American naval officer and contains a number of holograph notes and carefully sketched coastal profiles by him (full details below). His dating of the profiles show that he was on board the schooner Pontiac "from Boston to Madras" with dates spanning the years 1850 to 1852. The Peabody Essex Museum at Salem, Massachusetts, holds two logbooks of the Pontiac, one detailing its journey from Calcutta to Boston (March 1849 - Jan. 1850) and an earlier log covering a voyage from Boston to Reunion and Calcutta (June 1847 to Jan. 1849). The Pontiac's home port was Portsmouth, New Hampshire (owners Haven, Rice, Tredick, and Parker; the log keeper was one George Z. Silsbee). Portsmouth Athenaeum holds the log for a voyage from New York and New Orleans to Liverpool (1845-47). At one time, shipmaster John Henry Eagleston, of Baltimore, captained the Pontiac on one of her voyages to the South Seas (see The Essex Institute Historical Collections, Vol. LXXIII, 1937, p. 289).

Included here is a fascinating 2-page letter (dated 9 October 1857) addressed to "Dear Nelly", which gives details of dangerous shoals in the Java Sea and mentions the possibility of our officer serving on the USS Powhatan, which was Commodore Perry's flagship in November 1853, during his visit to Whampoa (modern day Huangpu District). In August 1855 the Powhatan accompanied HMS Rattler and HMS Eaglet in a successful engagement, known as the Battle of Ty-ho Bay, against Chinese pirates off Kowloon and returned to America on 14 February 1856. The Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States and Japan was signed on her deck (29 July 1858).

In full (2 pages, lined paper):

Dear Nelly - put this in your next to William.

By a survey of the straits of Gaspar (that of Rogers, not yet published) I find that 2 miles from Pulo Leat modern day Pulau Liat, an island in the Gaspar Strait will clear every thing i.e. all dangerous shoals. The Alcest sic shoal runs out about 1 miles, nearly north from N. point of Pulo Leat. There is a clear passage of nearly four miles - say 3 - between the Alcest shoal and Discovery rocks & the shoals off Lepar island. The 'Memnon' & 'Cors. Hagu' shoals do not exist, as both those vessels were lost on the Alcest rock. page 2: I shall probably be in China in the side-wheel steamer 'Powhatan' in March - as I shall have to stop at Madeira, Cape of Good Hope & other places for coal, I cannot well be there before that time. She can't sail from Norfolk Virginia before December - Should Tom be detained long in China I shall have the pleasure of meeting him there, Dear Nelly. My love to you & to Tom when you write. initialed Washington 9 October '57.

"Alcest" - Alceste Rock described by Horsburgh as "a small coral shoal" and "this dangerous rock"; named after HMS Alceste, wrecked in Gaspar Strait, 18 February 1817.

"Memnon" - American clipper lost in the Gaspar Strait, September 1851, near the Alceste Rock.

"Cors. Hagu" - Cornelius Haja, Dutch schooner, wrecked 9 April 1850 near Pulo Leat when "grounded on a hidden rock not laid down on any chart" (The Nautical Magazine, 1851, p. 278).

The opening line of this report-within-a-letter states "by a survey of the straits of Gaspar (that of Rogers, not yet published)": this is almost certainly a reference to Captain John Rodgers (1812-1882), who took over command of the US Navy's North Pacific Exploring and Surveying Expedition, "sent in 1853-55 to survey the Bering Straits and north Pacific waters relevant to American whalers and trading routes across the Pacific for the expansion of American trade with China. The Act of Congress orders also instructed the expedition to carry out surveys to 'diminish the hazards of the ocean'" (Quanchi & Robson, Historical Dictionary of the Discovery and Exploration of the Pacific Islands, 2005, p. 126). In his personal account of the expedition, Lieutenant A. W. Habersham noted that the expedition also surveyed the Gaspar Strait, mentioned in our letter, describing it as "the door through which nine-tenths of the world's trade with China passes and which had never properly been surveyed, and were said to be full of hidden dangers" (ibid., p. 74).

Holograph notes, either loose or neatly attached to leaves with sealing wax:

Vol I:

p. 31: coastal profile (pen and ink) of part of Fernando de Noronha, an archipelago of 21 islands and islets off the Brazilian coast, "as seen by Ship Pontiac November 29 1850 - on her voyage from Boston to Madras", blue paper.

p. 37: "Extract from the Port Regulations of Saint Helena", one page, 12 lines (with small coastal profile), pale blue paper.

p. 39: headed ??? - instructions for finding a safe anchorage at the Cape of Good Hope, opening: "Round the cape of good hope as close as you please", one page, 24 lines, pale blue paper.

p. 96: coastal profile (pen and ink and grey wash) of Cape Agulhas (western Cape, South Africa) and "Lagullas Light" (the Agulhas lighthouse, constructed 1848), dated "Pontiac Sep 24th 1852", blue paper, with 10 lines of details of the lighthouse, blue paper.

p. 240: folding coastal profile (pen and ink and grey wash) of Cape Infanta and Sebastian Bay, South Africa, "Pontiac Sep 23d 1852", blue paper.

Vol. II:

p. 181: letter (as above).

p. 517: "Soloo & Celebes Seas & Strait of Macassar modern Makassar Strait, located between the islands of Borneo and Sulawesi, Indonesia", giving longitude and latitude for these islands, 2 pages, 22 lines, lined pale blue paper.

p. 597: "List of ships mast cloths" - the mast cloth is "the lining in the middle of the aft side of topsails and topgallantsails, to prevent the sails being chafed by the mast" (Robert Kipping, The Elements of Sailmaking, 1854); in the days of steam it was also called a mast cover and referred to a cloth covering part of a mast to protect it against smoke from a funnel; scrap, 7 lines, pale blue paper, torn.

A quite remarkable set of this important work, with a most attractive provenance, dating to a period of expanding America-Asia trade, before the ruinous effects of the Civil War took their toll on the American merchant marine. The Nautical Magazine for 1874, reviewing the latest iteration of Horsburgh's Directory, was level-headed but heartfelt in its praise: "That the 'India Directory' through its eight editions, became a 'great book,' is an undoubted fact No other work embraces so great a scope as this one, and to enable the mariner to sail over one-half the seas, for which it is a guide, he must possess himself, if he has not this book, of books sufficiently numerous to form a small library. 'The East India Directory,' although a fair sized book, is multum in parvo, and the possession of it conduces to confidence in the mind of the mariner by the knowledge that all that is necessary is contained in the one book".

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2 volumes, quarto (268 x 213 mm). Contemporary speckled calf, spines with five low raised bands, gilt rules, black and dark green twin labels, two-line blind border on sides with corner rosettes, red speckled edges, yellow coated endpapers. Housed in a contemporary wooden carrying case, brass drop bar swan-neck handle on lid, pair of brass hook-and-eye catches on front, internal wooden partition (one with pale reddish-brown russia leather liner tacked in place).


Inner joints cracked to cords but perfectly sound, index to supplement at end of vol. II loose, some light abrasions to case and bindings otherwise in remarkably good condition.


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