"The geographical plan of the Island & Forts of Ste Helena"
Napoleon I's exile on the island of St Helena has contributed greatly to a heightened interest – particularly amongst the British public – in this scrap of land in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Lieutenant Read – his name and rank are the only details we know of him – was commissioned by a publisher to update the existing map. It is likely that this officer was at some point posted to the island and thus in a position to add certain cartographical precisions. The basis for the map comes from a well-known collection compiled by John Seller in 1675 called Altas maritimus. The print – the work of R. Kirkwood – was subsequently hand-painted.
The map, 22 inches by 16.5 inches in size, is folded into fifteen sections – which can be opened out – and comes in the form of a 6.3 inches by 8.7 inches book. Offering a top-down view of the island, the map's outline, relief, and geographical plains are printed and hand-painted. In accordance with the classical approach to cartography, the map is also decorated with trees, ships, cannons, residences, and even whales (perhaps sperm whales) firing powerful jets of water from their blowholes, lending an illustrative air to the island's geographical representation. Each country property lists its owner, whilst the Helenian “landmarks”, such as telegraphs and the citadel, are also depicted, thus adding some supplementary but precious historical information to the document.
Three published editions in three years – plus a subsequent fourth edition, printed in 1841 – suggest that the map was successful, commercially speaking.
The first edition was published in October 1815 by London's Burgis & Barfoot (32 Southampton Street, The Strand). This version is the rarest – and thus most sought-after – because it lists “Buonaparte's” residence as Plantation House, which subsequently went on to become the governor's “palace”, occupied by Hudson Lowe.
The second edition, also dated October 1815, rectified some labelling mistakes: Longwood, naturally, became Napoleon's home, Mr Balcombe's house – The Briars – was changed to “Buonaparte's first residence”, and Plantation House was captioned “Residence of Governor”. The precise date of this edition is uncertain: either it is correctly dated and it was a matter of a few days or weeks between the two print runs, or the date is out by a couple of months, but the publisher did not see fit (or simply forgot) to change the print date.
The third edition – which contained no changes – went on sale on 4 June, 1817, and was produced by a different London printing and publishing firm (this time J. M. Rippin, n° 21 Theobald's Road).
The fourth edition – from 1841 – was released once again by Burgis & Barfoot. This edition was timed to coincide with another Napoleonic event: the return of the emperor's remains to Paris – the “Retour des Cendres” – which took place in 1840.