IMRAY, James (1803–1870). Indian Ocean. London: James Imray and Son, 1874.

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4 sheets, joined. Fine engraved wall map (40 4/8 x 100 inches) of the Indian Ocean from Africa in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east, and including the whole of Australia and insets of Coetivy, Rodriques, Tromelin, Reunion, Saint Paul, Saint Denis and Wood Island, with large insets on the far right of the Maldivh Islands, the Seychelle and Amirante Island with a small inset of Port Victoria, St. Paul Island, the Cocos with an inset of North Cocos, Comoro Islands, Kerguelen Island with an inset of Christmas Harbour, and the Chagos Archipelago, with copious notes and soundings, laid down on blue paper for rolling (with a marginal tear on the left with loss to the image, creased and dusty).

A detailed and large-scale map of the whole of the Indian Ocean and the coasts of the lands that surround it, published by James Imray's son, James Frederick Imray, who inherited the business on his father's death. in 1870. For ten years from 1835 Imray Sr., published charts with Michael Blachford, but in 1846 he acquired Blachford's share of the chart business and became sole proprietor. "Imray's own particular interest was in chart compilation and he expanded his list beyond home trade waters with new charts of American and eastern seas. The publication of sailing directions, the manufacture and sale of nautical instruments (with which the firm had widened its services to navigators), and the nautical academy all flourished. In 1854, when his elder son, James Frederick Imray (1829–1891), became a partner in the book and instrument sides of the business, the firm became James Imray & Son.

"By the 1860s Imray had become the leading British commercial chart publisher and was operating from three premises: 89 Minories housed chart publication, 102 Minories chart and books sales and the nautical academy, and 1 Postern Row the instrument shop. The majority of the fast-growing British merchant fleet used his charts because, although accurate Admiralty charts were now available, merchant shipmasters still preferred the charts of commercial publishers, named ‘blue backs’ from their distinctive blue paper backing, and particularly James Imray's blue backs. They were popular because they retained the traditional format of a small-scale general chart with many large-scale insets of harbours. They were designed to answer the needs of a particular voyage conveniently and used modern survey material, now available from Admiralty and foreign government charts. They were more expensive than Admiralty charts, but fewer of them were needed because for some voyages they provided all that was required on a single chart; they were also accompanied by complementary sailing directions.

"As official surveys of Australia, New Zealand, the north-west coast of America, and the coast of Chile became available, Imray used them to compile charts designed for wool clippers, gold rush ships, and copper and nitrate clippers. As the influence of the East India Company waned and eastern seas opened to all British ships he published new charts of the Indian and Pacific oceans, followed by popular series of larger scale charts for the intricate passages through the eastern archipelago and on to China. Charts for particular trades were promoted with labels such as ‘Rice ports of India’ [as here] and ‘Cotton ports of Georgia’. Before he died his catalogue listed over 150 charts. He also led the defence of the private publishers against increasing Admiralty competition and in 1865 acquired the Mercantile Marine Magazine, the mouthpiece of the private publishers, edited by his navigation teacher W. H. Rosser.

"Imray's success was founded on shrewd business skills and an appreciation of his customers' needs. Although he expanded the firm's other activities his heart was in chart publishing and he always kept personal control of this. He was the leading private chart publisher of the day, standing head and shoulders above his competitors. His name was virtually synonymous with the term ‘blue back’: Thomas Gray, of the marine department of the Board of Trade, wrote in 1875 that ‘I only know of Imray's charts (i.e. the blue backs) as running the Admiralty charts close’ (Memorandum relating to the Supply and Correction of Charts, Board of Trade departmental paper, no. 79, 1882)." (Susanna Fisher for DNB). For more information about this map, or a warm welcome to see it and other maps in our gallery at 72nd Street, NYC, please contact Caleb Kiffer.