Shanghai maps from the UK Hydrographic Office
In its own terms, the UKHO “is part of the Ministry of Defence. Its mission is to meet national, defence and civil requirements for navigational and other hydrographic information in the most efficient manner. The UKHO holds a rich library and archives collected over 200 years.” In particular, scholars will find large numbers of maps, both current and historical, of the China coast, including maps of harbors.Although the work of the Hydrographic Office centered on coast lines, depending on the local configuration, but also on the period, its maps may include substantial portions of urban areas.
In the case of Shanghai, the UHKO holds very unique cartographic items. The main concern of naval officers was the safety of their ships traveling upstream from the mouth of the Yangzi River over the Huangpu River to Shanghai. The very first task they performed was surveying the course of the Huangpu River and the depth of its bed. This turned into the earliest map of the Huangpu River — by then called Woo-sung River — and representation of the walled city.
This is still a crude map that distorts reality (note the north-south direction of Wusong he/Soochow Creek). The survey of the riverbed stops at the level of the walled city and presents a limited number of points. Yet this is a fairly faithful record of the course of the river and the surrounding territory (though it appears as blank). The knowledge of the local terrain improved over time, both in terms of the river itself and the settlements and installations along its banks. By 1858, for instance, the river had been surveyed in great details, with a complete representation of the urban area.
Thereafter, the same series came under the title of “Shanghai Harbour”. Maps were regularly and continuously updated. Usually a full survey was performed on a given year, with various updates and corrections in the subsequent year, until a new completed survey was decided. While the initial surveys were carried out by the naval officers on duty in Shanghai, the later ones were in the hands of the agents of the Whampoo Conservancy Board, the agency in charge of managing and maintaining the port of Shanghai.
The Virtual Shanghai platform has collected a complete series of maps of “Shanghai Harbour” between 1842 and 1936. They provide a formidable basis for an examination of the development of the city and that of the banks of the Huangpu River. For a direct access to these maps:
The U.K. Hydrographic Office holds more similar maps, but one needs to travel to their premises to check the finding aids. The staff is very helpful and friendly and the research environment just perfect. Since it is based in a military compound, however, one needs to make contact in advance and arrange for an appointment to get access to the facilities. The application process is smooth and easy.