Jacques Nicolas Bellin (1703 – 1772) was a French naval hydrographer & geographer. He was a prolific mapmaker, especially of French territories, and was noted for his meticulous technique and attention to detail. He was elected to the Royal Society; and in due course was appointed Official Hydrographer of the French King.
In 1764, Bellin’s Petit Atlas Maritime was published. I am featuring one sheet from the atlas, the “Carte des Isles Lucayes”. The whole work came as a 5-volume set of map sheets, containing a total of 580 detailed charts. As you will see here, this copperplate engraving can be found in various forms: plain black & white; hand-washed or hand-coloured; or grandly multicoloured. These variations are the consequence of the distinction of Bellin’s work, which led to repeated re-publication in the c18 and beyond. Additionally, his work was admired and copied abroad.
Bellin’s map contains plenty of information – including depth markings and advised shipping routes – though some of the topography might be considered debatable by modern standards. As you look more closely, some of the details are startling. For example, on New Providence (see above) the only place-name is simply designated ‘Ville’, as though the settlement there lacked the significance to merit a name. And look at it now… Andros is completely name-free, with not even a Ville marked – as is Grand Bahama for that matter, though a few Cays are named. Let’s turn to Abaco.
This section of the Bellin map also appears in my Abaco mapping article relating to HOLE-IN-THE-WALL. This geographical feature at the southern extremity of Abaco (now sadly blown apart by HURRICANE SANDY after millennia) was an important navigational landmark for shipping by c17. The name, in French here, underwent a number of changes of the centuries, as you can see using the HITW link above.
Also of note is that at least Abaco was credited with a single named location – Little Harbour, the first settlement to feature on early maps, and the only one for a surprisingly long time. I imagine the position of this inlet and the safe anchorage it could provide for relatively large vessels became well-known. Like Hole-in-the-Wall, it was of seafaring significance.
A c18 mariner, looking at Bellin’s map in contemplation of a trip to the Isles Lucayes, might conclude that the seas around Abaco and Grand Bahama might be treacherous. The profusion of rocky areas and the indication of depth changes around the islands and cays suggest caution would be needed for a voyage. And as we know, throughout history ships have been wrecked in these seas – a situation somewhat improved (but not entirely eliminated) when the threeABACO LIGHTHOUSES were built.