William Heather (1766-1812) was an apprentice stationer in Bond Street before being made a freeman of the Stationer’s Company in 1789. He then worked for the chart publisher John Hamilton Moore before he set up on his own in 1793 in Leadenhall Street, London, as an engraver and chart publisher. The same building was occupied by John William Norie’s Naval Academy. The same road also contained East India House, the home of the East India Company from 1729 to 1861. The site is now the home of Lloyds of London. Heather was in partnership with William Williams as Heather and Williams from 1797-1804. In 1800 they issued ‘A new catalogue of the best charts, pilots and navigation books’. One of the early Pilots included ‘The New Mediterranean Pilot, containing two hundred and twenty-four accurate plans’ in 1802.
By the end of the eighteenth century ‘more accurate methods of navigation were generating a steady flow of good hydrographic information and this meant charts needed frequent updating and replacement … [and] charts were also becoming larger; more information meant more detail to be fitted in, and clarity often demanded a larger chart’ (Fisher). The huge expansion of the British Empire at this time required ever more accurate charts of all corners of the world. The increasing use of loose charts, or ‘bluebacks’, rather than those bound meant that atlases from this period are often larger in format than earlier ones and scarcer. The nature of these large folding charts also means that condition is often compromised. Heather was one of the leading publishers of blueback charts.
Shortly after 1802 Heather and Williams published ‘The Marine Atlas or Seaman’s Complete Pilot for all the principal places in the known world’. Internal evidence of this and other examples leads us to believe this was first issued in 1803. The charts required to cover the whole world that he issued do not appear to bear earlier dates than 1803. Those which appear in his atlases dated to 1804 appear to be supplementary and not necessary for a complete work. Indeed, this example appears to be if not quite the earliest feasible issue but one of the earliest we have been able to identify. The title page is the earlier of the two we have been able to find with the imprint of Heather and Williams covered with a paste over of William Heather only. The Contents leaf is in the earlier format with 50 items listed although in this example two asterisks are added following items numbered 10 and 38. These represent supplemental charts. The first being another chart of St. George’s Channel in three sheets dated 1804 and the double page chart of the Straits of Sunda and the entrance to Batavia of interest following the bankruptcy of the VOC. The former is the only chart dated 1804 on the atlas, the remaining are 1803 or earlier. As their partnership ceased in 1804 and the latest dated map is 1804, it would seem reasonable to place this date on the atlas.
The charts all bear florid engraved titles, two of which are in magnificent early wash colour. The first chart of the world is one of them which unfortunately has suffered some loss. The second is an important one of the River Nile delta in its first state dated 5 November 1798. The Battle of the Nile occurred on the 1st and 2nd August 1798, in Aboukir Bay, between Rear-Admiral Nelson in command of the British Fleet and Vice-Admiral d’Aigalliers of the French. The British effectively crushed the French fleet.
There are fine harbour charts such as Bombay, and harbour approaches such as Singapore, Batavia and Canton which clearly identifies ‘Heongkong’. America is represented with two fine large charts of the West Indies and Gulf of Mexico. Two long two-sheet charts cover the east coast of America. They are designed to match perfectly into one large four sheet map of the coast. To allow for a continuous coastline the chart is orientated with north to the upper right making for an unusual but clever projection. Provenance: inscription inside front board ‘Presented to [effaced] by ? Conway Hughes Edinburgh’; private collection. Fisher (1985) ‘The Blueback Charts’, in The Map Collector no. 31 pp. 18-23; Fisher (2001). ‘The Makers of the Blueback Charts’; Phillips 704 dated (1795-1804 with 49 maps); Tooley’s Dictionary; Worms & Baynton-Williams (2011).