Views of the coast from a seaward position were very important in the early days of exploration and the development of hydrographic survey.
In 1759, Admiralty Instructions were issued regarding the making of accurate observations, of all useful information about the state of home and foreign coasts, whilst engaged on voyages for whatever purpose. These observations were to include sands, shoals, sea marks, soundings, bays and harbours, times of high water and setting of tides, and in particular directions for sailing into ports (or roads) and for avoiding dangers. They were to include practical information such as the best anchoring and watering places, and descriptions of the best methods of obtaining water, fuel, refreshment and provisions. Fortifications were also to be described and their form, strength and position noted.
The instructions specifically mentioned that, where there were artists on board ship who were sufficiently able, they were to provide illustrations (with references and explanations attached) of these details. At the end of the voyage, the illustrations were to be submitted to the Secretary of the Admiralty as part of the official record. Many such illustrations had been received in the Admiralty as embellishments to manuscript survey drawings or were included in the Ship's Remark Books which accrued in the period before the establishment of the Hydrographic Department in 1795.
The instruction of 1759 had been prompted by the realisation that the Royal Navy was suffering (for want of information) in its conduct of the Seven Years War, and that journals of the ships cruising off the coast of France had been found to be defective in this respect. Some thirty-five years later, the heavy naval losses in the war against France in 1793 - the result not of enemy action but of inadequate navigational charts - generated a demand for improved navigational information to be supplied to the Royal Navy. This was a contributory factor in the establishment of the Hydrographical Department of the Admiralty in 1795.
The first Hydrographer to the Board of Admiralty, Alexander Dalrymple, was to take charge of a quantity of original surveys, unpublished charts, views and plans which needed analysis in order to furnish the officers commanding ships of the Royal Navy (whether engaged in warfare, maritime exploration or in trading voyages) with the necessary navigational information to ensure safe passage. He was primarily concerned with the arrangement and analysis of the information already held.
The Admiralty holdings in Dalrymple's charge in 1795 had been accumulated from disparate authorities in the pay and employ of the Admiralty, but who were not part of the naval service. They were obliged to deposit their original surveys at the Admiralty, but were at the same time free to publish for their own benefit. Information had also been gathered from other authorities including captured material from foreign governments.
Dalrymple's successor was Captain Thomas Hurd, appointed in 1808. He established the Surveying Service of the Navy (1817) as part of the Hydrographical Department, with staff and ships dedicated to the task, and responsible to the Board for the regular supply of charts and other navigational material to the Fleet. From 1823 chart publications were on sale to the general public, and a number of complementary publications were produced such as Tide Tables, Lists of Lights and Sailing Directions. Sailing Directions, illustrated with coastal views, gives a comprehensive description of features that may aid navigation. The technique of drawing the views was by this time learned by navigation officers as part of their training. The usual practice was to include the views and sketches on the original survey document, however in 1861 it was decided that views were to be sent in on separate sheets to be recorded and retained in view albums, so that the engraver did not have to handle the survey fair charts.
Rear Admiral Sir W Edward Parry, KT, LLD, FRS, had replaced Hurd in 1823, and immediately appointed Lieutenant A Becher RN to catalogue all the charts, plans and other papers held in the Department and to classify and arrange them for immediate use. During this process he recorded the larger coastal views as original documents and inserted the smaller views and sketches in view portfolios and albums, arranged by geographical area.
A Scientific Branch was created in the Admiralty in 1831, which included the Hydrographic Office and four other bodies. This fostered an increasing interest in earth science (as well as surveying), led to the sponsorship of expeditions combining surveying and scientific research, and subsequently added many views and sketches to the collection.. Forty years later the laying of ocean floor telegraph cables in the Atlantic was a stimulant to the investigation of the sea-bed. During the second half of the nineteenth century, the skill of surveying and chart production were consolidated and world coverage increased, a fact reflected in the volume of views collected, in various formats during this time.
In 1878, A Gibson, Curator at the Hydrographic Department from 1877, commenced a re-cataloguing process. He disposed of many of the original views, placing those retained (all of which were of value for reproduction in the Sailing Directions) into a new series of view albums each of a particular geographical area. Forty years later, F C Mackenzie, Curator from 1914, replaced these view albums by a new series of loose-leaf albums also arranged by geographical area.
The first photographic views had been received in 1854. By the turn of the century, photographs were superseding manuscript views - particularly for harbour entrances and lighthouses. Changing styles reflecting changes in technology were employed in the production of the views and sketches. The artistic skills of the naval surveyors continued to be in demand well into the second half the twentieth century, but interspersed with photographs and postcards as appropriate.