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King George III Topographical and Maritime Collections

The Geographical Collection of King George III of Great Britain comprises the King’s Topographical Collection of maps and views, and the King’s Maritime Collection of sea charts.

The collection known as 'K. Top.' came to the Museum in 1828 along with other collections from the library of King George III. The Maritime Collection of charts, however, passed into the care of the Admiralty until 1844, when the bulk of the charts came to the Museum. Further material was transferred in 1952 and 1988, including manuscript atlases by William Hack. A few items were transferred to the Department Of Printed Books (now Scholarship and Collections) and to the British Museum's Department of Prints and Drawings before 1973.

The King’s Topographical Collection, the map collection of George III (reigned 1760–1820) is one of the world’s most important historical resources. It comprises approximately 50,000 maps, plans and views, both printed and hand drawn, of all parts of the world but particularly Great Britain and the British Empire. The material ranges in date from about 1540 to 1824 and is extremely varied in terms of format and size. The collection was donated to the nation by George IV (reigned 1820-1830) in 1828, and is held mostly in the British Library Map Library.

The Maritime Collection of George III is a distinct segment of the King’s collection and consists of hand-drawn and printed sea charts and atlases spanning the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. The distinction between the Maritime and Topographical collections can appear blurred, however, as sea charts exist in both. In 1828 the Maritime Collection passed to the Admiralty Library, but since 1844 the vast majority of the charts and atlases were transferred to the British Museum and since 1973, the British Library.

George III and collecting

George III was a keen armchair traveller, and by inheritance, purchase, and acquisition by official presentation, he built an important topographical collection which includes the first western impressions of Australia. The resulting library of single sheet items, rolled maps, printed atlases and bound volumes of engraved and drawn views was situated next door to his bedroom in Windsor Castle. The single sheet material was originally housed in boxes made in the shape of richly bound books, and the entire collection was arranged by place depicted. The single sheet material is now bound into 244 guard volumes, following the original sequence.

Further information on King George III’s library and collecting

Highlights

  • Some of the earliest European printed maps, such as the so called ‘Lafreri’ copperplate maps produced in Rome in the mid 16th century
  • The complete range of British county maps dating from 1579 to the early nineteenth century
  • Administrative maps
  • Planning maps including maps of proposed railways and canals
  • Presentation maps, such as the ‘Duke’s Plan’ of New York, made to celebrate its capture by the English from the Dutch in 1664 
  • Estate maps and maps of Royal palaces
  • Architectural drawings, including a large archive of working drawings by Nicholas Hawksmoor, the architect of Christ Church, Spitalfields in London
  • Printed and hand-drawn or painted views, including examples by Wenceslaus Hollar, Samuel Hieronymus Grimm and Paul Sandby
  • The results of large scale surveys, including a manuscript map of part of Newfoundland by James Cook, and William Roy’s military survey of Scotland
  • A large archive of maps and plans of Hannover and Northern Germany

Identifying material from the King’s Topographical Collection

Items in the collection are identified by the shelfmark prefix Maps K.Top. Rolled maps and atlases contain extra elements to the shelfmark such as Maps K.Top 52.62.TAB.END. or Maps 1.TAB.50.  This refers to the way large items used to be stored at the ends of bookcases and tables – hence Tab(le) end. Some material is also found in the British Library’s early printed collections with shelfmarks beginning 118 or 116 and a superseded Maps K.Top shelfmark. A few items are in the British Museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings, and the King’s military collection of about 5,000 plans of battles and encampments is now in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle.

Catalogues and access

The entire content of the King’s Topographical Collection and the King’s Maritime Collection is listed on Explore the British Library, and can be ordered in the Maps Reading Room using the Online Catalogue.

There is a dedicated catalogue of King’s Topographical collection, written as it was donated to the nation: the Catalogue of Maps, Prints, Drawings, etc., forming the geographical and topographical collection attached to the Library of his late Majesty King George the third (London, 1829.). This has been scanned, so that Explore the British Library entries use the same text. The Catalogue of the Manuscript Maps, Charts, and Plans, and of the Topographical Drawings in the British Museum [known as the British Library from 1972]. (London, 1844-1861) also covers manuscript material in the collection.

Further reading

• Barber, Peter, 'George III and his collection'. An Electronic Offprint from The wisdom of George the Third : papers from a symposium at the Queen's gallery, Buckingham Palace June 2004 / (London : Royal Collection, 2005.)

• Barber, Peter, ‘King George III’s topographical collection: a Georgian view of Britain’ in Kim Sloan with Andrew Burnett (eds.) Enlightenment: discovering the world in the eighteenth century (London, 2005), pp. 158-165  

• Wallis, Helen M, 'A banquet of maps: an account of the map collections of the British Library'.  The Map Collector 28 (1984) 2-10.

• Wallis, Helen M, 'The royal map collections of England'.  Centro de Estudos de Cartografia Antiga, Série Separatas 141 (Coimbra, 1981).

• Wallis, Helen M, 'The map collections of the British Museum Library' in Helen M Wallis and Sarah Tyacke (eds.)  My head is a map (London, 1973). pp 2-20.

• Skelton, R A,'The Royal map collections'.  British Museum Quarterly 26 (1962), 1-6.

• Skelton, R A,'The Royal map collections of England,'  Imago Mundi 13 (1956) 181-3