Collections Series Short read

Manchester Geographical Society Map Project: Maps of Africa (#1) – Antiquarian maps

Blog post looking at Antiquarian maps of Africa by John Overton and John Speed found in the Manchester Geographical Society collection

We are now six months into the #ManGeogSoc Map Cataloguing project. Back in August, I completed inputting metadata, photographing and physically ordering a grand total of 1,106 map-sheets of Africa, including single sheets, multi-sheet and series maps.

Africa was a focal point for the Manchester Geographical Society and therefore a  large portion of the collection is Africa-related. Andrew Lloyd, in his introduction to the catalogue of the rare books and atlases within this collection in 1991, states that the significance of Africa is particularly indicative of many of the Society’s early prominent members and the period illustrated was one in which significant exploration occurred in Africa. This focus can be seen from the launch of the Manchester Geographical Society, at which H. M. Stanley gave a lecture on ‘Central Africa and the Congo Basin; or the importance of the scientific side of geography’, in 1884. For a number of years after their formation, the Manchester Geographical Society held lectures on areas which were little known, and Africa featured prominently.

Whilst working through the maps of Africa, I noted down some items that I found interesting, so I thought I would share these in a series of three blog posts. This is the first post, featuring two very beautiful Antiquarian maps. The second blog post in the series will be on the provenance found, and the third will be an interesting find – in this case, William Willcocks’ irrigation plans in Egypt.

John Overton’s ‘A New and most Exact map of Africa’ (MMGS E: (267))


This map was created by John Overton and was published in 1670, when Overton’s shop had moved to the Whitehorse ‘neere ye Fountaine Tavern without Newgate’ in London. John Overton was an English cartographer and map publisher, active in the 17th century. The cartouche names Dutch cartographers, Nicolas Visscher and Willem Blaeu, as Overton’s influences. This map features illustrations of decorative sea monsters, ships, and animals which were typically included in Visscher and Blaeu’s works. The surrounding vignettes represent the lands and societies of areas within the African continent.

John Speed’s ‘Africae, described the manners of their habits, and buildinge’ (MMGS E: (235))


John Speed’s ‘Africa’, printed in 1626, was the first map in English of the African continent. This map was a second publishing in 1676, featured within The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine atlas, which was published by Thomas Bassett of Fleet Street, and Richard Chiswell of St Paul’s Churchyard, whose names are included in the cartouche. John Speed was a famous English cartographer, creating many sought-after maps in the early 17th century. On the reverse is a ‘Description of Africa’, in English. The engraver of this map was Abraham Goos, of Amsterdam, who was related to Jodocus Hondius and worked closely with Visscher. The layout and style of the maps are similar and so Speed’s map also includes many sea monsters, ships and animals.

Thanks for reading!

5 comments on “Manchester Geographical Society Map Project: Maps of Africa (#1) – Antiquarian maps

  1. Pingback: Manchester Geographical Society Map Project; Maps of Africa – Antiquarian maps (#1) — The John Rylands Library Special Collections Blog – Carly Richardson

  2. Good Afternoon Carly,
    I forwarded your piece to an historian of Africa who asked, do you have any Portuguese maps? And commented: ” I came across a Portuguese reproduction in the British Library from the eighteenth century shoring an accurate drawing of Lake Victoria with an island on it conforming to Ukerewe Island and a remark that on the west of the Lake the people grew bananas. They had accurate knowledge of the internal geography of East Africa at Mombasa.
    Burton and Livingstone would have saved themselves a lot of trouble if they had paid a preliminary visit to Lisbon.”
    Maurice Billingsley.

    • Hi Will, thanks for passing this on from Maurice. That’s really interesting! By checking my spreadsheet so far we have many maps showing the Portuguese East Africa/Anglo-Portugese boundary in East Africa, however most are created by Captains and Lieut. of the British forces. I wrote down one of these on my list to look into further, which was surveyed by Major James Stevenson-Hamilton. I will retrieve some to inspect later this week and let you know, as it would be fascinating if there are any references to growing bananas in this area.

  3. Pingback: Manchester Geographical Society Map Project: Maps of Africa – Collection provenance (#2) – The John Rylands Library Special Collections Blog

  4. Pingback: Manchester Geographical Society Map Project: Maps of Africa – An interesting find (#3) – The John Rylands Library Special Collections Blog

Leave a Reply