Sir John Narbrough’s Journal Saved for the Nation!

A Press Release from the British Library: Sir John Narbrough’s Journal Saved for the Nation!

30 March 2010

British Library successfully stops English naval explorer’s journal from sailing abroad

The British Library has acquired a previously unknown journal of British naval pioneer, Sir John Narbrough, thanks to a £200,000 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and the generous support of Dr Bernard H Breslauer, the Gosling Foundation and other individual donors.

This rare manuscript provides the fullest known account of Narbrough’s voyage to South America from 1669-71 and contains unrecorded maps and unresearched information on British exploration and social and political history. It also includes an account of Narbrough’s earlier voyage to the Caribbean in the heyday of the buccaneers.

An explorer, navigator and close friend of Samuel Pepys, John Narbrough can be positioned between Francis Drake and Captain Cook. In 1670, John Narbrough became the first Englishman to sail through the Strait of Magellan in both directions. James, Duke of York (later James II) had commissioned Narbrough to sail to South America and discover whether there was gold which could be safely returned to Great Britain. Narbrough’s expedition proved that a profitable trade with South America was possible, with or without Spanish consent, and this set the course of Britain’s foreign policy for the next half century.

Sir John Narbrough’s naval journal has direct importance for the history of English mapmaking. A skilled mapmaker himself, he was assisted by Greenvile Collins – who later became the first Englishman to create detailed charts of all the coasts of Britain. Their description of the Strait of Magellan provided the basis for British charts of the Strait until the time of Captain Cook. The manuscript charts in the Journal are amongst the earliest English large-scale maps of Spanish America, with those of Valdivia and Port St Julian being especially important for their ethnographical and wild life illustrations. The drawings illustrating the charts include naïve and charming depictions of the peoples and animals of South America

Peter Barber, Head of Map Collections at the British Library, said:

“We are thrilled that Sir John Narbrough’s Naval Journal – a real hidden treasure – has been saved for the nation’s seafaring heritage. It is arguably the first English modern nautical journal and shows that Narbrough was a much more significant figure than previously thought. The charts that accompany the journal correspond to every child’s idea of what a buccaneer’s map looks like yet their artistic naivety is accompanied by technical sophistication of a high order, as well as important ethnographical, zoological and political information which can now be discovered by all at the British Library.”

Carole Souter, Chief Executive of the NHMF, said:

“As the National Heritage Memorial Fund marks 30 years of safeguarding the nation’s most important heritage, we are delighted that our grant has helped save these fascinating papers for the nation. Naval exploration is such an important part of our national story and Sir John Narbrough’s journal and manuscripts shine a light on a key moment in Britain’s sea-faring history.”

Sir John Narbrough’s naval journal will be displayed in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library from May. The draught of Magellan Straits, drawn by Captain John Narbrough in 1670, will be displayed in the British Library’s new exhibition: Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art which opens on 30 April (free admission). See:

The total cost to purchase the naval journal of Sir John Narbrough was £310,000. This acquisition complements the British Library’s existing map collections of 4½ million atlases, maps, globes and books on cartography, dating from the fifteenth century to the present day. Once catalogued, Sir John Narbrough’s naval journal will be readily accessible to researchers through the Library’s Reading Rooms at St Pancras.

The acquisition was made possible due to a temporary export bar which was placed on the journal by the Culture Minister. The Minister’s ruling followed a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA).


For more information please contact
Julie Yau, Arts Press Officer, British Library
020 7412 7237 / Julie Yau

See Help Save John Narbrough’s Journal for information about the original appeal.

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