WILTSHIRE auctioneers Netherhampton Salerooms were celebrating a new house record on March 3 after a disbound album of Far Eastern topographical drawings sold for £43,000.
The 40 finely executed pencil and ink sketches, titled Views
of the China Seas & Macao taken during Capt. D. Ross' Surveys
by M. Houghton, had been plucked by the vendor from her
grandmother's hands as they were cast onto a bonfire.
The immediate stimulus for surveys such as this, undertaken in
the early 19th century along the coastlines of the Middle and Far
East, was the desire to aid trade through local knowledge.
Specifically this meant knowledge of coastal geography in regions
where local sailors, with experience of the shallows and channels,
could outwit the less certain ships of the East India Company.
The name of Captain Daniel Ross is well known in the history of
hydrography, but research suggests some confusion exists between
two men who shared the same name, rank and profession.
The better documented of the two is Captain Daniel Ross
(1807-40), who held the position of Marine Surveyor General during
the first complete survey of the Gulf coast by the Bombay
However, the Captain Daniel Ross we are dealing with here was
his father, sent by the East India Company to Cochin China to
survey the Paracel Islands in 1807. His charts were finally
published in 1821, six years before he died as a privateer in
Judging by other items included in the sale (including a mid
19th century Anglo-Indian portrait miniature of Captain William
Hercules Ross of the 30th Bengal Native Infantry sold at £1100) the
owner had a connection to the Ross family.
But, while sufficiently confident of the importance of the
consignment to picture the title page on the cover of the catalogue
and suggest an estimate of £2000-3000, Netherhampton specialist
Bill Hoade had been unable to positively identify the other
protagonist in the short period of time between consignment and
cataloguing (see last week's Letters page).
M. Houghton's identity only emerged later in reference to 20
watercolours of the Coast of Oman and the Trucial States by one
Lieutenant Houghton in the British Museum.
Michael Houghton was a career sailor and accomplished marine
draughtsman who worked under both generations of the Ross family
(father and son). He would rise to become a lieutenant and in 1833
would himself become Marine Surveyor General in Bombay. But, born
in 1797, he was only 18 years old when he embarked upon the survey
of the China Seas.
The arrangement of the drawings in the album is not
chronological and - as sketchbook pages vary in size from 3 x 4in
(7.5 x 10cm) to 8 x 14in (20 x 35cm) - most probably represent a
personal selection of "on the spot" drawings from a larger body of
work. However, according to the contemporary titles and other
inscriptions to the wash line mounts, they cover a fairly short
period between 1816 and 1819. There are tantalising references.
Both the title page and a drawing dated 1816 of Hysansue
Harbour in the Yellow Sea includes reference to HMS
Alceste, raising the possibility that Ross and Houghton were
on the voyage that took Lord Amherst (1773-1857), in his role as
Ambassador Extraordinary to the court of the Emperor Jiaqing.
The primary object of his mission (to establish more
satisfactory commercial relations between the East India Company
and the Chinese) was frustrated.
Amherst refused to perform the kowtow and was denied an audience
with the emperor while, after a cruise along the coast of Korea and
to the Ryukyu Islands, his ship was wrecked on rocks in the Java
Sea and the broken vessel burnt by Malay Dyaks.
Two more of the collection's highlights are a fine large-format
drawing of the Franciscan monastery at Macao 'taken from the window
of the Swedish Factory' and the view of Singapore from the
Rocky Point, 1819- the founding date of modern-day
It was in February 1819 that Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826)
signed a rudimentary treaty between the nominal chiefs of the
island of Singapore that called for the exclusivity of trade and
the British protection of the area. To the mount was the additional
inscription: This was the appearance of Singapore when they
first landed to form a settlement.
Such a rich seam of material ripe for further study generated
great interest and bidding from national and international clients
in the room and on telephones. The buyer, at a multi-estimate
£43,000 (plus 15 per cent buyer's premium) was a member of the