Cartographer(s): Alexander Keith Johnston
Date: ca. 1846
Place: Edinburgh
Dimensions: 65 x 53 (26 x 21 in.)
Condition Rating: VG+

In stock

SKU: NL-01553 Category:

Increasing European involvement in Africa.


An impressive ca. 1846 map of Africa, produced for William and Alexander Keith Johnston’s The national atlas of historical, commercial, and political geography.

This map apparently predates the incorporation of Natal into the Cape Colony. At this time, British settlers were arriving in larger numbers, irritating the more-established Dutch-descended European settlers. The Dutch began migrating eastwards, coming into intense conflict with indigenous groups, while also fighting British incursions into the region. The result was that, much as the Afrikaners disliked British rule, they accepted British protection over the short-lived Boer Natalia Republic (1839-1843), though within a few years most of the Boer settlers migrated further eastwards. In time, the British incorporated the region into their global commercial networks and Port Natal (Durban) emerged as a major port.

While the information above would suggest a date of 1844 or earlier, the inclusion of Lake Malawi appears to indicate a date no earlier than 1846, when a Portuguese trader became the first European to spot the lake. Thus, it is likely that the presentation of Natal here was not changed as the situation was still uncertain.

Large portions of the continent’s interior remain a terra incognita, with the word ‘unexplored’ written over much of it. What is recorded is based on early sources (Ptolemy, al-Edrisi, and Abulfeda), knowledge gleaned from distant Portuguese outposts, and speculation rather than recent exploration. In contrast, coastal regions of West Africa, the Congo, and North Africa are well-mapped, and the interior around Lake Chad and the Sahara Desert reflects European discoveries of the preceding decades. European involvement in the continent increased around the time of this map’s production.

Though it would be several decades before medical, military, and transportation technology led to a complete ‘Scramble for Africa,’ rival powers were already carving out bases in various parts of the continent that would later evolve into spheres of influence. In addition to the long-extant but limited Portuguese presence in the Congo and Mozambique, in the years just preceding this map’s publication, British involvement was expanding in southern Africa, the French had occupied Algeria, and a group of European empires had intervened to limit the expansion of the ambitious ruler of Egypt, Mohammed Ali Pasha, who threatened to topple the Ottoman Empire and upset the balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean.


Alexander Keith Johnston

William and Alexander Keith Johnston were Scottish brothers based in Edinburgh who operated a prominent map engraving and printing business in the mid-19th century. A.K. Johnston was the driving force behind the business and remained in the world of cartography throughout his life, while William later entered politics, serving as the Lord Provost of Edinburgh and being knighted for his service. Johnston’s maps and atlases earned high praise for their accuracy and comprehensiveness (A.K. Johnston was strongly influenced by Alexander von Humboldt).

Condition Description

Toning along edges. Light foxing on verso.