Modern hydrography (Second study)

Modern hydrography (Second study)

  • Hydrographic survey of the surroundings of Ragusa

    BEAUTEMPS-BEAUPRÉ Charles-François (1766 - 1854)

  • View of the town of Ragusi (detail).

    BEAUTEMPS-BEAUPRÉ Charles-François (1766 - 1854)

Hydrographic survey of the surroundings of Ragusa

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

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Title: View of the town of Ragusi (detail).

Author : BEAUTEMPS-BEAUPRÉ Charles-François (1766 - 1854)

Creation date : 1810

Date shown: 1810

Dimensions: Height 240 - Width 240

Technique and other indications: Hydrographic reconnaissance of the surroundings of Ragusa by order of His Majesty the Emperor and King under the ministry of His Excellency Count Decres (...) Marine Fund: modern series; hydrographic service (Marine JJ); cards (Marine 6 JJ) CotConsu.6JJ / 54 / terPieceAct.25 Designer: Portier

Storage location: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: Marine 6JJ54 ter, pce 25 / NUML000543-NUML000550

View of the town of Ragusi (detail).

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

A strategic mission

In February 1806, Beautemps-Beaupré (Modern hydrography part one) was ordered to reconnoitre the coasts of the eastern part of the Gulf of Venice, focusing on military aspects as a priority: “You will focus on recognize them in terms of the war fleets to which they could serve as asylum, or as construction and armament ports, ”writes the Minister of the Navy, Decrès, in his secret instructions. Since the 1780s, however, the forests of Istria and Dalmatia have been the object of the French navy's envy, with shipbuilding timber running out all over Europe.

The Emperor personally chose Beautemps-Beaupré for this mission and asked Eugène de Beauharnais, Viceroy of Italy, to support him with all his means. Bypassing, as usual, the hierarchical path, Napoleon sent Captain Daugier (commanding the battalion of sailors in his guard) to the site to meet the surveyor engineer and get news of his work. .

Image Analysis

A new and precise technique, an artistic quality rendering

This immense square plan of 2.40 m on side, designed by Portier, represents only part of the surroundings of Ragusa (now Dubrovnik in Croatia), where Napoleon planned to establish a naval base commanding the entrance to the Gulf of Venice. (today the Adriatic). The other part is the roadstead of Gravosa (Modern Hydrography Part 1), which is the real port of Ragusa.

The panoramas associated with Portier à la carte provide extremely precise topographical information from points shown on the map (colored letters) in the form of three magnificent watercolors, of an exceptional quality of finish.
In front of Ragusa, whose fortifications overlook the sea, crosses a French warship. To the right of the port, at water level, the lazaretto probably serves as a quarantine place for ships coming from the Middle East. On the height, we can see the silhouette of Fort Napoleon then under construction.

The minutes of the maps (that is to say their drafts) reveal a very dense geodesic network, on land as on sea, thus reflecting the effectiveness of the trigonometric and graphical method developed by the engineer - which, particularly fast, copes well with conflict situations in which it is not good to dwell. Each sounding point is thus precisely defined, in the canals, sheltered from the islands where the squadrons can find refuge (as in the surroundings of Ragusa), to disappear when the coast increases making any anchorage almost impossible.
Second, these documents are also remarkable with regard to the information contained in the Report on the harbors, ports and anchorages on the eastern coast of the Gulf of Venice written by Beautemps-Beaupré in July 1806. Accompanying the maps, these memories also contain everything that is then possible to say about the physical, human and economic geography of a country [1].


Surveys to keep pace with military campaigns

Three years later, the mission ended with a diplomatic interlude ... On August 1, 1809, the governor of Zara charged Beautemps-Beaupré "to bring to the headquarters of His Imperial and Royal Majesty the notice of the concluded armistice agreement [ with] the commander of the Austrian fleet […] for everything related to Dalmatia ”. No sooner had he reached Schönbrunn - where Napoleon dealt with the benefits of Wagram's victory (July 6, 1809) - the engineer was awarded the Order of the Iron Crown. He had to leave for Paris very quickly, in order to hand over his campaign papers to Decres, before heading for Antwerp where the English had attacked. He arrived in the capital on September 5, after fifteen months of absence, ie "twelve months [...] under sail and three months [...] ashore".

Forty days later, on October 14, 1809, the Peace of Schönbrunn (or Treaty of Vienna) was signed. In particular, it brings back to France the Illyrian provinces (including Istria and Dalmatia). Through his campaigns of 1806, 1808 and 1809, the geographer, who will no longer return to the Adriatic, nevertheless played a much larger part there than the occasional plenipotentiary!

  • cards
  • hydrography
  • innovation
  • sea
  • engineer


Olivier CHAPUIS In the sea as in the sky. Beautemps-Beaupré and the birth of modern hydrography (1700-1850) Paris, Presses de l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 1999.


1. From Venice, on October 7, 1806, the hydrographer told Decrès about the immense difficulties of this task on a coast as rich in islands as in mountains and whose inhabitants are not always very sure: "When […] Your Excellency will know what the coast of Dalmatia is, […] she will be able to judge how many years and what means should be employed on this coast before daring to say that the hydrographic survey has been completed. [… ] The Dalmatians are men with whom it will take a long time to be on guard. "All the more so as the enemy is crossing in the vicinity:" The day after my arrival in the port of Trieste, a Russian vessel of 74 guns came to anchor in the harbor. This circumstance, together with various reports which I received on the position of the English, made me decide to dismiss the vessel which had served me during the campaign, to load them onto a local boat and my canoes. weaponry that had been provided to me by the arsenal, to send them back to Venice and finally to take with me, to return by land, the engineers and officers who accompanied me. "

To cite this article

Olivier CHAPUIS, "Modern hydrography (Second study)"

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