In this paper, we consider the ways in which practices of drawing and surveying shaped the geographical imagination of British mariners in the tropics. The art of navigation involved a variety of skills, notably sketching and mapping. The history of naval survey and hydrography is often written from the centre, a more‐or‐less halting narrative of science, government and empire in which prominent naval officials hold the stage. Here, we start with a different view ‐ that of the surveyor in the field, or rather on board ship, working with his eyes and his hands to make a record of the voyage. The two views are not mutually exclusive: but the perspectives they give differ in important respects. Our focus in this paper is on a single figure ‐ John Septimus Roe, who later rose to prominence as Surveyor‐General of Western Australia. We are interested here in Roe's more humble early career, as midshipman and master's mate on a number of vessels during and after the Napoleonic Wars, which took him to various sites across the British empire, formal and informal: to the European theatre of war, to North and South America, the Gulf, India, Mauritius, Burma, South‐East Asia and tropical Australia. The images of Rio de Janeiro examined here form part of a corpus which raises much wider questions about the visual culture of navigation and the experience of observation in the early nineteenth century
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