Separate Printed Maps Of
Mahon Harbour and St. Phillip's Castle
1700-1786
(including insets on general British maps of the period)

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Mahon Harbour is one of the largest natural harbours in tworld, a deep inlet extending some three and a half miles inland.  Its importance had been recognised since classical times, when the island was occupied by the Carthaginian general Mago, brother of Hannibal, who gave his name to the town and harbour, then Rome, who referred  to the town as 'Port Magonis'.

The earliest separate printed maps of the Balearic Islands appear in Benedetto Bordone's Libro Di Benedetto Bordone Nel Qual Si Ragiona De Tutte L'Isole Del Mondo, published in 1528, with Minorca and Majorca together on one map, and Ibiza and Formentera on another.  Geographically, however, the maps were very schematic, with the only place name on Minorca being 'porto mao'.

Other maps of Minorca and Maiorca were issued by the members of the "Lafreri-school" of mapmakers, in the 1560's and 1570's, and by Tomasso Porcacchi, in his L'Isole Piv Famose Del Mondo.

The first general map of the three islands together was issued by Gerard de Jode, in his Speculum Orbis Terrarum (Antwerp, 1578).  Interestingly, de Jode's delineation was copied in a very rare map by the Cologne author Johannes Metellus (or Matal), issued in the Insularum Orbis Aliquot Insvlarvm, (Cologne, 1601).  In some ways, the map is deservedly rare, for the engraver has reversed the islands in the copying process, so that Minorca ostensibly lies to the west of Majorca, and Ibiza to the east.

While the quality of maps of the islands improved during the seventeenth century, it was the wars of the eighteenth century that saw heightened interest in detailed mapping of Mahon Harbour, and the fort constructed at the harbour mouth, Fort San Felipe or, as it was known to the British, St. Philip's Castle.

In the main, it was the British, possessors of the island for much of this period, that were responsible for the mapping, although cartographers of other nations took an interest as circumstances dictated.  Certainly, the island had an eventful history in the eighteenth century.

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The British first gained control of Minorca in 1708, during the War of the Spanish Succession, and held the island until 1756, when it was captured by the French, during the Seven Years War.  As part of the territorial settlement ending that war, in 1762, the island was restored to the British, and retained until 1782, when a joint Franco-Spanish expedition forced the capitulation of St. Philip's Castle, as one part of the European theatre of the American War of Independence.  However, the British re-captured the island in 1788, before finally ceding the island to Spain in 1802.

The chief impetus for the mapping of the island during the eighteenth century was military, and a large number of maps were published throughout Europe, but particularly in England, France and Germany to depict both the fortifications prefatory to attack, and to record events of the sieges.

St. Philip's Castle also attracted a great deal of attention, and a series of plans of the castle's defences were prepared in 1756, at a time when they were in considerable disrepair.  The British subsequently spent a great deal of money fortifying the castle, and extending the network of underground tunnels and defences, making the most expensive capital project undertaken by the British Army until the 20th Century.

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BODENEHR, Gabriel. [Minorca Insula]. Augsburg, c.1713.
Map of Minorca, published soon after the capture of the island by the British.
After the loss of the island to the French in 1756 the map was re-engraved by Kilian, with a new title and text, altered coastlines, roads and more fortifications. Note however the remains of the plate number top right.
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The epic siege of 1756 gave rise to one of the most famous lines of literature.  The Fort was defended by William, Baron Blakeney, lieutenant-governor of Minorca, with a force of about 5,000 soldiers and workmen, against a force of about 15,000 French troops.  The defenders were handicapped by the poor state of the defences, but held on determinedly for relief.  A fleet assembled for that purpose arrived off the island, and fought an indecisive battle with the French fleet on May 20th.   The British commander, however, determined to retire and left the garrison to its fate.  A second fleet arrived only to find that the garrison had surrendered after an epic siege of 71 days.

When he returned to England, the eighty-four year old Blakeney was greeted as a national hero.  By contrast, Vice Admiral John Byng was executed by firing-squad for his failure.  As Voltaire noted at the time, every once in a while the British had to execute an admiral "pour encourager les autres".

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