RSGS Collections contain thousands of fascinating maps, and our expert volunteers are keen to share stories and details of them more widely. This is the first of what we hope will become a series on Memorable Maps, and we begin with a very appropriate chart for this Festive Season! It features Christmas Island, located in the Indian Ocean and since 1957 an Australian territory. 

 Running Survey of Christmas Island, 1942

This chart has strong RSGS connections, being originally prepared under the superintendence of Sir John Murray KCB, DSc, DCL, LLD, FRS, FRSGS (1841-1914), RSGS’s President from 1898-1904. Murray, Canadian-born, though of Scottish ancestry, returned to his Scottish roots to complete his education, first at Stirling High School, then at the University of Edinburgh, where his studies were scientifically very broad-based though incomplete.

In his early thirties Murray was invited to join the scientific staff on the important British Government-funded HMS Challenger Expedition (1872-76), marking the first truly global oceanographic initiative, where he took a major role in the production of its scientific reports and also visited Christmas Island. But it was not until 1908 that under Murray’s superintendence this ‘Running Survey of Christmas Island, Indian Ocean’ was published at a scale of 1:48,730, a scale slightly larger than the more familiar 1:50,000 scale of our Ordnance Survey Landranger Series maps of today.  In producing this chart, Murray had the help among others of Dr Charles W Andrews (1866-1924), a palaeontologist, geologist and British Museum curator, who in 1887-88 at the invitation and expense of Sir John Murray, spent ten months making a detailed geological and natural history survey of Christmas Island.

By 1910, Murray’s growing fame as an oceanographer led to the conferment of RSGS’s prestigious Livingstone Medal on him, recorded in the Scottish Geographical Magazine as being ‘in recognition of his extensive oceanographical work, and more particularly in commemoration of the completion of his great national work, The Bathymetrical Survey of Scottish Freshwater Lochs’. Murray died tragically four years later in March 1914 following a motor accident in Edinburgh.

This chart was originally issued in 1908, but given the detailed content it revealed, was later photolithographed and produced in 1942 by the British War Office’s Geographical Section of the General Staff during World War Two, when Christmas Island - given its strategic position just south of the Indonesian island of Java - was in danger of invasion.

You’ll note some of the place names shown on this map have a Scottish flavour, Murray himself being commemorated in Murray Hill Road and Murray Hill, and with the main harbour settlement named at that time as Edinburgh, but today known as ‘The Settlement’.