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Number: 3626
Continent: Africa
Region: West
Place Names: Mali, Niger River
Year of Origin: 1910
Language: French
Publish Origin: Paris
Height: 81.0
Width: 63.0
Units: centimeters
Size Class.: Large
Color Type: No Color
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Cartographer: Henri Lefranc
Other Contributors: H. Fournier
Northernmost Latitude:
Southernmost Latitude:
Westernmost Longitude:
Easternmost Longitude:
Notes: [PENDING PAHOR SOURCE] Technique: Lithograph on 6 sheets (5 section maps + 1 key map), sheets of irregular size ranging from 75 x 56 cm (29.5 x 22 inches) to 81 x 63 cm (32 x 25 inches); An extremely rare, seemingly unrecorded, 6-sheet hydrographic survey of a stretch of the Niger River above Timbuktu made as part of the 'Mission Hydrographique du Niger', the epic project to scientifically survey the navigable middle course of the river; drafted by Ensign Henri Lefranc (later a WWI Ace Pilot). At the beginning of the 20th Century the Niger River was the main transportation corridor running through what is today known as Mali and Niger, then part of France's colonial domain of Afrique Occidentale. In order to advance France's political, economic and military power the region, the colonial authorities commissioned the 'Mission Hydrographique du Niger', which sought to scientifically chart the vast mid-course of the Niger River that was navigable during much of the year. The endeavour, executed by professional French hydrographic engineers operated between 1903 and 1909, and can righlty be considered one of the most impressive technical achievements of river surveying of its era. The present 6-sheet map (5 section sheets and 1 key sheet) details a stretch of the river that runs through marshlands just above the famous city of Timbuktu (Mali), extending from Safay to Ko??ago. The five section sheets are: No. 1 ? El Oualadji; No. 2 ? Dir? No. 3 Koura; No. 4 Dindehondo; and No. 5 - Koiretago. The survey of this part of the river was, undertaken in 1906 by a crew commanded by Ensign Henri Lefranc, is extremely detailed. The river is replete with bathymetric soundings (noted as having been taken in metres at 'low water' on July 2, 1906), while every hazard is labelled. Along the shore, all villages are depicted, along with landmarks, as well as notes as to the nature of the soil, vegetation and land use. Not only is it the first ever scientific mapping of this area, but it is an unusually fine work of fluvial hydrography. In this period leading up to Word War I, the French government was weary of any highly detailed geographic information falling into the hands of Germany. As a result, the charts created by the 'Mission Hydrographique du Niger' were classified and printed only in small quantities exclusively for official French use. Most of these maps were printed as part of an extremely rare atlas, Mission Hydrographique du Niger, 3 vols. (Paris: H. Fournier, 1910-12). The present map was not included in the atlas and is extremely rare; we have not been able to trace even a reference to it, let alone the location of another example. It would seem to have been made as trial piece, and not necessarily intended to be published or disseminated in any formal sense. It may have been used in the preparation of the map Carte du Niger, de l?El Oualadji ?Timbouktou which appeared within the atlas. Mission Hydrographique du Niger: Surveying the Niger River The Niger River, with a length of 4,200 km (2,600 miles) is the longest river in western Africa and the third longest on the continent. The upper and middle reaches of the Niger River flowed through the French colonial domain of Afrique Occidentale, which was divided into smaller colonies. By the 1890s, France placed a priority on strengthening its political grip over the region and developing its economy and infrastructure. The river is partially navigable below Ansongo (Mali), but above that point it is fully navigable for 1,770 km (1,100 miles) during the seasons of high water, including the passage up to Timbuktu and well beyond. As road and caravan travel war arduous, and it would be some time before railways could be forged through this land, the only reliable transport link into the heart of what it today Mali was the boat passage up the Niger River. The only problem was that this route was not precisely understood; a misreading of the seasonal fluctuations of the river levels and an ignorance of hazards could prove deadly to steamship crews. A precise scientific hydrographic survey of the river was imperative. The first endeavour to scientifically survey the middle Niger River was undertaken by a team under Lieutenant ?ile Auguste L?n Hourst, the so called 'Mission Hourst' during 1895 and 1896. While the expedition produced fine surveys, it only covered a limited stretch of the river; many hundreds of kilometres were still left uncharted. In 1903, the French colonial regime commissioned the 'Mission Hydrographique du Niger' to continue the survey of the river up past Timbuktu. The endeavour was led for the first two years by Lieutenant Georges Vincent Marie Le Blevec (1870 - 1956), and from 1905 to 1909 by Lieutenant Jean Auguste Millot (1875 - 1933). The last four years of the Mission, under Millot, were more intensive than the earlier period, with several autonomous surveying teams simultaneously operating in the field at any one time, variously led by the ensigns Jean Jules Henri Golay, Jean Odent, Charles Ven and Henri Lefranc. The Mission's charts were exceedingly precise and detailed, and the endeavour was deemed complete in 1909. The results of the expedtion were published as an atlas, Mission Hydrographique du Niger, 3 vols. (Paris: H. Fournier, 1910-12), featuring numerous river charts each composed of several folio sheets. Importantly, the atlas was classified as ?non dans le commerce?, meaning it was not to be sold or freely disseminated, reserved only for French administrators and military officers. While some aspects of the surveys were released for integration into publicly available maps, the detailed charts of the atlas were evidently considered to be military sensitive during the period leading up to World War I (when German spies were to be found virtually everywhere across western Africa). The Mission's excellent surveys greatly assisted both military and civilian navigation on the middle and upper Niger River; as the information they contained was eventually declassified, such that the derivative maps served as were the base charts for the passage for several decades. Henri Lefranc: Naval Surveyor and Aviator Henri Lefranc (1878- 1923) was a French naval officer and an ace fighter pilot during the opening days of World War I. Born in Fontainebleau, he joined the French Army in 1896, whereupon he was stationed out of Lorient, Brittany. Over the next seven years he served on several vessels in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean. In 1904, he was posted to Senegal, whereupon he joined the Mission Hydrographique du Niger. In 1911, he was posted to conduct hydrographic surveys along the coasts of West Africa. In 1912, he made Lieutenant and was posted to various vessels in the Atlantic. A keen enthusiast of aviation, he trained as one of France's earliest fighter pilots. During the first months of World War I he completed many sorties. However, he was seriously injured in December 1914, forcing him to return to sea duty. He was awarded the Chevalier de la L?ion d?Honneur and the Croix de guerre for his bravery. Promoted to Captain in 1920, he was the commander of corvettes sailing out of Lorient. Retaining his fascination with aviation, he participated in airship voyages. The Dixmude was the largest airship in the world; built by Hindenburg, it was given to France as part of Germany?s WWI reparations. Sadly, on the night of December 21, 1923, Lefranc and all in board perished when the Dixmude exploded during a thunderstorm over the Mediterranean, en route from Algeria to Toulon, in what was one of the world?s first great aviation disasters. References: N / A ? Rare. Cf. Afrique de l'ouest. In: Annales de G?graphie, t. 22, n?125, XXII? Bibliographie G?graphique Annuelle, 1912. 1913. pp. 239-244. no. 789 (p. 242).
Last updated: Nov 26, 2019