Imperial Federation Map of the World Showing the Extent of the British Empire in 1886.



Walter Crane.


Imperial Federation Map of the World Showing the Extent of the British Empire in 1886.


London: Maclure & Co.,




22¾ 8 x 30⅜ in.
I collect “persuasive” cartography: maps intended primarily to influence opinions or beliefs, rather than to communicate geographic information. Among the earliest and most important examples are maps reinforcing state power, like this one, published during the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886, the year before Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. The map exalts the scope and wealth of the British Empire: the Canadian trapper, Colonial hunter and South African planter; the watchful British soldier and sailor; elegant ladies in furs and gowns alongside indigenous peoples. The intellectual leader of cartographic deconstruction, Brian Harley, wrote that “As much as guns and warships, maps have been the weapons of imperialism” (The New Nature of Maps, 57)—citing this map to illustrate the point!

There is an intriguing backstory. The source of the map’s statistical data is named, but not the mapmaker. We now know that the map was prepared by the illustrator Walter Crane; the lower left corner of the map bears his tiny mark. The failure to attribute the map to Crane was likely political: he was an activist whose cartoons frequently appeared in prominent socialist publications. Crane, however, sent his own message. The three figures at the top of the map display a slogan unrelated to the Imperial Federation Movement, but much like “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.” Indeed, they each wear the red Phrygian cap of liberated Roman slaves—the symbol of the French revolution. And while Britannia sits proudly astride the world, the novel sash across the chest of Atlas reads: “Human Labour.”


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