Portrait of Alexander Dalrymple His portrait is an important new addition to the museum’s collection – but who was Alexander Dalrymple? Although relatively unknown to today’s public, Alexander Dalrymple led a life exemplifying service to his country during the age of Enlightenment. His influential role in Britain’s maritime history makes him an outstanding historical figure. In 1795, at the age of 58, Scottish-born Dalrymple’s became the first Hydrographer to the Admiralty. Hydrography is the science that maps, measures and describes water, and is vital for the safe navigation of vessels at sea. Having spent his youth in the Far East in the service of the East India Company, his experience enabled him to organise a vast governmental library of maps in London for the benefit of British traders and travellers. He is credited with the creation and design of the Admiralty Chart, which was subsequently developed over 150 years to form a body of more than 4,000 charts. These charts provided a guide to safe navigation of the world’s oceans by naval and merchant shipping. In this way, he helped to lay one of the secure foundations upon which the far-flung trading posts of the British Empire was based. Double-page hand-coloured engraved chart of Felicia and plan of the Island of Balambangan (off modern Borneo), by Alexander Dalrymple, 1770. Amazing discovery Whilst translating some Spanish documents captured in the Philippines in 1752, Dalrymple found evidence that showed a passage south of New Guinea, now known as the Torres Strait. The discovery led Dalrymple to publish a book which aroused widespread interest in his claim of the existence of an unknown southern continent. This resulted in Captain Cook undertaking another voyage of exploration into the South Pacific which eventually led in 1770 to the British discovery and charting of the Eastern coastline of Australia. Today, the headquarters of the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office in Taunton are named after Dalrymple and his papers are deposited in the National Archives at Kew. However, the only other original likeness of Dalrymple is a pencil profile held in the collections of the National Library of Australia, which makes this portrait a rare and important addition to the Museums’ collections. Where can I see the portrait? The portrait hangs in the Discoveries gallery, which commemorates the lives of Scottish pioneers and innovators. The painting is dated to about 1765 and is the only known likeness of Dalrymple in the UK. Click on the portrait to see a larger version. Alexander Dalrymple fact file Born: Newhailes, near Edinburgh, on 24 July 1737 Died: 19 June 1808 Did you know? In his portrait, Dalrymple is wearing the uniform of a sea-officer of the East India Company, and he is aged about 28. His association with the company began in 1759, when he commanded an East India Company ship whilst surveying in the China Sea and around the Philippines. Portrait fact file On display: Discoveries, Level 1, National Museum of Scotland Date: c.1765 Painted by: The painting is attributed to John Thomas Seton (c.1735-1806) but is not signed. Painted with: Oil, on canvas Composition: Dalrymple is pictured with a globe, a map of the Dutch province of Friesland, two hydrographic charts and a pair of dividers, the tools of his trade. Did you know? The portrait was probably painted at the Dalrymple family home of Newhailes, near Edinburgh, perhaps in the Chinese sitting room. Related pages Discoveries Acquired with the aid of the Art Fund.