oa Botswana Notes & Records - The 1933 maps of 'Bechuanaland Protectorate' at 1:500,000 : a milestone in the mapping of Botswana

Volume 27, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0525-5090



An eight-sheet series of maps dated 1933 portrayed the whole of Botswana at a much larger scale than any previously published map. The history of map-making in Botswana prior to 1933 is summarised and related to British colonial map-making elsewhere in Africa, to provide the context of the 1933 series. The five-year compilation history of the 1933 series is then examined in more detail, to facilitate more informed consultation of the map as a historical document. The circumstances of its compilation help to explain both the content and the variable accuracy of the map. In 1984, the Surveyor-General in Gaborone, published a single-sheet map entitled 'Bechuanaland Protectorate' at a scale of 1;1,250,000. The explanation for this surprising title almost two decades after Botswana gained its independence, is contained in an endorsement at the foot of the sheet reading: 'Reprinted from a negative/of an original printed copy/CTP 1984'. Beneath, smaller type reads 'Printed at Ordnance Survey Office, Southampton, 1935'. The latest map is a photographic reproduction of a map first published in 1935 by reducing the scale of a 1:500,000 eight-sheet series of maps of Bechuanaland Protectorate published by the War Office in 1933, reference 'Geographical Section, General Staff, No 3915'. None of the detail was lost in the reduction process in 1935 and all of it could therefore be carried forward in 1984. The 1933 series was a significant milestone in the cartographic history of Botswana. However, it is also representative of a particular type of map which was characteristic of early colonial map-making, i.e., compilation mapping, which draws on a wide range of earlier cartographic and sometimes non-cartographic sources (Stone, 1984). Coverage within the 1933 series is typically uneven, depending on availability and quality of source material. Furthermore, different parts of the country may be depicted at different dates. Hence, discretion is called for in consulting the map. The purpose of this article is, firstly, to provide a summary history of the cartography of Botswana, to set the 1933 compilation in its context. Secondly, and more specifically, the article will examine the origins and compilation history of the series itself, as an aid to informed consultation of what may be a potentially useful historical source for Botswana more than sixty years ago.

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