Jul 022016

Picture1I know exactly what my ancestor Richard Hall was doing 220 years ago – he was playing a game with his children Anna and Benjamin. The game was published by Bowles in 1795, and I still have it. The canvas backing is coming apart a bit, but the print is still legible and the game combines a geography lesson with a variant of ‘snakes and ladders’.

The top section is simply a map of the known world, which still had large areas of Canada and Greenland as blank and, as can be seen in the close up, Tasmania was shown as being part of the Australian mainland because the Bass Straits were not discovered until George Bass circumnavigated what  turned out to be an island in 1798.



At the foot of the map are the instructions for the game – each player had a counter and moved his piece the number  shown on the spin of what was called  a teetotum. This was  a spinning top with numbered sides, used because in respectable households (of which Richard Hall’s was definitely one!) dice were frowned upon because of their gambling connotations.  By moving the counter the appropriate number of spaces he or she would land on different numbered places around the world.

Picture3Each  place was given a brief description and, as in Snakes and Ladders, sometimes you had to miss a turn, sometimes you had an extra go, and sometimes you were sent back to square one. The object was to be the first to reach London: “capital of Great Britain and greatest commercial city in the world”

Land on Constantinople and you caught the plague and were sent to Newfoundland to endure quarantine for two goes;  land on Mecca and you had to return from whence you came as an atonement for your folly; Botany Bay meant a compulsory stay for four turns while you make the acquaintance of the convicts.

Some of the stops have delightful snippets of information:

….“Gibraltar, the precious Rock of Old England, taken from the Spaniards in 1704”

…. “Otaheiti, discovered in 1767, where several missionaries have been sent to convert the natives to         Christianity”

…. “Delhi, where Khouli Khan murdered 70,000 Indians in one night”

…. “Calcutta – one of the richest countries in the world, but take care to avoid the Black Hole”

Picture4As you can see, the game started at the Azores (“belonging to Africa but subject to the Portuguese”) then went to the Canaries for its second stop, (“excellent wines, canary birds and Teneriff Peak – the highest land in the known world except in Borneo” ) and then on to the Senegalese coast alongside Cape Verde Islands, where you had to be “aware of the trade in gums, gold dust and Negroes. Before you proceed, take the Slave Trade into consideration.”

Interestingly, I will be giving a talk on Georgian entertainment as one of nine talks on board the Fred Olsen cruise ship “Boudicca” when she sails to Cape Verde in November, and I thought it would be fun to include details of the game, particularly as we will pass close to the first three stops shown on the map.

Carington Bowles first published his  “Bowles’s Universal Atlas” in 1780. He appears to have re-issued the atlas with revisions just prior to his death in 1793. He was succeeded by his son Henry Carington Bowles (1763-1830),  shortly after he formed a partnership with Samuel Carver. The firm was re-named ‘Bowles and Carver’ and continued trading at No. 69 St. Pauls Churchyard. One antiquarian map site states that: “Most publications by this firm are rare and ‘Bowles’s Universal Atlas’ is no exception”.  OK, this isn’t the Universal Atlas itself, but the ‘Geographical Game of the World’ is based on the August 1795 copy of the Atlas, and I have not  been able to find many other copies. Harvard University have a digital view of the game here. Indeed because their high definition scan shows the entire image far more clearly than I can with a photograph,   here is their image:

Courtesy of Harvard Library

Courtesy of Harvard University  Library

I will be interested to know of any Museums or collectors who can give me any more information….

  2 Responses to “Exploring the world from your living room – Bowles’ Geographical Game of the World”


    Is that Bank’s Island I see in New Zealand? Cook couldn’t tell that it is a peninsula.


    Yes, it looks as though it is shown as an island. I know Cook assumed it was separate from the land he could see behind it, and I am unsure when the mistake was rectified….

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