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Maps: Directorate of Overseas Surveys

A guide to finding and using printed and digital maps.

The map collection is fortunate to have many maps produced by the Directorate of Overseas Surveys (DOS) between 1946-1985.  They were donated by the DOS, mainly in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Directorate of Colonial Surveys (DCS) was founded in 1946, and re-named as the Directorate of Overseas Surveys (DOS) in 1957.  At the end of the Second World War there was a surplus of both surveying and mapping equipment and of people leaving the various mapping units of the British Army; and at the same time a need for maps to aid development in the colonies.  When these countries became independent, this meant there was the basis for a survey organization already established within the civil service, and the DOS was available to give further support.

Our holdings cover parts of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, and the majority are topographic series, at scales between 1:50 000 and 1:250 000.  In many cases we will have several editions of the sheets, so changes to infrastructure, land cover, urbanisation etc. can be followed over the years.  Thematic series and individual maps may also be held, including geology, land use and soils.

If you want to see these maps please speak to the Map Librarian – many are not on the Enterprise system, or have only a basic record.

One of the first surveys undertaken was in the Gold Coast (now Ghana), to provide base mapping for the Volta River project, a scheme to provide hydro-electricity for a new bauxite industry (Macdonald, 1996).  These maps are held in our collection as either 1st or 2nd editions and show the area before the reservoir was created.


Macdonald, A. (1996) Mapping the world: a history of the Directorate of Overseas Surveys 1946-1985. London: HMSO. 210p.

Sebert, L.M. (1985) Review of  ‘Mapping for development: the contribution of the Directorate of Overseas Surveys’ by Gerald McGrath. Imago Mundi 37. 109.

Sarawak, 1:50 000

Sarawak 1:50 000 map extract

This extract is from  sheet 4/114/8 Danau-Ukong of the Sarawak 1:50 000 series, DOS 434, published in 1963. Relief is shown by contours, and land use is indicated eg rubber, jungle, area of shifting cultivation, swamp.  Roads are classed by driveability - this extract has only tracks and footpaths.

Kenya: tsetse fly, 1:2 000 000

Kenya thematic map extract

This extract shows south western Kenya in 1954.  The map title is Kenya: boundaries, land units, population, tsetse fly and rainfall, DCS (Misc) 203d.  The shading from pink to pale green indicates the reliability of annual rainfall; forest reserves are dark green and the black dots each represent 5,000 people.  The hatching indicates areas of tsetse fly infestaton.

Gold Coast, 1:50 000

1:50 000 Gold Coast map extract

This extract of the town of Kete Krachi in Ghana is from sheet 220 Gold Coast, D.C.S.14, 1:50 000, 1st ed., preliminary plot.  It was published by the Directorate in 1953.  Relief is shown by form lines, and the type of vegetation is indicated, as well as roads, tracks and buildings.  Areas liable to flood are shown, and today the town stands at the edge of Lake Volta, created in 1965 after the construction of the Akosombo Dam.

Bechuanaland, 1:500 000

1:500 000 Botswana map extract

This extract shows part of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, from sheet 1 of Bechuanaland 1:500 000, DOS 847, published in 1965.  Relief information is minimal - there are no contours or spot heights.  Form lines indicate 'prominent hills' eg Tsodilo Hills, and the broad grey lines indicate dry valleys. Dashed blue lines show ephemeral rivers, and roads, tracks and villages are marked.

Trinidad : soils, 1:50 000

Trinidad soils map extract

This extract is from the Soil map of central Trinidad, DCS (Misc) 55, published in 1954.  Soils are assigned to one of six groups, depending on the terrain; so greys are low flat lands (swamps); greens are intermediate height flat lands; blues are high flat lands (not shown); yellows are undulating lands; browns are rolling lands (low hills); and reds are steep lands (central mountains).  Within the broad groups, soil types are numbered and defined by texture and drainage characteristics.