Horsburgh was a Scottish hydrographer and publisher, who served in the Royal Navy and went on to become hydrographer to the East India Company, serving for over twenty years in the East. He was shipwrecked on Diego Garcia as a result of faulty charts during a voyage to the East Indies, and this sparked his interest in charting in general, and of the East Indies in particular.
From his researches, he composed the pilot guide, Directions for Sailing to and from the East Indies, China, New Holland, Cape of Good Hope (1809–1811), much reprinted, with later printings titled the India Directory. This guide quickly became the standard mariners’ handbook for the region.
Horsburgh also published some charts from his own observations: a chart of the Straits of Banca and Gaspaer in 1810; a chart of India and Sri Lanka in 1811; a chart of the China Sea in 1821 and a chart of the east coast of China in 1835. In his position at the East India Company, he was also instrumental in encouraging and publishing the work of other hydrographers.
John Walker jr., of the family of mapmakers and engravers, was apprenticed to Horsburgh to train as an engraver and chartmaker, and later succeeded him as Hydrographer to the East India Company.