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The Early Cartographers


Timothy Pont

“with small means and no favouring patron, he undertook the whole of this task..: he travelled on foot right through the whole of this kingdom, as no one before him had done; he visited all the islands, occupied for the most part by inhabitants hostile and uncivilised, and with a language different from our own; being often stripped, as he told me, by the fierce robbers, and suffering not seldom all the hardships of the dangerous journey, nevertheless at no time was he overcome by the difficulties, nor was he disheartened. But when, having returned, he prepared to publish the results of his labours, he was defeated by the greed of the printers and booksellers, and so could not reach his goal. While awaiting better times, untimely death took him away.”

TIMOTHY PONT (1560?–1614?), topographer, elder son of Robert Pont, Scottish reformer, by his first wife, Catherine, daughter of Masterton of Grange, was born about 1560. He matriculated as student of St. Leonard's College, St. Andrews, in 1579–80, and obtained the degree of M.A. in 1583-4. In 1601 he was appointed minister of Dunnet, Caithness-shire, and was continued 7 Dec. 1610; but he resigned some time before 1614, when the name of William Smith appears as minister of the parish. On 25 July 1609 Pont was enrolled for a share of two thousand acres in connection with the scheme for the plantation of Ulster, the price being 400.

Timothy Pont's Early Map of Deeside
This particularly informative map shows the lower valley of the River Dee, Scotland's fifth longest river. It extends from a point just west of Kincardine O'Neil to the North Sea at Aberdeen (although Aberdeen itself is not drawn fully on the map). The map extends southward to include the Cowie Water and Carron Water at Stonehaven.
To the north the map includes Skene and extends almost as far north west as Alford

Pont's Upper Reaches of the River Dee

This sheet contains four separate units: Pont 7(1), a profile of Ben Lawers, the 3984 ft mountain just north of Loch Tay, Perthshire; Pont 7(2), a small neat map showing the catchment area of the Water of Tanar from near its confluence with the River Dee to the high hills around its source; Pont 7(3), a map showing the River Avon (and its tributaries) from its confluence with the River Spey in the north to Ben Avon and Loch Builg in the south; and Pont 7(4), a map of lower Strath Avon.

Pont was an accomplished mathematician, and the first projector of a Scottish atlas. In connection with the project he made a complete survey of all the counties and islands of the kingdom, visiting even the most remote and savage districts, and making drawings on the spot. He died before 1625, probably in 1614, having almost completed his task.  The originals of his maps, which are preserved in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, are characterised by great neatness and accuracy.  King James gave instructions that they should be purchased from his heirs and prepared for publication, but on account of the disorders of the time they were nearly forgotten, when Sir John Scot of Scotstarvet prevailed on Robert Gordon (1580–1661) of Straloch to undertake their revision with a view to publication.  The task of revision was completed by Gordon's son, James Gordon, Parson of Rothiemay, and they were published in Blaeu's ‘Atlas,’ vol. v. Amsterdam, 1654 (reissued in 1662 in vol. vi).  The ‘Topographical Account of the District of Cunninghame, Ayrshire, compiled about the Year 1600 by Mr. Timothy Pont,’ was published in 1850; and was reproduced under the title ‘Cunninghame topographised, by Timothy Pont, A.M., 1604–1608; with Continuations and Illustrative Notices by the late James Dobie of Crummock, F.S.A. Scot., edited by his son, John Shedden Dobie,’ Glasgow, 1876.

Pont's manuscript maps are key historical documents for their time, of importance in the fields of place-name, settlement, and other studies. Many of the maps have miniature drawings of major buildings (such as castles and abbeys), obviously sketched from life. Though on a small scale and not entirely accurate, these give an idea of the appearance of many buildings that have been altered or have disappeared completely.

Cartographer. Probably born at Shiresmill (FIfe), Pont the son of Rev Robert Pont (1524 - 1606), a noted churchman and close associate of John Knox (1510-72). Following his graduation from St Andres University (1583), the young Pont embarked on an ambitious project to record the landscape of Scotland. Over the succeeding 18 years, he produced some 77 maps, now held by the National Library of Scotland. These are remarkable in that they represent the oldest maps of Scotland based on an original survey. As part of this project, Pont mapped the Roman Antonine Wall, recording several forts which have subsequently been demolished.

In 1601, he became a minister, in the Parish of Dunnet, Caithness.

Pont's maps were not published during his lifetime but, with the help of Robert Gordon (1580 - 1661), they formed the basis of Blaeu's splendid Atlas Novus, the first atlas of Scotland, published in 1654.

Because at that time waterways provided the main means of transport, areas around these are depicted in greater detail in his sketch maps than the far more sparsely inhabited hinterlands. Pont concentrates on human habitations from small fermtouns to larger settlements and to towns themselves.

Many Churches and Abbeys are depicted, but more numerous are the castles and large houses of the landowners and lairds, which appear in architectural-like drawings When magnified these reveal a striking picture of the buildings and grounds, the storeys and windows, towers and gateways that Pont actually saw - an invaluable record of 16th century Scotland. Even allowing for idiosyncrasies of spelling at that time, the identifying names on these sketch maps reflect the way in which they were pronounced - surely a research topic in itself.

Before the dawn of the 17th century, Pont's travels had come to an end and he had become minister of the parish of Dunnet in Caithness. There he lived at least until 3rd May 1611, according to a bond of that date which declared that he and "Isobell Blacadder his spouse" lent 1000 merks to the Earl of Caithness (an interesting slant!). He is thought to have died shortly thereafter with all but one of his manuscript maps unpublished.

ROBERT GORDON OF STRALOCH (1580 – 1661) ( founder of Robert Gordon's College),

Robert Gordon of Straloch in Aberdeenshire was enlisted to assist
Blaeu in preparing the Pont manuscripts for publication. A graduate of Aberdeen University, who had also studied in Paris, he was described by a contemporary as “one of the ablest men in Scotland in the mathematical faculties”, and by Blaeu as “doyen of geographers”.  His interest in maps dated from his youth; an astolabe with his name, the date
1597, and one of its tablets with the latitude of Straloch , still exists.  He started work on the Pont manuscripts before 1636, and it took him until 1648 to complete.  The extent of his contribution is the subject of academic debate but Stone maintains that other than in relation to his home territory of the northeast where he certainly added significantly to the original Pont maps his contribution was to re-work rather than to revise the information provided by Pont. 

This eminent geographer and antiquary was born at Kinmundy in this parish on the 14th September 1580. He was the second son of Sir John Gordon of Pitlurg, a gentleman who long stood high in the favour of his sovereign, James VI. Mr Gordon has the merit of being the first who applied actual mensuration in topographical surveys to Scotland. At the request and earnest solicitation of King Charles he undertook, in 1641, the preparation of an atlas of Scotland, which was published in 1648, and soon afterwards went through a second and third editions. It was his diligence and accuracy in the science of geography, then in an extremely rude state, that first obtained for him the celebrity which he afterwards enjoyed.

James Gordon of Rothiemay - Cartographer

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661
Map of the Old and New Towns of Aberdeen by James Gordon of Rothiemay, late 17th century
On graduating from King's College in
1636, James Gordon became a Minister at Rothiemay in Aberdeenshire. He is, however, remembered today as a Cartographer and Historian of considerable repute who assisted his father, Robert Gordon of Straloch, in producing maps for John Blaeu's famous multi-volume Atlas Novus.  His final major commission in 1661 was to create a map of Aberdeen's two towns, for which the Town Council rewarded him with a silver cup, a silk hat, and "ane silk goun to his bed fellow". Great attention was lavished on his alma mater in the Old Town, compared with the outline sketch of Marischal College.

Our notions of the older Aberdeen are based on the map drawn by Parson James Gordon of Rothiemay in 1661.   The town had been much the same for the three centuries before 1661, and did not change much until the beginning of the 19th century.   Parson Gordon observed that ‘the most considerable part of the City stands on 3 hills – the Castle Hill, St. Katherine’s Hill and the Gallowgate Hill’.   Aberdeen in 1661 had a population of only about 5,000, and consisted of about 16 streets, most of which had long back gardens which covered more ground than did the streets and houses themselves.   As the population expanded, these gardens were themselves built on, resulting in considerable congestion and squalor, and were accessed by courts, pends and closes cut through the original house, e.g., Peacock’s Court in the Castlegate.   There were regular outbreaks of plague, cholera, typhus, amoebic dysentery, smallpox, tuberculosis and leprosy.   A leper hospital, 1st mentioned in 1363, was set up outside the Burgh on Spital Hill, but was in ruins by 1661.

1789 Survey Map - Alexander Milne


A plan, drawn by John Home, shows Aberdeen Harbour in 1769.  At this date, the harbour was shallow, with many sandbanks or Inches. The Dee estuary entrance was narrow and partly blocked by a large sandbank, the 'Barr'. Girdleness Lighthouse was not completed until 1833, so the rocks to the south of the harbour were also unlit and a major hazard to shipping. This made the port very difficult to access, especially for larger vessels. The plan shows many vessels off Aberdeen but this number probably reflects artistic licence.

JOHN ADAIR 1686-1718
A mathematician, living in Edinburgh, who embarked on a considerable number of cartographic enterprises but through shortage of money and ill luck few of them came to fruition. His maps of several Scottish counties, although completed in the 1680s, were not published until long after his death. 

  • 1688-93 A true and exact hydrographical description of the Sea Coast and Isles of Scotland: published in 1703

  • 1727 Nova Scotiae tabula, published in Buchanan's Rerum Scoticarum Historia 

HERMAN MOLL 1678-1732

  • 1701 Scotland, in A System of Geography

  • 1708 The north part of Great Britain

  • 1714 The north part of Great Britain ca/led Scot/and 

  • 1718 A Pocket Companion of Ye Roads ofye north part of Great Britain ca/led Scot/and 1727 and later editions  

  • 1725 A set of Thirty Six New and Correct Maps of Scot/and 1745 Re-issued 


  •  1705 North Britain or Scot/and


  •  c. 1710 A New Map of North Britain or Scotland 


  • 1715 The North Part of Great Britain called Scotland

  • 1720 A new Map of Scotland or North Britain 1731-76 Re-issued 

A military engineer who served With the Duke of Cumberland at Culloden in 1746. His New and Correct Mercator's Map was criticized by Thomas Jefferys for its inaccuracies but it was generally recognized as a great improvement on all earlier maps of Scotland.

  • 1745 A New and Correct Mercator's Map of North Britain 1746 Re-issued 


  • 1746 A new and accurate map of Scotland or North Britain 

  • 1747 A new and accurate map of Scotland 

Apart from the maps listed below, Thomas Kitchin produced a large number of other maps of Scotland for atlases by Wm Faden, Carrington Bowles, and Sayer and Bennett, among others.

  • 1749 Geographia Scotiae (12 mo) Pocket Atlas of 33 maps 1756 Re-issued

  • 1771 Scotland with the roads from the latest surveys

  • 1771 Scotland from the best authorities

Little is known about Dorret except that, although employed as a valet by the 3rd Duke of Argyll, he claimed to be a land surveyor, evidently not without reason for at the Duke's order and expense he prepared a new large-scale map of Scotland which was so great an improvement on earlier maps that it remained the standard for the country for something like forty years.

  • 1750 A general map of Scotland and Islands thereto belonging - in 4 sheets 1751, 1761 Re-issued on a smaller scale 

A notable hydrographer who carried Out the 1st scientific marine survey on a measured baseline in this country. After completing a survey of the Orkneys begun in 1742 as a private venture he was commissioned by the Admiralty to survey the west coast of Britain and all the coasts of Ireland, the results of which were published in 1776. He was succeeded as Admiralty Surveyor by his nephew, also Murdoch MacKenzie (1743-1829).

  • 1750 Orcades, or a Geographic and Hydrographic Survey of the Orkney and Lewis Islands

  • 1776 A Maritime Survey of Ireland and the West Coast of Great Britain

Plate: ABRAHAM ORTELIUS Scotiae Tabula Antwerp 1573. This map, published in the Theatrum Orbis Terraram, was based on Mercator's wall map of the British Isles compiled in 1564 and remained the standard map until 1611, when Speed's new map was issued.

Plate: JOHN ADAIR Mapp of Straithern, Stormoant and Cars of Gourie. Although this map by John Adair was engraved by James Moxon probahly about 1685-86, it was not published until after Adair's death in 1718.

Plate: MURDOCH MACKENZIE Pomona or Mainland (The Orkneys). Published in 1750 in Mackenzie's Orcades, or a Geographic and Hydrographic Survey of the Orkney and Lewis Islands


  • 1771 A New and Accurate Description of all the Direct and Principal Cross Roads of Scotland

Traded with his son Mostyn Armstrong (below) as Captain Armstrong and Son. Surveyed and published a number of maps of Scottish and English Counties.

  • 1775 A New Map of Scotland

  • 1775 Bowles New Pocket Map of Scotland: published in Bowles Universal Atlas


  • 1776 An Actual Survey of the Great Post Roads between London and Edinburgh

  • 1777 A Scotch Atlas or Descrtption of the Kingdom of Scotland 1787 Re-issued by John Saver 1794 Re-issued by Laurie and Whittle


  • 1776 Survey and Maps of the Roads of North Britain or Scotland

  • 1776 The Traveller's Pocket Book

A Plan of the City of Aberdeen, The Old Town & The adjacent Country. Made out from an accurate survey taken 1773'. By George Taylor. Originally engraved by A Bell. Copy printed by Taylor & Henderson, Aberdeen.
5/8 inches = 5 scots chains. 1041 x 948 mm. Print. Linen backing.  Printed copy of plan of the City of Aberdeen, the Old Town and the adjacent country. Buildings marked with some named. Adjoining lands and landowners named. Rivers and other waterways named. Pictorial elevation and vignette of Aberdeen across the River.


  • 1782 Bowles's new and accurate Map of Scotland

  • 1782 Bowles's new pocket Map of Scotland 1795, 1806 Re-issued


  • 1782 A new Map of Scotland (road map)

JOHN AINSLIE 1745-1828
Worked with Thomas Jefferys on Surveys of a number of English counties before Setting up business in Edinburgh as a bookseller and land surveyor. His output of county and coastal surveys and estate plans was prolific: he is best known for his large-scale map of Scotland published in 1789.

  • 1783 Ainslie's travelling Map of Scotland 1789 Re-issued

  • 1789 Scotland Drawn and Engrav'd from a Series of Angles and Astronomical Observations (9 sheets) Numerous re-issues to c. 1840

JOHN CARY c. 1754-1835

  • 1789 Wm Camden's Britannia: New and correct maps of the South and North parts of Scotland 1806 Re-issued

  • 1790 The Travellers' Companion: A Map of Scotland Numerous re-issues

  • 1808 Cary's New Universal Atlas: A new Map of Scotland


  • 1807 Map of Scotland 1810, 1840, 1841, 1849 Re-issued


  • 1820-32 Atlas of Scotland (large folio) 

Specialist References

ROYAL SCOTTISH GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY, The Early Maps of Scotland to 1850 with a history of Scottish Maps Contains detailed listing of maps of Scotland

SHIRLEY, R. W., Early Printed Maps of the British Isles 1477-1650 Although covering maps of the British Isles much of the detail contained in this book also covers the history of Scottish maps

SKELTON, R. A., County Atlases of the British Isles 1579-1703 Includes detailed description and collections of the Blaeu/Jansson atlases of Scotland

TOOLEY, R. V., Maps and Map Makers Includes detail of large-scale surveys

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Last modified: 01/09/2013