John Home's Survey of Assynt in 1774
John Home (1733/4-1809) and his survey
At the time of his Survey of Assynt, John Home was aged about 40 and he had worked for many different landowners scattered widely around Scotland. As for many surveyors, he had led a fairly itinerant life. In the 1760s he was resident in Banff, Aberdeen and Montrose, living in Edinburgh between 1772 and 1784, moving back north to live in Stonehaven until 1787, then Pluscarden until 1792, before finally returning to Edinburgh.
He surveyed Assynt between June and September 1774, assisted by 'four lads from Dunrobin', and two apprentices, William Crawford and John Anderson, who later became surveyors and map-makers themselves. He worked on foot, recruiting local men to lead the measuring chain and point out the marches or boundaries between farms. We should not be surprised that his accounts reveal the necessity for spirits 'for the use of self and assistants who led the chain to enable them to endure the fatigue of widing through lochs and mosses from morning early till late at night'. Sometimes too the spirits were necessary to bribe 'tenants for showing their marches as they could not be prevaild with to do so without it'.
Home spent the winter of 1774 back in Edinburgh drawing up his plans, finally presenting them to the Sutherland Tutors in March 1775, along with his bill for £324 9s 2d. The high cost shocked the Tutors, as it amounted to over half the total annual rental from the whole of Assynt. Initially, they only paid part of the bill, and curtailed all other surveying activities, but within a year they had paid most of the sum to Home's satisfaction.
All the 16 plans were drafted at a scale of 20 Scots chains (of 24 ells or 74 feet each) to one inch, a ratio of roughly 1:18,000. The few earlier surveys of Assynt (by Timothy Pont in the late 16th century, and the Roy Military Survey of the mid-18th century) were far less detailed. Assynt was not comprehensively mapped again at such a detailed scale until the Ordnance Survey coverage in 1868-1873 at the 6 inch to the mile or 1:10,560 scale.
A much more detailed description and transcription of John Home's Survey of Assynt, along with related manuscripts, can be found in:
R J Adam (ed.) John Home's Survey of Assynt, Scottish History Society, 3rd series, vol. LII (Edinburgh, 1960)
John Home's Survey of Assynt forms part of the Sutherland Estates papers, and inventories of part of these papers are available through the Guide to Manuscript Collections.