Maps of Scotland, 1560-1928

The maps of Scotland through these years show not only the changing state of the geographical knowledge of the country, as new discoveries were made, but also the changing state of Scotland itself, with the rise and fall of particular places, regions and features. In terms of cartography, perhaps the most visible change is the general improvement in the topographic accuracy of the maps, and the increased level of detail which they show, as we move forward in time. More informative and interesting, perhaps, is the way in which the shapes and patterns chosen by particular mapmakers are reflected in later maps. During earlier centuries especially, topographic surveying was difficult and expensive, so many maps were copied extensively from earlier maps.

For example, at the beginning of this time period, several 16th-century Italian maps were derived from maps made by the English exile George Lily in the 1540s, which in turn owed much to historical accounts of Scotland and Great Britain. In 1595 the Dutch mapmaker Gerhard Mercator produced a new outline of Scotland, perhaps derived from original work by the Scotsman John Elder in the mid-16th century. This was to have a major influence on the English mapmakers William Hole (1607) and John Speed (1610), as well as on the Dutch cartographers Henry Hondius and Jan Janssen (1636). Through the original surveys of Timothy Pont (discussed in detail on our Pont maps website), a new map of Scotland was created by Robert Gordon (1654), published in the first atlas of Scotland by Joan Blaeu, which was to influence maps for nearly a century thereafter. In particular, the leading French cartographer Nicolas Sanson based his Scottish maps of 1665 on Gordon's map, as well as on the engraved regional maps by Pont, and Sanson's map in turn was to have a major influence on the maps of Frederick de Wit, Jean-Baptiste Nolin, Nicolaus Visscher, and Carel Allard in the 1680s and 1690s. The English mapmakers at this time, such as Richard Blome (1673) and Robert Morden (1687), were also heavily influenced by Gordon's map, as well as by the Mercator-derived map of John Speed.

Original survey work by John Adair in the late 17th century provided mapmakers with fresh source material, and the maps of Scotland produced by Herman Moll in 1708, 1718, and particularly 1714, reflected this new geographical knowledge. Moll's map influenced many maps of the later 18th century, although new information gathered by military engineers (such as Clement Lempriere in 1731) and estate surveyors also added extra detail. Nevertheless, despite these new maps, the army in 1746 found itself 'greatly embarrassed for the want of a proper survey of the country', and it was this lack that led to William Roy's Military Survey of Scotland (1747-55), which resulted in the most important detailed map of mainland Scotland in the 18th century. Roy's map is now in the British Library, but photographic copies of it can be consulted in the National Library of Scotland's Map Library.

Maps of Scotland, 1750-1892

The map of Scotland resulting from William Roy's survey of 1747-55 was kept securely in the King's Royal Library in London because of its strategic and military value. It was not until the early 19th century that it was first properly seen and used by other mapmakers. This explains why late 18th-century maps of Scotland often reflect a poorer geographical knowledge of the country than Roy, with patchy improvements in detail from some larger scale county or marine surveys, and extensive copying from earlier sources. However, as before, certain mapmakers stand out for their creation of more accurate maps with new outlines and greater detail - maps which went on to influence later mapmakers.

For example, James Dorret's four-sheet map of Scotland of 1750, with new information partly from Roy's Military Survey but also from estate and marine surveys, and from the Duke of Argyll, Dorret's employer, was a landmark map which was used directly or indirectly for nearly all Scottish maps for the next 40 years. Similarly, the master Scottish surveyor, mapmaker, and engraver, John Ainslie, produced a new nine-sheet map of Scotland in 1789, with improvements particularly to coasts and the Western Isles (partly from the recent marine surveys of Murdoch Mackenzie). The English engraver and publisher Thomas Kitchin based his maps on Dorret, and the copying of these maps, and re-use of the engraved copper plates, can be seen in the later maps by Marcus Armstrong (1782) and Robert Campbell (1790). Similarly, the later English engravers and map publishers John Cary, John Stockdale, and William Faden all produced maps in the 1800s derived from, and sometimes credited to, the surveys of John Ainslie.

William Faden's map of June 1807 was superseded, later the same month, by Aaron Arrowsmith's Map of Scotland, which became the standard outline of Scotland for the next 50 years. The Memoir accompanying the map lists the range of sources consulted, over 100 maps in all, including the Roy Military Survey map, the latest estate and county maps, and marine charts. Although at the same scale as the 18th-century maps by Dorret and Ainslie (four miles to the inch), the map includes more place names than any earlier map of Scotland. As well as being reissued by Arrowsmith's sons, the map was used as a base-map or source document by many other mapmakers as the range and number of maps of Scotland multiplied.

During the 19th century, firms of engravers and publishers became more prominent, and the famous Scottish companies of Adam and Charles Black, W & A K Johnston, and John Bartholomew & Son all published new maps of Scotland, alongside an expanding international portfolio. Maps of Scotland were published for a wider range of purposes, from travel and tourism to the needs of educational, scientific and natural history societies. They included maps showing clans and administrative and ecclesiastical boundaries, maps for ladies' needlework, and comic maps. Whilst English and Scottish mapmakers predominated, a smattering of French, German, and even Turkish maps of Scotland were also published. At last a wide range of fresh surveyed mapping could be consulted for source material, from larger-scale private estate and county maps to the state-sponsored surveys of the Hydrographic Office of the Admiralty, and (from the 1840s) detailed Ordnance Survey county mapping.