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Pont Maps of Scotland, ca. 1583-1614 - Biographies

Caleb G. Cash by Jeffrey C. Stone
Portrait of Caleb Cash

Anyone who has consulted the original Pont manuscripts in the National Library of Scotland will be aware of the short paragraph of printed descriptive text which accompanies each document. These derive from the catalogue of all of the Pont, Gordon and Adair manuscripts published by C. G. Cash in the Scottish Geographical Magazine in 1907. Six years previously, Cash had compiled the most substantial account to date of what he called the first topographical account of Scotland. The accessibility of these two articles ensured that Cash would become perhaps the most influential of Pont's many biographers.

Caleb George Cash taught at Edinburgh Academy until his unexpected death in August 1916. He is remembered, however, not so much for his professional achievements as for the scholarly work which he undertook out of personal interest in the Scottish landscape. He was a mountaineer who knew the Cairngorm mountains well and took a keen interest in their wildlife and geology. In 1907, he published privately what has been described as 'a requiem for the Loch an Eilein ospreys' on Speyside, a chronological account of their history from 1804 to 1902 and a story of ruthless persecution which he greatly regretted. His antiquarian writings were more substantial, however.

His most substantial work was not on the Pont manuscripts. In 1901, he became acquainted with the eminent Scottish topographer Sir Arthur Mitchell, and indeed he assisted Mitchell with the preparation for publication of the second volume of Macfarlane's Geographical Collections. Then from 1904 he was in correspondence with Mitchell about his proposed compilation of a bibliography of Scottish topography. After Mitchell's death in October 1905, Cash set to work in his spare time, bringing order to Mitchell's vast accumulation of bibliographical notes, to be published with his own additions as A Contribution to the bibliography of Scottish Topography (Scottish History Society, 1917). The labour of preparing this monumental reference source must have far exceeded Cash's earlier work on the manuscript map collection, but he is probably better remembered in the map world in connection with the Pont and Gordon manuscript maps.

In the earlier of his two well-known articles in the Scottish Geographical Magazine, Cash compiled what became the standard reference for more than half a century on the provenance of the Pont, Gordon and Blaeu maps of Scotland. The fact that Cash went on to provide the descriptive catalogue of the manuscripts possibly explains subsequent reliance upon the article by most twentieth-century writers and users of the maps. It has to be said, however, that in respect of Pont, Cash had little to add to John Fullarton (...District of Cunningham..., Maitland Club, 1858), something which is not immediately apparent because Cash did not reference his article. Fullarton really did more to extend our knowledge of Pont and his circumstances than any other writer.

Cash's greatest contribution to the study of the Pont manuscripts was not in historical research. Rather, it was in classifying and describing the extant manuscript maps by Pont, Robert Gordon and James Gordon, and John Adair whilst they were being conserved and remounted in the Advocates Library. Cash's studies of the maps must have been extensive. Clearly, he acquired considerable expertise in identifying the different handwritings, although he did make occasional mistakes in identifying authorship and coverage. The results of his carto-bibliographic studies were published in his second article in 1907. Together, the two articles drew unprecedented attention to the manuscripts. Whereas, previously, Blaeu's printed maps were well enough known, studies of the manuscript maps really only began with the work of Cash.

By his own account, Cash 'accumulated a body of notes' but, unlike Pont's manuscript maps, Cash's notes seem not to have survived. What has survived are five atlases by Blaeu, the very atlases which were given by Blaeu to Robert Gordon of Straloch (see Ferro and Stone, 1978) and which were in Cash's possession. He had acquired them almost by chance, after they were purchased for a nominal sum at the sale of the contents of an Aberdeenshire farmhouse, and they are now among the treasured possessions of Aberdeen University Library.