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

The elusive Timothy Pont (c.1564-c.1614) by Andrew Grout

Detail of Slezer view of Culross

Unfortunately, few of the details of Timothy Pont's life are recorded. In fact, there are just about a dozen fixed dates for his life, details of which are given in Timothy Pont: the facts, in The Pont family: a summary, and in The Pont family: a detailed report. We do not know exactly when or where he was born, although his father, the Reverend Robert Pont (1524-1606), lived at Shiresmill, Fife, and Timothy, his second son, may perhaps have been born there. Timothy's father was a remarkable and important man in his own right. An eminent and influential Scottish clergyman, practising lawyer, and writer, Robert Pont was also deeply interested in astrology, chronology, and the natural world (Williamson, 1994).

In 1574, Robert bestowed a modest annual grant of church funds on Timothy, which presumably gave his son a certain degree of independence. In 1580 Timothy matriculated (enrolled) at St Andrews University. It was here that he was possibly taught 'the making of the cartes [maps] universall and particular, by William Welwood, Professor of both Canon and Civil Law (Yeoman, 1996). Pont went on to graduate in 1583, and in that year his father again renewed his annual grant to him.

Detail of St Andrews map

We do not know exactly when Timothy first began his mapping of Scotland. The sole dated Pont manuscript map is his map of Clydesdale (covering Glasgow and the county of Lanark), known as Pont 34. On this, Pont has written '...Sept et Octob: 1596 Descripta'. There is some evidence that he may have completed his travels by April of that year (Megaw, 1969), and it is possible that he began his mapping shortly following his graduation. In 1592 he received a commission to conduct a mineral survey in Orkney and Shetland, and he may well have accompanied his father on a visit to Orkney during the following year. It was also in 1593 that his father once again supported him financially by assigning to him the bulk of an annuity he received from Edinburgh Town Council.

In 1600 or 1601 Timothy was appointed church minister of the parish of Dunnet in Caithness, in the far northeast of the Scottish mainland. His brother Zachary became the minister of the adjacent parish of Bower shortly thereafter. Timothy is recorded as drawing his annuity in 1605, and in 1609 he applied, unsuccessfully, for a grant of plantation lands in Ulster (Northern Ireland). A year later he was still recorded as living at Dunnet, and in 1611 he signed a bond in Edinburgh relating to a loan to the Earl of Caithness. By 1614 he had been replaced as minister of the parish of Dunnet, and by March 1615 his wife Isobel was described as his 'relict' or widow when collecting a debt due to Timothy in Tongue, confirming Timothy's death by this time. His only monument, other than his surviving manuscripts, is a marble plaque erected to celebrate his memory in Dunnet Church.