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

From Pont's death to the publication of Blaeu's atlas by Andrew Grout

Detail of Blaeu Atlas

We do not know the exact date of Pont's death, although it is likely that he died between 1611 and 1614 at the age of about 50. Certainly, King Charles I in a letter of 1629 described Pont as being 'deceased'. And although little is known about the early history of the manuscripts, the evidence suggests that Pont only lived to see one of his maps published.

Writing some forty years after Pont's death, the cartographer and antiquary Robert Gordon of Straloch (1580-1661) recorded in a letter to Sir John Scot of Scotstarvit that Pont had intended to publish his work, but that he 'was defeated by the greed of printers and booksellers, and so could not reach his goal' (1). However, one of his maps - that of Lothian & Linlitquo (probably based in part on the sheet now catalogued as Pont <36>) - was at least engraved by 1612, and thus possibly during Pont's lifetime. This map was engraved by Jodocus Hondius the elder, but it also included the name of an Edinburgh bookseller, Andrew Hart, who paid for the engraving. It was eventually published in the Mercator-Hondius atlas of 1630. In the 1638 edition of this atlas there appeared for the first time Pont's maps of the Orkney and Shetland Islands, but we have no manuscripts of these. Nevertheless, this fact does at least make us aware that there were once more manuscripts than we now have, and that Pont mapped a greater part of Scotland than shown by the surviving collection. This is also evident from certain Gordon manuscripts which refer to Pont as a source, but where no such source survives. There is evidence that, following his death, Timothy's maps passed to his heirs, and that by 1629 they had been purchased by the renowned antiquary and geographer Sir James Balfour of Denmilne in Fife (1600-57), the Lord Lyon King-of-Arms. According to the King Charles I letter of 1629, Balfour intended to publish the maps, and Charles granted him the sum of 100 to do so, adding that it had been the intention of his father (James VI) to assist Timothy in a similar way.

It was at this point that the scholar and statesman Sir John Scot of Scotstarvit in Fife (1585-1670) became involved, and he went on to play a major part in the story. Scot was already a correspondent of Willem and Joan Blaeu, the renowned map-makers of Amsterdam. In fact,Willem Blaeu had asked Scot for maps of Scotland for a projected atlas as early as 1626, and when Scot heard about Balfour's purchase of the Pont maps he relayed the information to Blaeu. Thereafter Blaeu apparently corresponded directly with Balfour about his use of the maps. Writing in his Atlas Novus of 1654, Joan Blaeu himself described how the maps passed to him:

Scot collected them and other maps and sent them over to me but much torn and defaced. I brought them into order and sometimes divided a single map. into several parts. After this Robert and James Gordon gave this work the finishing touches. and added thereto, besides the corrections in Timothy Pont's maps, a few maps of their own.

Historians have sometimes disagreed over the extent of the involvement of the Gordons in the project to publish the maps, but it seems likely that they did at least help Blaeu with the 'collation of the more illegible maps' (Stone, 1989, p.7). Moreover, we know from an analysis of the handwriting and inks on the manuscripts that Robert Gordon overwrote and overdrew many of Pont's maps and added some new information, notably for north-east Scotland.

Dr Jeffrey Stone has conjectured that the entire collection of manuscripts was sent to Amsterdam, and that at least part of that collection was returned to Scotland, perhaps in 1633 or soon after. It was at this time that some of the maps were worked on by Robert Gordon and his son James Gordon of Rothiemay (c.1615-86) (Stone, 1989, p.7). It is probably this set of maps (that is, those returned from Amsterdam) that forms the collection of maps that we now possess (although there is evidence also of later losses). Subsequently, Blaeu was supplied by the Gordons with additional compiled material, most of it derived from Pont, but some probably derived from elsewhere. This enabled Blaeu to finish engraving his maps of Scotland. What happened ultimately to any of the manuscripts that remained with Blaeu in Amsterdam is unknown, although it is likely that a fire at the Blaeu premises in 1672 may have destroyed whatever Pont maps were still surviving there. It seems clear that we have lost some of the more finished of Pont's drafts, since these were engraved, and, being regarded as superseded, were not returned to Scotland.

What is certain is that Joan Blaeu used the manuscript Pont maps as the major primary source of information for the maps of Scotland in volume 5 of his Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, sive Atlas Novus (Amsterdam, 1654). In fact, Blaeu formally credits thirty-six of the regional maps of Scotland in this volume to Pont. Much of the importance of the Pont maps rests in the fact that no other collection of source material of comparable size is known to exist for any other of Blaeu's atlases. Put simply, these Pont maps are unique, and of inestimable importance to the history of cartography. And as Dr Stone has pointed out, with the appearance of Blaeu's atlas, 'Scotland became one of the best mapped countries in the world' (Stone, 1989, p.5). Some copies of this Blaeu atlas contain an instructive letter, written in Latin by Robert Gordon in 1648, where he explains the history of Pont and his maps to that date. This important contemporary document, although not perhaps entirely accurate in every detail, is presented in an English translation in Pont's story as told by Robert Gordon.