Stories from Hospitalfield: Cartography

The Library at Hospitalfield is home to a collection of 21 maps all dating to the 18th-century. Fourteen of them have been bound together in one folio volume and another six were found folded up and tucked in the back of the folio. The folio originally contained more maps but unfortunately these have disappeared over the years.

We don’t know for sure, but they probably originally belonged to a member of the Parrot family of Hawkesbury Hall in Warwickshire. Major John Fraser of Hospitalfield had married Elizabeth Parrott of Hawkesbury Hall in 1783 and she inherited the estate and the family home and its contents on the death of her brother in 1843.

Ten of the maps were printed for the splendidly named Malachy Postlethwayt, an early British economist, and were issued with his “Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce” which he published in instalments in the 1750’s. The “Universal Dictionary “ was a translation of a work by an early French economist, Jacques Savary and the maps were drawn by another Frenchman, Jean D’Anville, who is widely recognised as one of the best cartographers of his day.

This map of China was first published by D’Anville in 1735. His maps were recognised as the best available at the time and remained so for many years.

Map of China published by Jean d’Anville, 1735, The Hospitalfield Trust

In 1708 the Chinese emperor, Xangi of the Qing dynasty, commanded a small group of French Jesuit missionaries, all trained surveyors and geographers, to produce a map of the whole of his empire. China has a long history of map making (the earliest surviving Chinese map has been dated to around 150BC) and Chinese surveyors and geographers contributed much to the project. They drew up the maps of Tibet, Japan, Korea and much of Manchuria.

The project was successfully completed in 1718 and in 1721 the French Jesuits sent 32 wood blocks engraved with the new maps back to Europe. They arrived along with a large number of written reports on China in general at a time when there was widespread enthusiasm for oriental art and ceramics. When the work of the French Jesuit missionaries was published it changed the western world’s understanding of China forever

At first glance, this next map looks like just another map of France. But look more closely and you’ll find a long, handwritten account in English of an outbreak of plague (i.e. the Black Death) in Provence. The last reported outbreak of plague in Europe began in Marseilles in 1720 and lasted until 1722.

Map of France drawn by Jean d’Anville c.1722, The Hospitalfield Trust

It began when a ship carrying grain from Syria docked at Marseilles and, although the captain knew there were plague cases among the crew and passengers, he allowed them to disembark. From there it spread throughout Provence and the report begins with an account of various events in the area before the plague arrived (for instance there had been rioting due to a shortage of bread) and goes on to give a fascinating description of each town and village, when the plague arrived in each place and how many people died. For example, by the 3rd of November 1722, there had been 1539 deaths in Avignon and 1480 people were ill.

The blame was placed on a local “Legate” who had first seen signs of the illness in a “Butter Woman” who came into the town in August but failed to report it.

Hospitalfield is lucky enough to have a copy of John Ainslie’s map of Angus which he published in 1794. At the time it did not have a large market beyond the subscribers who commissioned the map and not many copies have survived. Born in Jedburgh in 1745, Ainslie was apprenticed as a land surveyor and cartographer to Thomas Jefferies in London. Jefferies was Royal Geographer to George III.

Map of Angus by John Ainslie, 1794, The Hospitalfield Trust

On Jefferies’ death in 1771, Ainslie returned to Jedburgh and set up his own business as a land surveyor and cartographer. A few years later he moved to Edinburgh where he established himself as one of Scotland’s most accomplished surveyors and cartographers.

His maps set new standards in quality and precision. His map of Scotland which he published in 1789 was the first to show Scotland’s coastline accurately.

His map of Angus is one of a few maps of the counties of Scotland made by Ainslie. They were paid for by subscriptions raised from local landowners who wanted an accurate map to help them plan the development of local agriculture and industry.

This map of Angus has an insert describing a plan to build a canal from Arbroath to Restenneth near Forfar. The plan for the canal was commissioned by George Dempster of Dunnichen, one of Angus’ most enthusiastic developers.

In 1788 he had drained Restenneth loch near Forfar and began to extract huge quantities of shell marl. This could be burned to produce lime which was in great demand for improving farmland.

Realising he could reach a much bigger market by shipping marl from Arbroath harbour he commissioned Robert Whitworth to survey a route for a canal from Arbroath to Restenneth. Whitworth had been the chief civil engineer on the construction of the Forth and Clyde canal and John Ainslie had been his surveyor.

The estimated cost was £17,778, much more than Dempster could afford, and the plan, which must have been a very established idea for it to have been included in the map, was eventually shelved.

Hospitalfield’s map collection is small; the group of maps from the Parrot collection gives us a fascinating insight into the world as it was understood in the middle of the eighteenth century. Ainslie’s map of Angus offers a picture of the county in what we now call the Age of Enlightenment.