Juliette Desportes (Winner of the 2022 Alasdair Ross Prize) describes her archival research on eighteenth-century mapping and surveying of the Scottish Highlands.
The Alasdair Ross Prize enabled me to conduct archival research into the mapping and surveying of Scottish landed estates in the eighteenth century. My doctoral research focuses on the Annexed Estates, thirteen landed estates owned by attainted families which were first confiscated and then annexed by the British Crown between 1752 and 1784 in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising. A Board of Commissioners was set up to look after the properties on behalf of the Crown. The Commissioners belonged to the Scottish legal, landed, and political elite and aimed to radically transform the estates by introducing manufactures and new methods of farming and re-arrange landholding structures.
Immediately after their appointment, the Commissioners hired surveyors to survey the Annexed Estates. Maps and accompanying written surveys were regarded as essential tool to manage the estates ‘by the pen’ and create a vision for an ‘improved’ Scotland. Surveyors received instructions drafted by Lieutenant-Colonel David Watson, who had previously directed William Roy on the military survey (1747-55). The surveyors were expected to situate and measure the estates using trigonometry, indicate which natural features could be maximised, identify boundaries, and provide place names. These instructions reflected the ways in which cartographic procedures were standardised to serve the British state both at home and abroad in this period. Several of the surviving Annexed Estates maps include visual cues to their Hanoverian and military association (Fig.1).
Fig. 1 Cartouche William Morison’s Map of Ardsheal (National Records of Scotland)
Scottish estate maps have received scant attention from historians. The pioneering work of Iain Adams in the 1970s (some of which has been published by the Scottish History Society) has remained the last word on the subject. As part of my PhD research, I endeavoured to compile a list of surviving Annexed Estates maps. I have identified twenty-five large-scale estate maps. These maps were usually accompanied by a written survey, in a distinct book or written on the map itself, and a book of plans comprising of farm plans. In addition, the Commissioners also commissioned ‘stand-alone’ maps for a specific purpose such as land disputes or the erection of bridges.
Fig. 2: A printed copy of Morison’s map of Lochiel, 1772 (Lochaber Archive Centre)
Thanks to the generous support of the Scottish History Society, I was able to visit the Lochaber Archive Centre in Fort William which holds a selection of Cameron of Lochiel estate papers dating back to the period of annexation. The Annexed Estate of Lochiel was surveyed by William Morison in 1772. We know very little about Morison. His brother James also worked for the Board of Commissioners as a clerk in their Edinburgh office and both brothers were commended for their efficient work. Surveying was an incredibly long and difficult process: Morison spent two-hundred days in Lochiel alone. Upon his return, Morison produced a large-scale estate map, a book of plans including plans of farm situated in the estates of Lochiel, Callart, and Ardsheal, and a written survey. The Cameron of Lochiel papers in Fort William hold several printed copies of Morison’s map of Lochiel (fig. 2) as well as the accompanying written survey and book of plans. The original map, though listed in the archival catalogue, could unfortunately not be found during my visit. I was however thrilled to see photographs of the original which confirmed my suspicions that the map was much larger than subsequent printed copies and included a beautifully detailed cartouche featuring an eagle (fig. 3). I am very grateful to the Scottish History Society for supporting this research.
Fig. 3: A photograph of the original cartouche (Lochaber Archive Centre)