Timothy Pont, Cartographer
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northernpartofcarrick.jpg (55238 bytes)A quest for an early map of Strathearn, Perthshire, led me to "The Pont Manuscript Maps of Scotland - 16th Century origins of a Blaeu Atlas" by Jeffrey C Stone and to the fascinating and unexpected discovery that with the printing in 1654 in Amsterdam of Joan Blaeu's "Atlas Novus", Scotland became one of the best mapped countries in the world. It seemed incredible thatTimothy Pont, the first person to put Scotland `on the map' had merited no memorial and no mention that I could find in history books.

Details of the first Scottish cartographer's life are scant. His father Robert Pont (1524 - 1606) was a renowned ecclesiastic and by the 1590s a statesman advising "in all matters concerning the weal of the Kirk." Like his father, Timothy studied at St. Andrews University, graduating about 1583. In the next few years, having been made financially secure by his influential father, for some reason he turned aside from a strict career course within the Church and embarked on a great adventure. Whether at the command of James VI perhaps wanting an inventory of his kingdom or of the Reformed Church authorities needing to record the settlement areas of its parishioners, young Pont spent the next twelve years or so travelling widely through Scotland recording the land as he saw it. His manuscript drawings were the sole surviving record of this mammoth undertaking. But what a record!

There are no details of the planning and logistics which such an undertaking would have involved, but we can well imagine the hazards Timothy Pont must have experienced travelling without written directions through a country of few good roads at a time of unease and suspicion of strangers. Here was a man who must have asked countless questions about places and buildings, who drew pictures of what he saw and wrote down the names he was told. It's a wonder he wasn't killed as a spy!

Because at that time waterways provided the main means of transport, areas around these are depicted in greater detail in his sketch maps than the far more sparsely inhabited hinterlands. Pont concentrates on human habitations from small fermtouns to larger settlements and to towns themselves. Many Churches and Abbeys are depicted, but more numerous are the castles and large houses of the landowners and lairds, which appear in architectural-like drawings When magnified these reveal a striking picture of the buildings and grounds, the storeys and windows, towers and gateways that Pont actually saw - an invaluable record of 16th century Scotland. Even allowing for idiosyncracies of spelling at that time, the identifying names on these sketch maps reflect the way in which they were pronounced - surely a research topic in itself.

Before the dawn of the 17th century, Pont's travels had come to an end and he had become minister of the parish of Dunnet in Caithness. There he lived at least until 3rd May 1611, according to a bond of that date which declared that he and "Isobell Blacadder his spouse" lent 1000 merks to the Earl of Caithness (an interesting slant!). He is thought to have died shortly thereafter with all but one of his manuscript maps unpublished.

The subsequent travels of these original sketches and the work-ups made from them to engraving standard read like a detective story. At some time before 1629 the collection was bought from Pont's heirs by Sir William Balfour of Denmilne, Fife, an "antiquary and renowned collector of historical sources." Although apparently intending to publish the maps, he never did so. The Dutch printers, Willem and Joan Blaeu, heard of the manuscripts through Sir John Scot of Scotstarvit, in Fife, and by 1630 they were in correspondence. During the following years Pont's original maps were sent to Amsterdam. Over 30 of them were then engraved, but the rest were not in a good enough state. This meant, of course, that gaps remained in the coverage of Scotland. At least some of Pont's sketch maps were then returned and passed to Robert Gordon of Straloch, Aberdeenshire, who prepared further drafts for Blaeu to print in his "Atlas Novus". It is our tremendous good fortune that so many original Pont manuscript maps, having survived their subsequent travels both in and out of Scotland, are now held in the Map Library of the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh.

But here's the rub: none of Pont's manuscript maps appears to have survived for any part of S. W. Scotland west of Nithsdale. Though all the maps of South Scotland in Blaeu from Berwick to Ayrshire indicate their origin by the words Auct. Tim Pont / Opus Timothei Pont, no-one knows how they were actually compiled, i.e. how much was pure Pont and how much input was made by Robert Gordon. From our point-of-view as family historians, the most important fact is that our Carnegie Library has a copy of the "Illustrated Maps of Scotland from Blaeu's `Atlas Novus' of the 17th Century" by Jeffrey C Stone. No matter how limited in time dimension our family histories may be, to peruse these old maps of our own area is like opening a window on Ayrshire of 400 years ago. Just don't forget to take along a magnifying glass!

Sheila Dinwoodie