MAPS OF THE COLONY OF SAINT JOHN’S ISLAND – The British Colonial Period and Samuel Holland’s Survey.

The End of the Seven Years War

In North America, the climax of the Seven Years War was the capture of Quebec City in September of 1759. With daring and success, the English, under General James Wolfe, fought well after a secret attack based on climbing difficult cliffs to a large pasture area called the Plains of Abraham today where they faced the disoriented French troops. The story is well known, and many books are available that tell it clearly and well. General Wolfe was shot and died in the field, comforted only by a soldier. General Montcalm, the commander of the French forces, was also wounded and died the next day after receiving the Last Rights of the Catholic Church.


Hervey Smyth (1734-1811) – The taking of Quebec, 13th September 1759, 1797 Canadian Department of National Defence

This English victory was a very great moment in the history of the Eighteenth Century. It ended, once and for all, the vague state of affairs over the ownership and use of the territory called Acadia and finally placed New France under the control of Britain where it has remained to this day. The Queen of England is the Queen of Canada even though we have a completely independent government.

As has been the case throughout history, even going far back into the most remote antiquity, great battles have always been celebrated in art. Mesopotamian art of the Third Millennium BC celebrates military victories over anything else. Such was also the case with the Egyptians, the Greeks and Romans and the Middle Ages when things settled down enough to permit the development of courtly art. It is no surprise then that the Battle of Quebec would be shown in many works of art, the most famous of all perhaps being the engraving above by Hervey Smyth. Its diminishing number of surviving copies are still eagerly sought by museums and history buffs of both the French and English sides.

The engraving is a masterpiece of design using the bird’s eye view technique. The point of view is very high in the air, and the tall ship mast on the right suggests that the artist may have seen this landscape from such a viewpoint. The effect is intensified by the beautiful way in which the engraving has been coloured. However, in black and white, straight from printing, the effect is still powerful.


The cartographers were neck to neck with the artists in depicting what took place at Quebec and they did so in the most intimate detail.


Thomas Jefferys, A correct plan of the environs of Quebec, and of the battle fought on the 13th September, 1759 : Together with a particular detail of the French lines and batteries, and also of the encampments, batteries and attacks of the British army, and the investiture of that city under the command of Vice Admiral Saunders, Major General Wolfe, Brigadier General Monckton, and Brigadier General Townshend drawn from the original surveys taken by the engineers of the army. 1768. Coloured engraving, 41 x 89 cm. University of Michigan Library.

It would be Thomas Jefferys, mentioned in the previous blog post, and one of the most successful and skilled mapmaker and map-sellers of his time, who would produce this extraordinary map. Jefferys actually voyaged to the New World to explore the colonies of Eastern North America and write a book about it in 1760. Although he came close, he did not explore Saint John’s Island which some of his maps, based on the Holland survey, would depict so gloriously just a few years later.

In this map Jefferys used a device – fragile at best – to show the progress of the battle on a single map by pasting a hinged fold-over what described the progress of the battle in a particular location. You can see the piece and paper and the tab in this detail from the Michigan copy. It is on the lower left and marked “second plate.”

Jefferys Siege of Quebec – U of Michigan Collection

I provide you with a pdf of the full-sized map so that you can see the intimacy of the representation of the land. It is almost like a bird’s eye view and you feel as if you want to jump into the picture and walk the streets of the city and follow the roads out of it to the site of the battle. This trend of bird’s eye view is a very old one, again, like the depiction of battles, going back to Antiquity, but here is the difference: in Antiquity and later, the topography was fanciful; in Jefferys it has all been scrupulously surveyed, with the most accurate measurements possible, so that during your hypothetical voyage in that landscape your every step would be guided by the features depicted in the map.

More and more, at this moment in the history of cartography, we find the practice of depicting the vast topography of the new British Empire in America in that most intimate fashion, usually at a scale of two inches to the mile. Almost at once this became policy and surveyors would act accordingly. That is why it is such a pleasure to look at these maps closely and to enter directly into the landscape below.


Art Celebrates Heroes and Martyrs

Not only were the battles themselves celebrated with intimate, highly detailed maps, but the great human moments of the battles, again following an ancient tradition, depicted the victories – or deaths – of the major combatants. The first work of art to depict the death of General Wolfe was by the brilliant American painter Benjamin West.


Benjamin West, The Death of General Wolfe, 1770, National Gallery of Canada.

In 1770 he produced a small painting (with a copy for a demanding and insistent King George III) of the Death of Wolfe. Up until this time the tradition in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century art had been to transpose the heroes back to ancient times where they struck heroic postures dressed in Roman togas or armour. To the great shock of the cultivated world of that day West decided to depict the moment in contemporary dress and carefully researched all the details of the various uniforms and clothing worn by the assemblage gathered around the dying young man. Wolfe looks very pitiful, in the arms of officers who in reality were not there at the time, as he is laid out, very deliberately, in the manner of the dead Christ on his Mother’s lap, such as we see in Michelangelo’s Pietá. Wolfe died with only a soldier to comfort him in his last moments; West creates theatre such as what one would see on an operatic stage of the time. He is surrounded by officers who were not there, an American Ranger, and most dramatically and impressively, a magnificent Noble Savage wearing all his bits and pieces. It is opera, and it moves us.


The French waited until 1783 before they dared or could produce a picture of the Dying Montcalm, inspired, in the most basic way, by the West painting. Here Montcalm in another operatic pose, that of the unrequited lover of Rococo painting is about to breathe his last. He is supported by a couple of mattresses, surrounded by all the right people and animals before a fancy tent, and in the shade of a palm tree. In point of fact Moncalm lived until the next day.


C 1783 – François-Louis-Joseph Watteau, Mort du Marquis de Montcalm-Gozon. Dediée au Roi. Stipple engraving.

The first painting of the death of Montcalm was by a Rococo artist of the time, Louis Joseph Watteau (1758-1823) who was related to the greatest painter of his day in the early part of the century, Jean Antoine Watteau. He was the one who created the love-filled but melancholy fêtes galantes. Watteau had never been to the New World and knew nothing of it except the fantastical pictures of native Americans posed in wildly exotic landscape – and yes, with palm trees. These tiresome palm trees that occur now and then in the art depicting people and events in New France have their origins in the travel books of the time, where artists, using descriptions provided by travelers to the New World, would not stop to worry about whether the vegetation added as a prop was suitable or not. And yes, the engraving is still popular and greatly sought after.

A more realistic representation of the death of Montcalm was produced as late as 1902 by the prominent Quebec artist Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, an artist who celebrated bourgeois values. In this oil sketch we see Montcalm about to be conveyed to eternity in the arms of the Church.


Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté – Esquisse pour la Mort de Montcalm, 1902. Oil sketch. Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.


Under British rule Quebec emerged remarkably unscathed. It was allowed to keep its Catholic religion to be practised openly and parts of its French judicial system which is still alive today. And of course, it kept its language. Unlike the poor Acadians, scattered over Acadia, Ile Royale and Ile Saint Jean, there was no question of deporting anybody. There was no question however of producing a huge oil of Montcalm the Martyr to hang in the Legislature and so Suzor-Coté’s sketch, in a couple of versions, remained just that.


The King Steps In

The new King of Great Britain and Ireland was George III, of the Hanoverian Dynasty, who was crowned at the age of 22. We tend to forget that he was not always a demented old man to be locked away. In this wonderful portrait done by the Scottish artist Allan Ramsay in 1761-62, we see a handsome young man, scarcely out of his teens, bedecked in the kind of ermine-lined coronation robes that had become popular in France under Louis XIV early in the century. His shoes even have the red heels introduced by that French monarch to set him apart from all other heels in the world.


Allan Ramsay (1713-84) George III (1738-1820), 1761-2, Oil on canvas. 249.5 x 163.2 cm. Buckingham Palace.

George was the most Anglicised of the Hanoverian kings and English was his first language. He was a sensitive and intelligent man whose interests ranged from the latest improvements in farming to the art of cartography, for which he had a passion. In fact, this passion was so intense that he habitually robbed the offices where maps of his world were kept to the point where it became the norm to prepare a second copy for the king’s collection.

He felt strongly about colonising New France in a new and efficient manner (see Edelson) that would control not only the way in which all that land would be divided, with no resources wasted and every advantage put to good use. To that end he aggressively supported a plan for a new survey of what would come to be called British North America, done on a large scale and by the finest surveyors in his kingdom. This survey, from Quebec down the Atlantic coast to Florida and even the Caribbean, went ahead and would have produced even greater marvels of map-making had not the American Revolution brought the project to an end in 1776.


In 1763 a very dramatic map of North America and the Caribbean was published in London by Robert Sayer. It was so large that it had to be printed on four large sheets which were then glued together and coloured. It was the work of Emmanuel Bowen, John Gibson and Robert Sayer.

An Accurate Map of North America. Describing and distinguishing The British, Spanish and French Dominions on this great Continent; According to the Definitive Treaty Concluded at Paris 10th Feb.y 1763 – Also all the West India Islands Belonging to, and possessed by the Several European Princes and States. The whole laid down according to the latest and Most Authentick Improvements, by Eman Bowen Geogto His Majesty, and John Gibson Engraver. Scale ca. 1:550,000. Dimensions 58 x 52 cm. Printed in London for Robt. Sayer. Library of Congress G3300 1763 .B6.

The cartouche clearly identifies the purpose of this huge production, and that is to identify once and for all the interests and possessions of various European countries in the vast region. You can see how carefully each part of the continent is coloured, be it New France or the long-established English Colonies on the Eastern Seaboard and in the sugar/slave paradise of the West Indies. Everywhere you can see quite long inscriptions that describe the cartographical and political state of things since the Treaty of Paris in 1763. It was meant to be the last word and it was – for a time. It was this map that inspired George III and his ministers to instigate the mapping project that would, for the first time ever, because of new methods of calculating longitude, create a picture of the lands of the new world with accuracy never-before dreamt of.

There would be a second edition of the Bowen map and would bring the information contained in the first one even more up to date.


Britain begins to survey Saint John’s Island

In 1764 Samuel Holland was appointed Surveyor General of the Northern District, that is, everything in the new British Empire in America north of the Potomac River. Holland began with Saint John’s Island and Cape Breton or Ile Royale, and because there was urgency on the part of the Board of Trade to settle these colonies quickly, an effort was made to account for the entire surface, not just the outline, of the land. These cadastral maps, as they were called, divided all the land into land units in use in Britain, and so there are counties, townships, parishes, a few reserved areas and 67 20,000 acre townships, all but 2 with access to water transport.

General Surveyor Samuel Holland and his team embarked in September 1764 for St. John’s Island aboard the armed sloop Canceaux. Already by that time there had been a preliminary survey ordered from Halifax and a description of the island and a map showing its degree of exploitation by the now deported French were produced. This is discussed in the later part of my last post concerning the end of the French Regime and its aftermath.


The Holland Survey

In 1764-65 Holland and his teams of surveyors and support staff managed to survey the Island of Saint John with a degree of accuracy never before seen in the history of cartography. For the first time ever, for the most part, the contours of the Island as we know it today were established and a great map was produced.

Earle Lockerby gives a detailed account of what exactly was involved in this survey by describing the young Thomas Wright’s activities in this article published in Number 66 of The Island Magazine in 2009, “Thomas Wright and the Holland Survey.” It is a detailed and well-illustrated account.

In 2015, Earle Lockerby and Douglas Sobey joined forces to tell the whole story in the most exact and fascinating detail. This book was written to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Holland’s survey, and to coincide with the loan from the English National Archives, the huge manuscript map of Saint John’s Island drawn by Samuel Holland and his assistants after his momentous survey of 1765. The book is deeply interesting and extremely thorough.


The Holland Map

The map was drawn on 16 large sheets of handmade paper glued together with 4 strips of the same paper to accommodate a design overrun along the top edges where Lot 1 protrudes beyond its border.

In 2015, for the better part of the year, the map was on display at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery. It had just undergone the most thorough restoration imaginable at the National Archives Restoration Laboratory at Kew. The story of this epic task is told in this article.

2016 Angus and Vervoorst – Conserving Holland Map – Dr Gruyter

There is another better illustrated article by Lucy Angus in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of the Island Magazine. I will provide a pdf of that after I have had the time and energy to prepare one with the smudgy black and white photos cleaned up a bit.


A Plan of the Island of Saint John in the Province of Nova Scotia As surveyed agreeable to the Order and Instructions of the Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners For Trade and Plantations by Captain Holland, Surveyor General of His Majestys Lands for the Northern District Of America. With the Assistance of Lieuts Haldiman, and Robinson and Mr Wright His Deputys. The Extent of Whose Respective Surveys are as follows: [Then follows a list of all the major participants and the precise listing of the areas they surveyed and the soundings they took.] The National Archives, Kew.

Here is a reduced copy of a very large scan of the map after it was restored. It is still large enough to permit a very detailed study of Holland’s drawing.

Holland Manuscript Map 1765 – Nat. Archives, Kew

Every square inch of the Island was divided into sixty-seven 20,000 acre townships contained within the home country land system of Counties, Parishes and Townships. Every colonist would know where they belonged and where they had to develop the township into clearly specified regulations. There was no room for deviation. Order had to reign supreme and every settler would know exactly where they fitted into the scheme of things.

Holland and his assistants described the quality of every township in some detail, and it became obvious that some areas were far more desirable than others. In 1767 the famous lottery took place where all interested persons, after having met certain qualifications, literally drew from a hat a number which corresponded to a township on the Holland map. At once they knew where their land was, and at once they found out what they had won. There would have been whoops of joy and groans of utter disappointment.

For example, Lot or Township 1, where I spent my childhood, was described as useless by Holland. Settlement, as irregular as it was, and exploitation of the land and wonderful ports that seem to have escaped the notice of the surveyors, were to prove the description wrong.

Here is a detail from the contemporary Holland/Lewis map, which I will discuss later, that shows what the future proprietors could read about the lot they had won in the lottery. Each lot had similar kinds of data attached to it.

At this moment of cartographical excitement many manuscript copies of the Holland map were made for distribution among government departments and interested individuals. To my knowledge it is a subject that has not been written about in detail partly because of the unavailability of high resolution scans from the government departments that preserve the maps.

The much-anticipated lottery that would assign landlords, either singly or in groups, to the 67 lots was held on July 23, 1767. Holland produced this magnificent illuminated manuscript copy of his survey with all the data collected about each lot and added a list of all the new proprietors. Unfortunately no illustration of higher resolution is available. The map is oriented to true north which makes the mass of the Island lay diagonally across the rectangle of the paper.


1767 Samuel Holland, A Map of the Island of St. John in the Gulph of S. Lawrence in North America from an actual Survey made in 1765 By Order of The Right Honourable The Lords Commissioners for Trade and Plantations 1767, Maps K.Top.119.96.2, the British Library, London.


Another manuscript map in the British Archives based on the Holland Survey was drawn by John Lewis. Unfortunately I don’t know anything about him, nor have I been able to find anything in my own reference material and on the internet. It is very handsome and beautifully coloured. The tables containing Holland’s data about the 67 lots are placed in the bowl of the crescent and do not interfere with the map itself. There is no cartouche unless you consider the title and the three tables with the scale bar as a cartouche. Contrary to the practice of the day, the Island is not oriented to true north but has been laid on its side in order to make the most of the large sheet of paper to show as much as possible of the land mass.


1765 [Samuel Holland] and John Lewis, A Plan of the Island of St. John in the Province of Nova Scotia, 71.5 cm x 148 cm, Reference: MR 1/1785, The National Archives of the United Kingdom, Kew.

This decision to make the most of the sheet of paper by laying the Island on its back would be leapt upon by the various mapmakers who would soon begin to produce various editions of Holland’s map for the general public. These engraved maps, all produced on the folio page size of the day – about 38 x 72 cm –  is something I want to begin sorting out in my next post. The Holland map would be a great favourite in a number of atlases produced in the last quarter of the Eighteenth Century, all folio size, and this is why if you are lucky enough to own one of these maps it will likely have a crease down the middle, showing its book origin. From now on maps of the Island would represent it luxuriously supine.  No credible chronology has yet been produced although dealers such as Kershaw have worked hard at it.

To whet your appetite here is a photo of the map with the list of proprietors appended. It is dated April 6 1775 and is very beautiful. My life changed and I had one of my epiphanies when I was able to raise the money to buy one over 25 years ago.



The Aftermath – Surveying Saint John’s Island for Colonists

On the whole the great colonial experiment – the Platonic Ideal of Colonisation in a New World – was a failure because the landlords did not live up to their agreements. What was NOT a failure was the reality that Holland’s plan for development, based on current British colonial policy, was such a success that today wherever we move, wherever we live, we do so in pockets of land drawn by Holland and surveyed as exactly as possible to his specifications as was possible.

There were problems with traditional surveying. The Eighteenth Century was just coming into a period of new achievement in measuring longitude, which was absolutely essential in creating the grid necessary to describe a territory on paper and to divide it into whatever plots were necessary on the ground. There could be no discrepancy or the outline, like in all maps up to this point, would bear little resemblance to reality on the ground (see Sobel).

Holland knew well enough the nightmares that faced the colonial surveyors who were to divide the Island of Saint John into the designated townships, or lots, as they came to be called after 1767. He had to make plans and set up a point of departure for all future surveying by establishing a longitude line, measured exactly from zero longitude at Greenwich Observatory to a convenient point on the Island. Having chosen Observation Cove, near the entrance to Charlottetown Harbour, to be his home base, that is where he carefully and excruciatingly set up the line of longitude from which all other measurements in the conversion of the ideal map into the practical lots of land on the ground that would be developed by the colonists. This was done by a variety of means involving compass readings, solar and lunar observations, astronomical observations of the moons of Saturn, and consulting published tables of such observations from around the world.

People who study the great map might not notice the subtle way in which Holland established his longitude point for the record. Nor might they notice the place where, when the line was extended to the north, the line would touch land at the very place where in time surveyors would calibrate their instruments in the future estate of the Governor – Fanningbank.

If you drop a line from the clearly marked Observation Cove on the map to the bottom border you will see this.

That is the prime meridian used to draw the Holland map and meant to be used, angled to the north of 1764, by all future surveyors in laying out the lot boundaries and the property boundaries contained within them.

Follow the line up where you will come to the rose, that ancient device for the compass face, that shows the true north and the variation of 15 degrees required to draw all the survey lines to the North of 1764. This detail from the map is very dramatic because it demonstrates visually Holland’s consideration for those who, in the near future, would begin to carve out properties in the wilderness using only a magnetic compass for their basic direction.

Now run this line north until it hits terra firma and you will see that it ends up in the reserved area of land set aside for the capital city of Charlottetown.

Here it is compared to the data provided by Google Maps. In the context of all we have been looking at in previous map posts, it comes as a shock that it should be more or less dead on the mark.

It runs through Observation Cove and touches land where Victoria Park is today. God and surveying move in mysterious ways because the second governor of Saint John’s Island was Edmund Fanning (1737-1818) who served from 1787 to 1804.

At that time there was no official residence for the Governor who had to live with the military or in rented accommodations, or even build his own house! On May 16 1789 Governor Fanning issued a proclamation granting 100 acres of the town common as a place where a suitable residence for the Governor could be built. It contained the exact spot where Holland’s meridian line hit the city boundaries and where soon a military battery would be built. That land, closer to 80+ acres, is now occupied by the Fanningbank Estate that contains Government House, and Victoria Park which, in the 1870s, was detached from the estate and given to the City of Charlottetown as its great public park.


The Meridian Stones

When Samuel Holland surveyed the Island into sixty-seven 20,000 acre lots it was intended that the properties of all the tenants would be enclosed by lines drawn parallel to the Magnetic North of 1764. For the most part this seems to have been followed with great difficulty in the early years of the colony. Delineating the boundaries of a farm in the wilderness of an unsettled lot had many difficulties and the end result of the surveying was often inaccurate. The need for finely tuned surveyors’ instruments led to the Fanningbank estate when in 1820 and 1846 a series of markers, based on earlier legislation, were set up to indicate the official meridional line of the colony. Would it surprise anybody that another great surveyor of British North America, Joseph Frederic Wallet Des Barres (1722-1824) who served as Governor of Saint John’s Island from 1805-12 should make a huge effort to set up an official point for the establishment of the meridian line. He would have been intimately familiar with Holland’s map and official meridian line and so in 1809 the Legislature passed the following act for establishing a meridional line to regulate surveyors in this colony. Characteristically for the times, nothing was done about it for eleven years.


“WHEREAS it is highly necessary, to promote accuracy in surveying the Lands of this Colony, that a Meridional line should be established by Astronomical Observation.


1. Be it enacted, by the Lieutenant Governor, Council and Assembly, That it shall and may be lawful to and for the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, or Commander in Chief of this Colony for the time being, to nominate and appoint three commissioners, (of whom His Majesty’s Surveyor-General of Lands in this Colony shall be one), for the purpose of establishing a Meridional line in manner hereinafter directed – that is to say, that a Meridional line, by Astronomical Observations, shall be properly drawn and ascertained, by correctly fixing three stones, of such sufficient height and dimensions, as will admit a full view from the most northerly stone of the two others in the said Line, which Stones to have the Line accurately marked thereon, together with the variation and the year in which the same was done – the said Meridional Line to be fixed in the most convenient place in or near Charlottetown, by the said Commissioners, within six months after the passing of this Act, and by which all surveyors shall regulate and rectify their several instruments once in every year at least, and in the presence of the Surveyor-General or of some person by him duly authorized for that purpose, or of one or more of the said Commissioners. And all and every surveyor of lands is and are hereby required to demand and obtain from the said Surveyor-General, or person authorized as aforesaid, or from one or more of the said Commissioners, a certificate that the several instruments of such Surveyor or Surveyors to be used or employed in surveying, are good and sufficient; and in the certificate so to be granted, shall be set down and expressed the Variation found at the period of making such Certificate so to be granted, which the Surveyor-General, or some one or more of the said Commissioners, is and are hereby authorized to do…”


Here is a detail of the John Ball 1873 plan of Government Farm (PARO) and the proposed park showing the locations of the meridional markers – five stones and a cannon barrel for the Magnetic North of 1764 and lining up with Holland’s longitudinal datum point at Observation Cove.


Finally, in 1820 three stones were set up in the general area of the Prince Edward battery. The Commissioners charged with this task recommended that an additional marker be set up designating the Magnetic North of 1764 as that was the line that had to be followed if property surveys were to fit into the lots surveyed by Holland. In 1846 another Act required that two markers be set up at right angles to the base or angle stone of the original alignment to mark True East and West. This was done but one of the stone markers is now missing from this alignment, removed in recent times, it is said, because it interfered with a playing field. It is believed the rest of these markers still stand in their original positions, spanning both the Fanningbank estate and Victoria Park. As can be seen in the detail of the Ball plan these markers covered a large area of ground where no obstacles or vegetation could be allowed to obscure the sightings made by surveyors as they adjusted their instruments. This controlled the evolution of that landscape absolutely. In June of 2005 these markers, consisting of the four surviving stones and the cannon barrel, were enclosed in decorative iron cages with appropriate interpretative panels.

Although virtually ignored today this collection of markers remains as a sort of sacred site, the very place where the perfection of the Island artefact was assured. Their significance and presence must never be lost as they refined the tools with which our physical identity on the land was established once and for all.

Here is the stone that marks True North, since the 1870s hidden behind the fence that marks the Fanningbank boundary with Victoria Park. It makes no sense and must symbolise some now forgotten row of the time when spite was in the air. The handing over of that land to the City was accompanied by years of acrimony. The fence should be moved to reunite it with its fellows and I can’t understand why the Government House Committee, after 50 years of unfocussed deliberations, has never acted to restore this precious monument by suggesting that the Province give up a few metres of land. It would be such an heroic gesture on their part.

This old cannon marks the North of 1764 following which ALL land divisions on the Island were made from the very beginning. A cannon was probably chosen instead of a stone so that surveyors would not mistake 1764 North and True North.

The cannon points to this stone, on the edge of the sea, and next to the old gun emplacement we call Fort Edward today. It is the base or angle stone where surveyors with their instruments stood in the process of calibration.

The other stones, carefully protected by metal cages, are to be found elsewhere in the grounds of Victoria Park. All are inscribed with their surveying data.



A Sad and Cautionary Tale

As careful as he was, Holland was unable to prevent serious errors from creeping into his map. First, Lockerby and Sobey (2015, pp. 44-46), and then S. Max Edelson (2018) superimposed the Holland outline on a satellite view of the Island as it is today. Edelson used georeferencing techniques to fit Holland into the curvature of the earth.  Doing these superimpositions with the three maps having the greatest integrity –  Holland 1765, the Holland-Lewis 1765 and the lovely presentation map of 1767 – Edelson found significant variations in the overlay patterns. The most dramatic was the original manuscript shown here. Looking carefully you can make out the outlines of the satellite and the map, contrasted to about 50%.

In their measurements Lockerby and Sobey calculated that Thomas Wright, the surveyor of that area, had added over 20,000 acres to the Island’s surface just in the area west of the Portage Isthmus. He did similar things in other areas where he surveyed, along with neglecting various inlets with their configurations. Holland, in his wisdom and possible mistrust of his colleagues, distanced himself from future cartographic catastrophes by carefully cataloguing the precise extent of the work done by each of his surveyors on the big map itself.

These mistakes would cause endless trauma to surveyors plotting out farm lots for new settlers until these issues were resolved after the middle of the Century. In spite of these mistakes the Holland map remains the only territory to emerge in early British North America where every square inch -more or less – is accounted for, and contained within an outline that survives, except for erorsion and accretion, to this day.



The Island as Artefact

About 6000 years ago the Island separated from the mainland for the second time in the geological era as the force of water spilling out of the Saint Lawrence River dissolved and broke away the weak sandstone and shale matrix that formed the join. Thus Nature, as Creator, made an artefact that is the Island we live on today.

But for 6,000 years before that, what was to be the Island was colonised by human beings who moved into the region either from a route that began in Siberia or one that went across from France along the North Atlantic ice sheet. They brought with them, and lost or discarded, extraordinarily beautiful tools and weapons made of stone they imported from other places because they were not keen to use the quartz and quartzite deposited on the Island by the glaciers as they retreated. This point, found in Saint Peter’s Bay, near the site of a major prehistoric settlement, was made with a stone found only on Ingonish Island, off Cape Breton.

There were three separate episodes of prehistoric occupation of the Island from around 12,000 BC to the arrival of the Mi’kmaw about three thousand years ago. These people too all left evidence of their life on this natural artefact, altering it to suit their different lifestyles and in the end, as cultures changed, taking from the Island the stones previously rejected as raw material for their tools and weapons.

We do not know if the Vikings, who were in the region, came to the Island and helped alter it into a human artefact, but we do know for sure that the Basque whalers and fishermen were in the region in the 1400s at least, and on the Island when Jacques Cartier claimed the land for France in 1534. Their fishing stations were all on the north coast, facing the rich Gulf of Saint Lawrence resources and the other fishing stations reaching all the way to Newfoundland and Labrador. These late Seventeenth Century Basque maps show exactly where they did their seasonal work.

There were still Basque fishermen on Ile Saint Jean when France established a colony in 1720. The French settlers who came, and the even greater numbers of Acadians from the mainland who followed, all had one thing in common: their dishware or pottery, from the kilns of Saintonge on the west coast of France. Along with the aboriginal artefacts scattered over the surface of the Island, altering its quality forever, were the innumerable sherds of Saintonge pottery that will be found, in all the areas settled by the French and Acadians, for generations to come.

And then the Island artefact became an even more Human creation, rather than one of Nature, when the British conquered New France as described in this blog post. The British took the Island from Nature in the most definitive way imaginable by describing its shape and dimensions accurately for the first time ever. And they went much further than that. Every square inch of Ile Saint Jean was divided and enclosed by lines that represented the new British Colonial ideal for land exploitation and its imposition of traditional British land divisions on the wilderness so that, no matter where you were on this island, you belonged to a County, a Parish, or a township. And if you owned a piece of land, it was contained in a pre-ordained orientation aligned to the North of 1764. You simply could not escape it. There was no possibility of a secret place. Thus, was every square inch of the new artefact, a British one, the most significant artefact created by humans in the world at that time.

And now the settlers in a new land were ready to begin carving a home and a farm out of the wilderness. My favourite picture that gives the atmosphere of that moment is this woodcut from the American Agriculturist.

Compare this view with any aerial view of the Island and you come away with the strongest impression of the labour and planning that went into the creation of this landscape – this human artefact.

Even today (Courtesy R. Garnett – Airscapes) the lines drawn in 1765 guide our exploitation of the Island and all line up with the boundaries set out in Holland’s map. Our forest cover was changed within the boundaries of township lines as were the clearings that created fields for the farms of the new colony. This landscape is forever changing as small pioneer fields, bordered with hedgerows, are incorporated into vast areas fit for the heavy equipment that is the basis of modern farming. This process destroys the intimacy and beauty of the old family farm, but is part of world progress. This change is visible from outer space as can be seen in this satellite map.

All this is not the creation of a lazy unplanned evolution, as seen in other parts of the world, but the work of a moment in time, when everything contained on the Island, from the Ice Age to the tragic end of the French Regime, was made into a multi-layered human artefact. Taking together all the elements of the story, both happy and tragic, in the end, it is “a thing of beauty and a joy forever.”


Special Thanks

As before I find myself thanking Dr. Douglas Sobey for his thoughtfulness and kindness over the years in providing me with copies of maps and data connected with the Holland survey. I am very grateful.



Alder, Ken, The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error That Transformed the World, The Free Press, New York, 2002.

Aughton, Peter, The Transit of Venus: The Brief, Brilliant Life of Jeremiah Horrocks, Father of British Astronomy, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 2004.

Bélanger, René, Les Basques dans L’Estuaire de Saint-Laurent, Les Presses de L’Université du Québec, Montreal, 1971.

Betts, Jonathan, Harrison, Royal Observatory Greenwich and National Maritime Museum, London, 2007.

Campey, Lucille H., Planters and Paupers: English Settlers in Atlantic Canada, A Natural Heritage Book, A Member of the Dundern Group, Toronto, 2010.

Chipman, Willis, The Life and Times of Major Samuel Holland: Surveyor General 1764-1801, Reprinted from the Ontario Historical Society’s “Papers and Records,” Volume XXI, 1924.

Douglas, R., Place Names of Prince Edward Island with Meanings, F. C. Acland, Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, Ottawa, 1925.

Edelson, S. Max, Colonizing St. John Island: A History in Maps, internet site:

Edelson, S. Max, The New Map of Empire: How Britain Imagined America before Independence, Harvard University Press, 2017.

Harvey, D. C., The French Regime in Prince Edward Island, (Reprinted from the 1926 edition), Ams Press, New York, 1970.

Hornsby, Stephen J., Surveyors of Empire: Samuel Holland, J. W. F. Des Barres and the Making of the Atlantic Neptune, Carleton Library Series 221, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal, 2011.

Jefferys, Thomas, The Natural and Civil History of the French Dominions in North and South America, Printed for Thomas Jefferys at Charing-Cross, 1760. Facsimile published by Gyan Books Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2020.

Johnston, A. J. B., Endgame 1758: The Promise, the Glory, and the Despair of Louisbourg’s Last Decade, Cape Breton University press, Sydney N.S., 2007.

Leckie, Robert, “A Few Acres of Snow”: The Saga of the French and Indian Wars, Castle Books, 2006.

Lennox, Jeffers, Homelands and Empires: Indigenous Spaces, Imperial Fictions, and Competition for Territory in Northeastern North America, 1690-1763, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2017.

Lockerby, Earle, “Thomas Wright and the Holland Survey,” The Island Magazine, Number 66, Fall/Winter 2009, pp. 30-38, Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation, Charlottetown, 2009.

Kershaw, Kenneth A., Early Printed Maps of Canada, Vol. 1 – 1540-1703, Kershaw Publishing, Star Communications, Hamilton, Ontario, 1993.

Kershaw, Kenneth A., Early Printed Maps of Canada, Vol, II1 – 1703-1799, First Edition, Second Impression, Alexander Books, Ancaster, Ontario, 2002.

Lockerby, Earle and Sobey, Douglas, Samuel Holland: His Work and Legacy on Prince Edward Island, Island Studies Press, University of Prince Edward Island, Holland College, Charlottetown, 2015.

Macnair, Andrew, Anne Rowe and Tom Williamson, Dury and Andrews’ Map of Hertfordshire: Society and Landscape in the Eighteenth Century, Windgather Press, Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2016.

Murdin, Paul, Full Meridian of Glory: Perilous Adventures in the Competition to Measure the Earth, Copernicus Books, 2009.

Pedley, Mary Sponberg, The Commerce of Cartography: Making and Marketing Maps in Eighteenth-Century France and England, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2005.

Porter, Reginald, Government House and the Fanningbank Estate: A Guidebook, The Friends of the Gatehouse Cooperative, Charlottetown, 2015.

Rayburn, Alan, Geographical Names of Prince Edward Island, Surveys and Mapping Branch, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, Ottawa, 1973.

Sobey, Douglas, Early Descriptions of the Forests of Prince Edward Island – A Source Book – Part I, The French Period 1534-1758, Prince Edward Island Department of Agriculture and Forestry, Charlottetown, 2002.

Sobel, Dava, Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, Bloomsbury Books, New York, 2007.

Thomson, Don W., Men and Meridians: The History of Surveying and Mapping in Canada, Volume 1 Prior to 1867, The Queen’s Printer, Ottawa, 1966.