What a Difference a Survey Makes – A Tale of Two Maps

The events of last week marked the peak of the orgy of Hollandia on Prince Edward Island. With the Holland family reunion, the unveiling of a weathervane at Holland College, the launch of a new book on Holland and the opening of a major exhibit on Holland and his work at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery it would be hard for anyone in the province to remain ignorant of the 250th anniversary of the Samuel Holland Survey of Prince Edward Island (or more correctly St. John’s Island).

Both the book, Samuel Holland, His Work and Legacy on Prince Edward Island, authored by Earle Lockerby and Douglas Sobey, and the exhibition curated by Boyde Beck and Edward MacDonald are major accomplishments. The book is a fine piece of research which builds on Stephen Hornsby’s Surveyors of Empire and A.J.C. Johnson’s PhD thesis Charting the Imperial Will and adds many details specific to Holland and Prince Edward Island. The exhibit, which runs until the end of 2015, features the original manuscript Holland map, an impressive 3 metre by 4 metre display of cartographic achievement The map has been loaned for the exhibit by the United Kingdom’s National Archives

The original map is supplemented by cartographic images, mostly from the Museum and Heritage Foundation’s McNutt collection. However there is a major gap in the exhibition which may result from too great a reliance on the McNutt holdings.

Montresor portrait

Samuel Holland’s rival John Montresor

One of Samuel Holland’s rivals was an army engineer named John Montresor who had a successful career which in many ways paralleled that of Holland. He served at Louisburg, helped map Quebec, surveyed parts of New England and Atlantic Canada. Although nominally Holland’s superior in the Quebec survey Montresor, an officer in the Corps of Engineers, apparently bore a great deal of animosity towards Holland and other officers who were members of regular regiments. Maps which  Montresor produced were impressive but his disagreements with both his superiors and his staff detracts from his output and soon Holland came to be regard as the most competent officer of the Quebec survey. Montresor’s reputation plummeted when he was caught out in 1763 in his blatant attempt to take credit for Holland’s work on the Quebec and St. Lawrence survey by erasing the latter’s name from maps submitted to William Pitt in England.

In 1768 Montresor again appropriated Holland’s work. Montresor claimed credit for a large (1.5 metre by 2.0 metre) map titled ” Map of Nova Scotia or Acadia; with the Islands of Cape Breton and St. John’s, from actual surveys, by Captn Montresor, Engr”  The map capitalizes of the interest in the lands acquired from the French only a few years earlier.  The first state of the map shows a uniform design with details derived from a variety of French and English maps drawn with out the benefit of accurate surveys.

Montresor 1 BNF

John Montresor’s Map of Nova Scotia or Acadia published 1768 – first state. Copy in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France

It is the second state of the map, with the same 1768 date that shows what an impact the Holland Survey made. The map is identical save for the precise mapping of the Island which the survey had provided. No credit is given to Holland for the revised information.

Montresor2 TPL

Map of Nova Scotia or Acadia 1768 – second state. Copy in the Toronto Public Library

The contrast is best shown in detail. Both maps are vague as to the mainland but vastly different for the Island of Saint John. Although the Island is smaller than in maps published in 1773 and later, the Island portion of the Montresor map is still notable for its accuracy and for its modern cartographic style. It includes the civil divisions and many of the place names in the 1765 manuscript map.  No changes were made to the map’s title information to acknowledge the inclusion of the Holland contribution.

Montresor 1 NAC

Detail – Montresor map 1768 first state. Copy at Library and Archives Canada

Montresor 2 NAC

Detail – Montresor map 1768 second state. Copy at Library and Archives Canada

The 1768 Montresor map appears to be the first published acknowledgement of the information Holland gathered and is the single most striking depiction of the difference made in the cartography of the region and the impact of Holland. As such it is a very important and dramatic illustration of the impact of Holland on the cartography of North America.  Its absence from the exhibition is both striking and curious, especially as copies of the second state of the Montresor map exist in collections at both the University of Prince Edward Island and at the Public Archives and Records Office. Other copies are held by institutions in the region.

While Holland went on to great success after his survey of Prince Edward Island things did not go as well for John Montresor.  He served several periods as chief engineer in America during the revolutionary war, was promoted Captain in 1776 and retired in 1778. However a later audit of his accounts for the period resulted in large claims by the government and he was soon in financial difficulties. He died in prison in 1799.


1 thought on “What a Difference a Survey Makes – A Tale of Two Maps

  1. Pingback: “This is a good harbor” Charlotte Town in 1785 | Sailstrait

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