For Auld Lang Syne: Mapmakers Respond to Robert Burns

Having just celebrated Burns Night, our Collections Team has chosen four images from early maps in our collections, all of which deliberately include information relating to our National Bard. These examples make us aware today of what information – over and above the necessary chorographical depiction of landscape – an earlier mapmaker might choose to include, and also reveal the importance of the iconography of Robert Burns, even on maps.  Mapmaking has of necessity to be selective in terms what can be or is chosen for depiction on a map, space in particular being a crucial consideration, but Burns clearly made it!  Our first enlarged detail, taken from a map of Ayrshire produced in 1828, includes the naming of Burns’ birthplace as Burns Cottage and in larger engraved letters the site of the Burns Monument nearby (just above Doonside).  Burns’ reputation 30 years after his death in 1796 was already high amongst the public, and the mapmaker has wisely recognised this.

William JOHNSON. Map of Ayrshire, 1828. Published in John Thomson’s Atlas of Scotland, 1832.

The land surveyor and mapmaker, John Wood, who produced 48 town plans of Scottish towns between 1817-1828, in his town plan of Dumfries and Maxwelltown of 1819 takes care to include and name the newly-built Burns Mausoleum (1815), sited in the graveyard of St Michael’s Church.

John Wood. Enlarged detail from his Plan of the Towns of Dumfries and Maxwelltown, 1819.

Some 30 years later, one Victorian mapmaker included in a space round his map of Scotland of 1851, this detail showing the Old and New Brigs o’ Doon, immortalised by Burns in more than one of his poems, together with a depiction of the Burns Monument at Alloway. This is one of 6 delightful vignettes decorating the map, all drawn by the topographical artist and lithographer, Nathaniel Whittock. They were obviously seen by the map’s English publisher to represent Scotland and ‘Scottishness’ and include details of deer stalking, the playing of shinty, the Scott Memorial, Holyroodhouse*, and the view west from Edinburgh’s Calton Hill.

John Tallis. Map of Scotland, [1851].  Drawing by Nathaniel Whittock.

John Tallis. Burns detail of map of Scotland, [1851]. Drawing by Nathaniel Whittock.

Other monuments and statues to Robert Burns are abundant, but we must end, fittingly in terms of RSGS, with a much enlarged detail from an innovative map of Edinburgh produced in 1919 by one of the Society’s co-founders, John George Bartholomew, Cartographer to the Queen (Victoria). It was published in volume 35 of the Society’s Scottish Geographical Magazine.  Bartholomew carefully included the site – naming it – of the Burns Monument to the south of Calton Hill.




*Official spelling

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