Rare maps to be seen on Shetland for first time
Maps created by a famous son of Shetland but never before seen on the islands are being loaned by the National Library of Scotland for an important exhibition opening this weekend.
It celebrates the work of James Robertson who was born on the island of Yell in Shetland in 1753 and emigrated to Jamaica where he produced the first full map of the Caribbean island.
The exhibition 'James Robertson: The Shetlander who mapped Jamaica (1753-1829)' opens on 26 September at the Shetland Museum and Archives in Lerwick and will run to 22 November. It illustrates Robertson's life and work and also presents a rare opportunity to view original maps by Robertson, now in the map collection at the National Library.
From 1796-1804, Robertson surveyed the first detailed maps of Jamaica. They were remarkably accurate, even by today's standards, and an excellent insight into the island, then an important British colony and sugar exporter. Robertson later returned to Britain, where he compiled a detailed map of the north-eastern counties of Scotland (1822).
The exhibition also features unique artefacts illustrating the practical surveying equipment that Robertson would have used, correspondence with him, and original documents relating to his map of north-east Scotland. This shows a rural landscape undergoing profound changes and represents the most detailed mapping of the area before the Ordnance Survey work from the 1860s.
Chris Fleet, Map Curator at the National Library of Scotland, said 'Robertson's maps of Jamaica allow us to visualise this British colony at the height of the sugar industry, and Robertson's cartography was an important means for maintaining order and control of territory. There were also important links with Scotland too, with many of the sugar estates owned by Scots, whose names and plantations are clearly shown on Robertson's maps.'
Mapmaking in Robertson's time brought together a range of skills — in mathematics and geometry, in practical measurement in the field, and in the artistic ability to represent landscape features with precision and consistency. 'This exhibition allows us to trace something of Robertson's training and experience in these areas, and the difficulties he faced in gaining funding for his work. Mapmaking was rarely a lucrative profession, and although Robertson was very well paid for his work in Jamaica he struggled to find similar success back in Scotland,' added Chris Fleet.
Items for the exhibition are being loaned also from Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives, the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and Aberdeen University Special Collections.
A number of events will accompany the exhibition. Local primary school pupils will have the opportunity to learn more about map making by taking part in workshops developed and delivered by National Library of Scotland. There will also be family workshops based on mapmaking, as well as art classes and reminiscence sessions.
Further information about the exhibition and events in Shetland from Shetland Museum and Archives.
25 September 2015