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Significant Scots
Ainslie, John


JOHN AINSLIE, the eminent Scottish geographer and land surveyor of the 18th and 19th centuries, was born of a stock whose progenitor came to Scotland some eight hundred years ago. Having settled in Roxburghshire, they became possessed of the lands of Dolphinston—about five miles from Jedburgh—of which the family retained possession for some centuries. Branches of the stock found, their way to Jedburgh, in which they at one time had much influence. In that historic Border town, however, although they were once so numerous, there it now not even one family of that name.

The Bon of John Ainslie, writer in Jedburgh, the subject of this notice was born in Jedburgh on 22nd April, 1745. He w’as baptised six days later, John Ainslie. druggist, and Wm. Turnbull, merchant—both Bailies in the town— being witnesses. The future geographer was probably educated at the Grammar School, held in the Abbey, which at that time had a high reputation as a place of instruction. Ainslie makes his first appearance on the stage on which he from that time so ably acquitted himself, with his “Plan of Jedburgh—about a quarter of a mile.” In all probability the plan was completed before he was twenty-five years of age. This production is not dated, and it is not recorded when it first appeared ; but when he published it he was a “Surveyor.” The plan is on four sheets, and measures 5 ft. 10 in. by 3 ft. 2 in. Unfortunately the plates were lost while Ainslie was in London, and in consequence of this there is now much difficulty in securing copies of this interesting production. The present writer knows of only four copies existing in that locality, one of wliich is in Jedburgh Museum. There is also a copy in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, In addition to two copies of Ainslie’s “Engraved Plan of Jedburgh,” to which we have no further reference. Since the plan is undated, speculation is invited as to the date of its issue. One writer places it as late as 1780; but internal evidence is such that it must be of an earlier date. It has, on very good authority, been termed his first essay as a draughtsman, and we therefore assign it to the year 1770 or 1771, as it was in 1772 that Ainslie surveyed Selkirkshire, or Ettrick Forest, This he was encouraged to do by Andrew Pringle—an early patron of Ainslie —who took considerable interest in the promising surveyor. The results of this survey Ainslie published in his map of Selkirkshire on June ye 21, 1773,” on two large sheets, large folio, and engraved throughout—on a scale of a mile to an inch. A second edition of this production was published by W. Faden in 1801. In 1775 Ainslie surveyed the counties of Fife and Kinross, with the rivers Forth and Tay. The map of this district was issued on six sheets, scale one mile to an inch, and it waa received with so much favour that another edition was produced in 1801.

On 24th April, 1776, Ainslie issued proposals for the actual survey of the shires of Stirling and Clackmannan, to be printed on four sheets imperial, price one guinea each, the survey for which he vouched to commence as soon as 200 subscribers were secured; but since sufficient encouragement was not forthcoming, the projected undertaking was abandoned. At another date, according to Mr Thomson, Ainslie published proposals for the survey of Perthshire; but this also did not meet with the support he anticipated, and consequently he proceeded with his projected map of Scotland. In March, 1777, our geographer published a map of the country around Edinburgh, dedicating it to the Right Hon. James Stewart McKenzie, Lord Privy Seal of Scotland, etc. In the construction of this map, Ainslie was assisted—as he was in many a subsequent enterprise—by William Faden of London, who, it may be remembered, was geographer to the King. On 1st January, 1782, Ainslie’B “Atlas of the World” was published. The atlas contained two maps of each country, one of which was a skeleton. This work served to good purpose for a time, but the progress in discovery and political changes soon antiquated it. It is interesting to observe in it that instead of the familiar term now in general use. “as the crow flies”—the earliest reference to which phrase Dr Murray in his English Dictionary gives in a quotation of date 1800—the term “Distance thro’ the air” was employed. Opposite each map information regarding the respective countries was given. The only copy which the present writer has seen is in the Jedburgh Museum. Some of the maps of that Copy bear the date 16t February, 1794, so that it probably took twelve years to complete the work, or was issued in two editions. We now find Ainslie at work in a different part of his native land. He made a survey of the “County of Wigton, or Shire of Galloway,” which he published on four sheets in 17812. The second edition of this map was issued in 1801. In the years 1784-85 he surveyed the East Coast of Scotland, and the results of this extensive survey were published on five charts in these years. This was deemed a very creditable performance. At another date he surveyed the West Coa6t. A copy of his “Chart of the West Coast of Scotland” is amongst the Gough maps in the Bodleian Library.

But, however numerous and well-qualified as are Ainslie’s productions, he is chiefly known for his large map of Scotland on nine sheets, published on 1st January, 17*59. There was much need of such a production, and the disadvantages under which he laboured in order to complete this undertaking were necessarily great. It. had been stated that “Dorret", land surveyor, published in 1750 a four-sheet map of Scotland. . . . The defects of Dorret made way in 1789 for Ainslie’s nine-sheet map of Scotland.” The map, which is designated “ Scotland drawn and engraved from a series of angles and astronomical observations,” with a map of the Orkney and Shetland Islands, etc., was published' by Jolm and James Ainslie, Edinburgh, and measures 6 ft. by 5 ft. 3 in. “John Ainslie,” writes an eminent authority, commenting on the map in question, “was a most prolific cartographer; his maps mark the next distinct advance from Adair.”* It may be of interest to note, in passing, that Burns, writing from Ellisland on 2nd April, 1789, to his friend Peter Hill, asking him to forward certain books, says: "I’ll expect along with the trunk my ‘Ainslie’s Map of Scotland.’ ”Agreeably to this, we find that on 5th December, 1791, Peter Hill signed a quittance to Burns for payment in full of the sum of £8 6s 8d, which included one guinea, and a half for a copy of “AiiiBlie’s Map of Scotland ” on rollers. The map was reproduced in 1880, and in later years it was made the basis of other geographers’ productions. In 1807 Faden published “A Map of Scotland, drawn chiefly from the topographical surveys of J. Ainslie, and from those of the late General Roy.” Six years later “Scotland, with its Islands,” based upon the same surveys, was published by the same person; while in 1840 Faden’s successor, Js. Wyld, issued a similar production from the same sources. Daniel Lizars of Edinburgh, and James Gardener of London, published Ainslie’s map with improvements down to 1826, and a second edition was in demand four years later. A "Travelling Map of Scotland,” from the results of Ainslie’s surveys, appeared in 1842. There are likewise in the British Museum the following additional maps by Ainslie:—A map of Scotland on two sheets; an unfinished proof, 1807; another edition, coloured, 1832; and another of the same, dated 1851.

In 1794 Ainslie’s map of the County of Forfar or Shire of Angus, was published. It was engraved on four sheets, and measured 3 ft. 8 in. by 3 ft. 5 in. It met with much approbation, and was considered such an excellent production that another edition was in request seven years afterwards. The estate of Ancrum, Roxburghshire, was surveyed by Ainslie in 1795. It was quite by accident that we discovered this a short time ago. The probability is that this is. but one of many estates that lie was engaged in surveying. In 1796 we find him employed with the Survey of Renfrewshire. The map of this county was published five year later on four sheets, on a scale of a mile to two inches. Kirkcudbright he also surveyed in 1796, and the results thereof were issued in the same or the following year, followed by another edition in 1801. Ainslie’s “Roads of Great Britain,” a work which evinced a vast topographical knowledge of the country, was placed before the public in 1797.

We now find Ainslie turning his attention to the construction of canals. He is said to have been the first person who delineated on a straight line that great valley in the north extending from Inverness to Fort William, where the Caledonian Canal now has its course. If this be the case, then he must have entertained the idea when quite a youth, for as early as 1773 the celebrated James Watt was engaged by the trustee® of the estates forfeited in consequence of the Rebellion, to survey the line with a view to estimating the cost of making a canal of ten feet water. The successful completion of the Forth and Clyde Canal, the work of whioh was resumed with much vigour in 1786 under the superintendence of the engineer, Robert Whitworth, and which was' completed from Firth to Firth in July 1790, directed the attention of the people to the desirability of having the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow connected by a similar means. To this end several able engineers made surveys for the desired canal. Whitworth and Ainslie worked conjointly in this matter, and the results of their inspection were summed up in a twelve-page report, dated 14th September, 1797, “Concerning the . . . lines surveyed by Messrs J. Ainslie and H. Whitworth, jun., for a canal between Edinburgh and Glasgow, with an account of a running level taken for a new line by Linlithgow and Falkirk.” This was published at Edinburgh, as was also their Report, on 22nd October. 1798, "concerning the practicability and expence” of the routes which they had surveyed, including the new line by Linlithgow’ and Falkirk. They intended, in their plan of the route, that the Canal should communicate with the Firth of Forth and Leith, and the River Clyde at the Broomie-law. The route finally chosen was one recommended by the celebrated Telford, by which the project was considerably modified. It is known as the LTnion Canal, and extends from Port Hopetoun to Port. Downie, in Falkirk parish, Stirlingshire, where it is connected with the Forth and ciyde Canal. In 1802 Ainslie produced his work entitled “ The Gentleman and Farmer's Pocket Book Companion and Assistant; consisting of tables for finding the contents of any piece of laud by pacing, or by dimensions taken on the spot in ells, etc.” In 1803, or perhaps the following year, his "Plan of a Canal proposed to be made between the River Clyde at the City of Glasgow’ and the Harbour of Saltcoats” was issued. Owing to the baffling winds which at times prevailed in the.Firth of Clyde, navigation was rendered somewhat difficult. In addition to this, the navigation of the river Clyde above Port Glasgow was at that time practicable only to small vessels, and was attended with not a little danger. By a canal from Saltcoats or Ardros-san to Glasgow, the projectors thought they could obviate these impediments. The plans chosen were those proposing the canal to be constructed between Ardrossan and Glasgow. The undertaking was promptly commenced, but when the canal had been cut as far as Johnstone, the project was abandoned.

In 1806 Jolm Ainslie drew up a. plan of the ground at Haughliead and Eckford, in the county of Roxburgh. Some years previous this resourceful cartographer had published "A Plan of the City of Edinburgh, with the New Town.'* Another issue of his plan was soon in demand, and this appeared, showing improvements down to 1st January, 1801. Still another edition was needed to satisfy the public demand, which resulted in the issue of his “Plan of the Old and New Town of Edinburgh and Leith" in 1804. The plans of the New Town and of Leith which appear in Grant’s "Old and New Edinburgh” are taken from this production. Amongst the Gough maps, in the Bodleian Library at- Oxford there is a Plan of tlie City of Edinburgh, with a list, of closses, etc., that cannot be inserted for want of room [and] references to the public buildings, etc. ‘Dedicated . . . by J. Ainslie”; and amongst the Gough prints there is a "large engraved Plan of Edinburgh” by the same cartographer. It was not. until 1812 that John Ainslie’s much appreciated work on Land-Surveying appeared. It is entitled "A Comprehensive Treatise on Land-Surveying, comprising the theory and practice in all its branches.” In it the use of the several instruments employed in surveying, levelling, etc., is cle.trly set firth. The work, which was published in Edinburgh, is illustrated by forty copperplates, and contains over 170 figures. It was dedicated to John Rennie, civil engineer. A quarto edition of this book, edited by William Galbraith, M.A., F.ILA.S., was published in 1842; while an octavo edition, by the same editor, appeared in 1849. In his introduction to the latter edition Mr Galbraith refers in fitting terms to "the great experience acquired by the late Mr Ainslie in the discharge of his professional duties.” The plates in connection with this work were published separately in the same year.

We must not omit to mention his large map of “The Environs of Edinburgh. Haddington, I)unse, Kelso, Jedburgh, Hawick, Selkirk, Peebles, Langholm, and Annan, making a complete map of tlie south-east of Scot’av.d.” This production, which measured 4 ft. 3 in. by 2 ft. 10 in., was "sold by Thomas Blown, North Bridge, Edinburgh.” There is also Ainslie’s map of the "South-East of Scotland," 3 ft. 10 in. by 2 ft. 8 in. in dimension, comprising the counties of Roxburgh, Berwick, Selkirk, Dumfries, and Haddington, and -Mid-Lothian. The librarians of the Bodleian Library kindly inform me that, in addition to several of above-mentioned plans and maps, they have amongst the Gough prints a coloured engraved "Plan of the Ground in dispute between Wm, McLean of Medrox and James Miller of Myvet, surveyed by W. Douglas, engraved by J. Ainslie” ; two prints of Roslin Castle from the south and north (Cowan del. et Ainslie excudit): a "Print of Dirleton Castle,” by Cowan and Ainslie; and a “Print of Craigmillar Castle,” by the same persons.

As to the private life of Ainslie, but little is known. In many of his ventures, which proved to be lucrative, he collaborated with William Faden of St. Martin’s Lane, London. Several of Ainslie’s plans and maps were published by the latter. In addition to other property, Ainslie was part proprietor of No. 11 St Andrew Street, Edinburgh, and in the vicinity of his native town he was the owner of lands in Hindhousefield and Castlewood, in addition to property in the same locality, into possession of which he came by marriage. He was married to Mary Lookup, daughter of Andrew Lookup, sometime Provost of Jedburgh. The fruit of this marriage was two daughters, named Catherine and Mary, the latter of whom became the wife of James Shortreed, son of Robert Shortreed—the esteemed Sheriff-Substitute of Roxburghshire, and friend of Sir Walter Scott. Mary Lookup died on 14th September, 1825, at the age of 77 ; and on 29th February, 1828, John Ainslie departed this life at his house, 58 Nicholson Street, Edinburgh, in his 83rd year. He is interred under the shade of Jedburgh Abbey, in the south transept of which a marble monument, with a simple inscription, is erected to his memory.

The attainments of this gifted geographer cannot be better summed up than in the words of the writer of the introduction of Thomson’s “Atlas of Scotland,” in which the writer, having mentioned some of Ainslie’s surveys, says that they “have done the country much good, and to himself and family the greatest credit.

From these surveys he constructed a large map of Scotland, which has been in use ever since the time of publication, and does great honour to him as an enterprising individual, and will long remain a monument of his scientific acquirements.

G. Watson.

A treatise on land surveying

The gentleman and farmer's pocket companion and assistant
Consisting of tables for finding the contents of any piece of land by pacing ... likewise, various other tables


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