Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Arrowsmith, Aaron

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ARROWSMITH, AARON (1750–1823), geographer, the head of a well-known family of cartographers, was born in Winston, Durham, 14 July 1750. His father dying while he was young, his mother married again, the stepfather being a dissipated man, who soon wasted the children's patrimony. Young Arrowsmith was thus early in life thrown on his own resources for a livelihood. The only instruction he ever received beyond the mere elements of reading and writing was in mathematics, from the eccentric Emerson [see Emerson, William], who was so taken by the boy's anxiety to learn that he taught him for one winter.

Arrowsmith came to London about 1770. One authority states that he commenced his career under W. Faden, but of this there is no evidence extant; another authority, apparently better informed from private sources, states that he first found employment with John Gary, for whose county maps Arrowsmith made all the pedometer measurements and drawings. We find him in 1790 established in Castle Street, Long Acre, where, at great cost and labour, he brought out his first effort in map-making, 'A Chart of the World upon Mercator's Projection, showing all the New Discoveries, . . . with the Tracts [sic] of the most distinguished Navigators since 1700.' This chart, now rare, was published 1 April 1790. There is a copy preserved in 'Brit. Mus. Gren. Lib. 20273.' In 1794 he published his large ' Map of the World' on the Globular projection, on the same scale as the Mercator chart, viz. five equatorial degrees to one inch. With the map of 1794 he published a 'Companion' in quarto, from which we learn that these two maps were published 'in order to exhibit the contrast between the two best projections upon which general maps of the world can be constructed.' The materials used in the second map were mainly the collections of A. Dalrymple and the manuscripts of the Hudson's Bay Company, which last were used to much greater advantage in his 'Map of North America,' published in 1796. In 1802 Arrowsmith appears to have removed westward to Rathbone Place, where, we learn from the London directories of the period, he remained until 1808. In 1807 he brought out his 'Map of Scotland, constructed from original materials obtained by the authority of the Parliamentary Commissioners for Making Roads and Bridges in the Highlands,' engraved on four sheets, on the scale of four miles to one inch. The valuable 'Memoir' for this map was published in 1809. The 'original materials' referred to were mainly the large manuscript 'Military Survey of Scotland,' on the scale of 1000 yards to an inch, executed at the instance of the Duke of Cumberland, 1745-55, by the engineers under the command of General Watson. The greater part of the hill-shading was done by Paul Sandby, the well-known landscape draughtsman. This Survey, but little known, is preserved in the King's Library, British Museum. In 1814 Arrowsmith removed to Soho Square, where he carried on his business of map publishing until his death. Up to this period all our maps of India had been based upon route surveys only. In 1822 Arrowsmith produced his 'Atlas of Southern India,' on the scale of four miles to one inch, in eighteen sheets, which was based upon the triangulations of Colonel Lampton and the 'Madras Survey Maps.' This was his last important work, which became the model for the well-known 'Indian Atlas,' afterwards issued by the directors of the East India Company in 1827.

Arrowsmith died at his house in Soho Square, 23 April 1823, aged 73 years. After his decease the business was carried on by his two sons, Aaron and Samuel. A fairly complete list of the maps and charts made and published by the elder Arrowsmith might be compiled from the newly-printed catalogue of maps in the British Museum, and the catalogue of the map-room of the Royal Geographical Society, 1882. Considering the period at which they were published, it is remarkable that sufficient patronage should have been found for such large and costly maps and charts. They were evidently remunerative, as they obtained a high reputation throughout Europe for their correctness, distinctness, and good engraving. Although Arrowsmith never received the scientific training of a Berghaus or a Ritter, his work never deserved the adverse comments bestowed upon it by Klaproth, than whom a more fanciful geographer never made a map. Arrowsmith's merits were rather those of a well-trained map-maker than a scientific geographer. He understood the projection of maps in all its branches thoroughly, which enabled him to utilise, in a way peculiarly his own, all the wast store of information and material placed at his disposal by his friends Dalrymple and Rennell, and the Directors of the Hudson's Bay and the East India Companies. His elephantine maps, as compared with those of to-day, will always remain monuments of his untiring industry and unshaken faith in honest work. The maps published after his death bearing his name are either new editions corrected to date, or new ones made by his son Aaron, who with his brother Samuel carried on the business until the death of the latter in 1839. To this period may be assigned the 'Geometrical Construction of Maps and Globes,' 1825, 4to. The Atlas to accompany the 'Edinburgh Dictionary of Geography,' 6 vols, 8vo, 1827; 'Atlas of Ancient Geography,' 1829, 8vo; 'Atlas of Modern Geography,' 1830, 8vo; and the 'Bible Atlas,' by Samuel, 1835, 4to.

[Dict. Biog. S. D. U. K.; Ocean Highways, 1873-4, p. 124; Markham's Indian Surveys, 2nd ed. 1878.]

C. H. C.