|Born||4 May 1726
Milton Head, Carluke Parish, Scotland
|Died||1 July 1790
|Notable awards||Copley Medal (1785)|
Major-General William Roy FRS, FSA (1726–1790) was a Scottish military engineer, surveyor, and antiquarian. He was an innovator who applied new scientific discoveries and newly emerging technologies to the accurate geodetic mapping of Great Britain.
It was Roy's advocacy and leadership that led to the creation of the Ordnance Survey in 1791, the year after his death. His technical work in the establishment of a surveying baseline won him the Copley Medal in 1785. His maps and drawings of Roman archaeological sites in Scotland were the first accurate and systematic study of the subject, and have not been improved upon even today. Roy was a Fellow of the Royal Society and a member of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
Early life and family
Roy was born in Carluke Parish in South Lanarkshire in 1726, and was educated in the parish school and Lanark Grammar School. There is no record of his further education, but circumstances strongly suggest that he obtained one. He was a respected land surveyor employed by the Callander family at their Craigforth estate near Stirling prior to his work for the military, and his demonstrated knowledge of general science, geodesy, chemistry, and astronomy imply that he was once an apt pupil within a formal system of education.
Roy's father had been a steward or factor (i.e., a representative of a landowner in Scotland) in the service of the Hamiltons of Hallcraig, as well as an elder of the Kirk. His grandfather had held a similar position as factor, and his uncle acted in that capacity for the Lockharts of Lee. His younger brother James had held the bursary in the Grammar School and College of Glasgow, took a Master of Arts after studies in the Languages and Philosophy, was licensed by the Presbytery of Glasgow, and held several other notable positions before his untimely death in 1767, at the age of 37.
Roy maintained his connections to his birthplace and the people living there. A servant for the Lockharts of Lee recalled his visits there over time, as his national reputation grew. She noted that at first he would dine in the servants hall, in later years he would dine with the family, and later on still he would be seated at the right hand of the Laird.
Career and later life
In 1747 Lieutenant-Colonel David Watson, Deputy Quartermaster-General, proposed the compilation of a map of the Scottish Highlands to facilitate the subjugation of the clans following the Jacobite rising of 1745. In response, King George II commissioned a military survey of the Highlands, and Watson was placed in charge under the command of the Duke of Cumberland. Among his assistants were William Roy, Paul Sandby, and John Manson. The labours of Watson and Roy, and of Roy in particular, resulted in The Duke of Cumberland's Map, now in the British Library. The map reflects Roy's lifelong interest in ancient Scottish history by showing the locations of ancient Roman remains, primarily military camps, wherever he encountered them.
Roy was first mentioned in connection with this effort in a 1749 letter, by which time he was Assistant to the Deputy Quartermaster-General, but without a military commission. He would continue to work on the survey until 1755, and was then given a military commission and the title of Practitioner-Engineer. He was promoted steadily, reflecting acknowledgement of his considerable technical talents.
Roy's technical abilities and willingness to innovate brought him to the favourable attention of Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick, the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied army at the Battle of Minden in 1759. Preparatory to the battle, the various military engineers made drawings of each step of the coming battle, with each step drawn on a different sheet of paper. The commander could then study the course of the battle before it occurred, going from one sheet to the next. Lieutenant Roy, however, made his drawings on a single sheet with coordinated and accurate overlays, so that the commander could more easily study the course of the battle by examining a single sheet of paper. The commander's comprehension was greatly facilitated, and Roy's methodology was soon adopted as an advancement in military science. Roy was promoted to captain in the Corps of Highlanders a scant three weeks after the battle.
The next year he became a Deputy Quartermaster-General and major of foot, and was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1762. In 1765 he appears as a Deputy Quartermaster-General, Surveyor-General of Coasts, and Engineer-Director of military surveys in Great Britain, and in that capacity he visited Ireland in 1766 and Gibraltar in 1768. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1767.
Roy was promoted to colonel in 1777, and to major-general in 1781. He was in charge of the departments of the Quartermaster-General and Chief Engineer in 1782, and in 1783 became the Director of Royal Engineers. In 1783-84 he conducted observations to determine the relative positions of the French and English royal observatories. In 1784 he measured a base-line for that purpose between Hampton and Heathrow (hamlet), the germ of all subsequent surveys of the United Kingdom, for which in 1785 the Royal Society awarded him the Copley medal.
Roy's measurements (not fully utilised until 1787, when the Paris and Greenwich observatories were properly connected) form the basis of the topographical survey of Middlesex, Surrey, Kent and Sussex. These surveys were made for the most part using the new Ramsden theodolite which Roy had commissioned from Jesse Ramsden, and were the start of the Principal Triangulation of Great Britain.
He was finishing an account of this work for the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society when he died.
Roy's use of scientific advancements and accurate mathematical formulas paved the way for modern geodesic surveying. His tenure and his work are the dividing line between older, approximate mappings and newer, highly accurate ones in Britain. He is cited repeatedly in early nineteenth century mathematics textbooks for his use of spherical trigonometry in surveying. Early twentieth century technical books on modern surveying and geodesy include Roy's work as the historical starting point for the modern profession.
Roy's maps and his drawings of the relics of the Roman presence in Scotland were immediately seen as credible and valuable. For sites where the Roman remains were later destroyed by human development, his drawings are the only reliable record of their existence.
Roy was the first to systematically map the Antonine Wall and provide accurate and detailed drawings of its remains, an effort undertaken in 1764.
His only historical work, Military Antiquities of the Romans in Britain, has a mixed reputation. His drawings and maps are held in the highest regard as still-valuable research sources. However, his efforts in the scholarly discussion of history are widely held to be without value, largely through no fault of his own. This was due to his belief that the spurious fraud De Situ Britanniae was a genuine work, a view shared by virtually all of his contemporaries. Roy consequently adjusted his perspective to be consistent with the history as told in the fraud, causing his own conclusions to be without a valid foundation. Much of Roy's research was devoted to the attempt to follow fictitious journeys throughout Scotland that were described in De Situ Britanniae.
That Roy's considerable talents were partially wasted is a tragedy. He was a Scot with a lifelong interest in ancient Scottish history, and his technical ability and scientific knowledge made him uniquely qualified to provide information in an area of history where knowledge and understanding are minimal. That loss for Scottish history has been bemoaned by Scottish historians. In his introduction to Celtic Scotland, Skene deprecates those historical works based on De Situ, including Roy's, but adds for him alone the comment that " ... perhaps more to be regretted, the valuable work of General Roy ..."
Minor biographical note
While Roy was a famous and notable person by the time of his death, some of the minor details of his military career have been susceptible to error in later articles about him, usually in a way that enhances Roy's actual status as a young, non-military assistant and surveyor. Among these, a 1793 obituary says he held the rank of Colonel of Artillery in 1746, whereas he was then a 20-year-old surveyor with no military commission, and who was never connected with the artillery. An 1885 book about Western Scotland with a chapter on Roy's life has him a Colonel in the British Army who was trusted with the work of mapping the Highlands in 1747 by his commanding general. Roy deserves much of the technical credit for the map that resulted, but he was actually a non-military assistant to a Lieutenant-Colonel who was a Deputy Quartermaster-General. An 1874 book on the history of Carluke Parish and its people has Roy himself the Deputy Quartermaster-General.
The written history of the Royal Engineers makes a minor contribution to the list of errors, stating in passing that Roy was the nephew of his immediate supervisor in 1747, and was given the rank of Lieutenant. Roy was not related to David Watson, nor was he in the military at that time. The author has confused him with David Dundas, who was the son of Watson's sister, and who joined his uncle in 1752.
Roy's maps and plans (partial list)
Roy was an exceptionally neat and capable draughtsman, and often made maps of the survey work conducted by others, as well as maps of his own survey work.
In the British Museum
- The Duke of Cumberland's Map (1747)
- A General Description of the South Part of Ireland, or Observations during a Short Tour in Ireland (1766)
- Rankin 1874:289 The Parish of Carluke, 1288 – 1874, Major-Gen. Wm. Roy
- Campbell 1832:32 Memoirs of James Campbell of Ardkinglass, Remembrance of William Roy
- Rankin 1874:290 The Parish of Carluke, 1288 – 1874, Major-Gen. Wm. Roy
- Rankin 1874:293–94 The Parish of Carluke, 1288 – 1874, Major-Gen. Wm. Roy
- Porter 1889a:167–68 History of the Royal Engineers, vol. I, 1748 – 1763
- Campbell 1832:32–33 Memoirs of James Campbell of Ardkinglass, William Roy at the Battle of Minden
- Sherwood, Philip. (2009) Heathrow: 2000 Years of History. The History Press ISBN 978-0-7509-5086-2, pp. 25–28
- Hutton 1831:26–98 A Course of Mathematics, Spherical Trigonometry, for example.
- Popplewell 1915:170–71 The Elements of Surveying and Geodesy, Geodetic or Trigonometrical Surveying, for example.
- Hübner 1886:111 Archaeologia Aeliana, The Roman Annexation of Britain
- Skene 1886:22 Celtic Scotland, Introduction, Notation of Spurious Authorities
- Burke 1793:212 Annual Register for 1790, Obituary of William Roy
- Irving 1885:242 The West of Scotland in History, General Roy of Carluke
- Porter 1889b:229 History of the Royal Engineers, vol. II, Family relationship of William Roy; the error was repeated on page 389.
- "Watson, David (1713?-1761)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- "Dundas, David (1735-1820)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
Bibliography and general references
Roy's major scientific papers
- Roy, William (1777). "Experiments and Observations Made in Britain, in Order to Obtain a Rule for Measuring Heights with the Barometer". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 67: 653–787. doi:10.1098/rstl.1777.0035.
- Roy, William (1785). "An Account of the Measurement of a Base on Hounslow-Heath". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 75: 385–480. doi:10.1098/rstl.1785.0024.
- Roy, William (1787). "An Account of the Mode Proposed to be Followed in Determining the Relative Situation of the Royal Observatories of Greenwich and Paris.". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 77: 188–226. doi:10.1098/rstl.1787.0019. Plates follow text
- Roy, William (1790). "An Account of the Trigonometrical Operation, Whereby the Distance between the Meridians of the Royal Observatories of Greenwich and Paris Has Been Determined". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 80: 111–254. doi:10.1098/rstl.1790.0015.
Roy's historical publication
- Roy, William (1790), Military Antiquities of the Romans in North Britain, London: The Society of Antiquities of London (published 1793)
- Burke, Edmund, ed. (1793), The Annual Register For the Year 1790, London: J. Dodsley, p. 212
- Campbell, James (1832), Memoirs of Sir James Campbell of Ardkinglas I, London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, pp. 32–34
- Hutton, Charles (1831), Gregory, Olinthus; Adrain, Robert, eds., A Course of Mathematics II (5th American ed.), New York: T. and J. Swords, pp. 26–98
- Hübner, Emil (1886), "The Roman Annexation of Britain", in Hodgkin, Thomas, Archaeologia Aeliana, New XI, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, pp. 82–116
- Irving, Joseph (1885), The West of Scotland in History, Glasgow: Robert Forster, pp. 242–50
- Lee, Sidney, ed. "Dundas, David (1735-1820)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- Lee, Sidney, ed. "Roy, William (1726-1790)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- Lee, Sidney, ed. "Watson, David (1713?-1761)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- Popplewell, William Charles (1915), The Elements of Surveying and Geodesy, Longmans, Green and Co: Longmans, Green and co., pp. 163–76
- Maskelyne, Nevil (1785). "Concerning the Latitude and Longitude of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich; With Remarks on a Memorial of the Late M. Cassini de Thury". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 75: 385–480. doi:10.1098/rstl.1785.0024.
- Porter, Whitworth (1889a), History of the Corps of Royal Engineers I, London: Longmans, Green, and Co (published 1889)
- O'Donoghue, Yolande (1977). William Roy 1726-1790. Pioneer Of The Ordnance Survey. British Museum Publications,. ISBN 978 0 7141 0387 7.
- Porter, Whitworth (1889b), History of the Corps of Royal Engineers II, London: Longmans, Green, and Co (published 1889)
- Rankin, William (1874), Notices, Historical, Statistical and Biographical, Relating to the Parish of Carluke from 1288 till 1874, Glasgow: W. Rankin, pp. 289–94
- Skene, William Forbes (1886), Celtic Scotland: A History of Ancient Alban (History and Ethnology) I (2nd ed.), Edinburgh: David Douglas, pp. 22–23
- "Maj.-Gen. William Roy, F.R.S.", The Army and Navy Magazine: May – October, 1883 VI, London: W. H. Allen & Co, 1883, pp. 160–69
- King George III (21 July 1784), Kimber, Isaac; Kimber, Edward, eds., "The London magazine, or, Gentleman's monthly intelligencer", The London Magazine (London: Printed for R. Baldwin, published 1785) III: 364–65
|chapter=ignored (help) - the letter refers to Roy by name as "... our trusty and well beloved Lieutenant-Colonel William Roy, one of our engineers for inspecting, surveying, and making reports from time to time of the state of the coasts and districts of the country adjacent to the coasts of this kingdom, and the islands hereunto belonging."
- Griffiths, Ralph, ed. (1794), "Roy's Military Antiquities of the Romans in Britain", The Monthly Review: September – December, MDCCXCIII XII, London: R. Griffiths, pp. 381–88 - a literary review of Roy's book
- Griffiths, Ralph, ed. (1800), "Account of a Trigonometric Survey of England, &c.", The Monthly Review: January – April, MDCCC XXXI, London: R. Griffiths, pp. 370–372 - an early account of the Survey of England
- Rivington, F., ed. (1793), "General Roy's Military Antiquities", The British Critic, A New Review, for September, October, November, and December, MDCCXCIII II, London: F. and C. Rivington, pp. 6–12; 127–133 - a literary review of Roy's book
- Weld, Charles Richard (1848), "1780 — 1800", A History of the Royal Society, with Memoirs of the Presidents II, London: John W. Parker, pp. 186–229 - a discussion of Roy's work that won him the Copley Medal.
- "Blackwood's Edinburgh magazine", Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, DCCCLI (Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons) CXL, July–December 1886: 322–347
- Kimber, Isaac; Kimber, Edward, eds. (30 November 1784), "The London magazine, or, Gentleman's monthly intelligencer", The London Magazine (London: Printed for R. Baldwin, published 1785) III: 364–66
|chapter=ignored (help) - the new council of the Royal Society, with "Major Gen. W. Roy" as one of the new members of the council.
- Royal Engineers. Their present website has a small history section. The previous website (at archive.org) had more information including a biography of Roy. The archived website gives general background information on the Royal Engineers during the time of Roy.
Media related to William Roy at Wikimedia Commons