William Roy

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For the U.S. politician, see William R. Roy.
William Roy
Born 4 May 1726
Milton Head, Carluke Parish, Scotland
Died 1 July 1790(1790-07-01) (aged 64)
London, England
Nationality British (Scottish)
Fields Surveying
Known for The first precise survey in Britain
Notable awards Copley Medal (1785)

Major-General William Roy FRS, AS (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.

Life and works[edit]

Early life and family[edit]

Roy was born in Carluke Parish in South Lanarkshire in 1726 where his father was a factor[1] 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. Thus Roy grew up in an environment where making land surveys and using maps was part of the daily business. He was educated in the parish school and Lanark Grammar School.[2] but there is no record of a further education such as that enjoyed by his younger brother James.[3]

The next few years of his life are poorly documented. Owen & Pilbeam (1992) claim that "Some time after 1838 (when Roy was 12) he moved to Edinburgh and gained experience of surveying and making plans, probably as a civilian draughtsman at the office of the Board of Ordnance at Edinburgh Castle." It is possible that he may have been employed there as a boy because it was normal procedure to employ "cadets" aged ten or eleven who were trained to become civilian surveyors and draughtsmen. Roy was certainly associated with the Board by 1846 (aged 20) for he was the author of a map of Culloden which was made soon after the battle.[4] and it is equally certain that he would have come to notice of Lieutenant-Colonel David Watson,[5] Deputy Quartermaster-General of the Military District of North Britain for the Board, whose headquarters were in Edinburgh. The terms of Roy's employment are unknown but must have some opportunity to undertake other surveys for he was reported as a respected land surveyor employed by the Callander family at their Craigforth estate near Stirling prior to his work for the military.[6]

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.[2]

The survey of Scotland[edit]

Detail (Pollokshaws, now in Glasgow) from a map in Roy's Military Survey of Scotland.[7]

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.[8] 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, but it fell to Roy "to begin, and afterwards to have a considerable share in, the execution of that map",[9] now known as The Duke of Cumberland's Map.

Roy was without any military rank at this time[10] but Watson awarded him the title of Assistant Quartermaster to provide him some seniority over the group of (typically) 6 soldiers who travelled with him: an NCO, two end markers, two chainmen and a batman.[11] From 1849 he was joined by another five junior surveyors for various periods of time: notable among these young assistants were Paul Sandby (born 1831), later renowned for his watercolour landscapes, and a seventeen year old David Dundas (born 1835), later Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.[12].

Eventually there were six teams conducting surveys by traverses of the country with the objects to the side of the line recorded by sketches and compass directions. The Highlands were covered by 1752 but the survey was extended to the lowlands for another three years, until 1755, when most of the engineer surveyors were posted to war stations. In the introduction to the 1885 account of the measurement of the Hounslow baseline Roy writes that the map remained "in an unfinished state . . . and is to be considered as a magnificent military sketch rather than a very accurate map of a country . . . (and) it would have been completed, and many of its imperfections no doubt remedied, but for the breaking out of war in 1755."[9] The eighty-four original field sheets and the thirty-eight divisions of the "fair-protraction"are held in the British Museum together with a small index map and a reduced map of the whole country in a single sheet published as "the King's map". It is now possible to view the map online.[7]

Scottish antiquities[edit]

in preparation

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.

Military appointments[edit]

Throughout the Survey of Scotland, Roy was a civilian assistant to David Watson the Deputy Quartermaster-General but in 1755 the survey was terminated by the outbreak of the Seven Years' War with France and the consequent redeployment of personnel to more pressing posts in both the regular army and the Board of Ordnance. In the same year the engineers of the Board were formed into the Corps of Engineers. The Board officers were members of both structures for they would be deployed with the army regiments for specialist duties. In 1876 Roy was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 53rd Foot, a new regiment formed in 1755. At the same time he was appointed as a Practitioner-Engineer, the lowest rank in the Board of Ordnance survey department, and Ensign in the Corps of Engineers.[13][14] Thereafter Roy was promoted steadily, and rapidly, in both structures but his army rank was always greater than his Board rank. For example he was Lieut.-Colonel in the army by 1762 and Director and Lieut.-Colonel of the Engineers in 1783. He is best known by his army rank of Major-General which he attained in 1781.[15]

Active service[edit]

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.[6]

Surveyor-General[edit]

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.

The Anglo-French survey[edit]

Late in life, when he was 57, Roy was granted the opportunity to establish his lasting reputation in the world of geodesy. The opening came from a completely unexpected direction. In 1783 the Comte de Cassini addressed a memoir to the Royal Society in which he expressed grave reservations of the measurements of latitude and longitude which had been undertaken at Greenwich Observatory. He suggested that the correct values might be found by combining the Paris Observatory figures with a precise trigonometric survey between the two observatories.[16] Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society, proposed that Roy should lead the project. Roy accepted with enthusiasm for he saw that apart from the specific measurements proposed the survey could be the first step towards the national survey that he had advocated so often. The whole project is described by Roy in three major contributions to the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1785,[9] 1787[17] and 1790.[18]

Cannon in Roy Grove, Hampton marking the Hampton end of the first baseline of the triangulation of Great Britain

After a preliminary survey by Roy and three other members of the Society on 16 April, they found a suitable location for the starting baseline on Hounslow Heath, between King's Arbour and Hampton Poor-house just over 5 miles to the south-east. A preliminary measurement of the line was carried out with a steel chain prepared by Jesse Ramsden . It was the intention to measure more accurately with a set of three deal rods about 20 ft. in length but their use had to be abandoned because of their susceptibility to lengthen and shorten in wet weather. The deal rods were replaced by one inch thick glass tubes of the same length. The final measurement gives the length of the base as 27404.7 ft. to an accuracy of about 3 inches in 5 miles (or about 1/100,00). The precision of this baseline measurement far exceeded any previous attempts and in recognition Roy was awarded the Copley medal by the Royal Society in 1785 .

The proposed triangulation mesh of the Anglo-French survey 1784-1790.[17] For the actual mesh used see File:Anglo-French survey of 1784-1790.jpg

The triangulation itself was delayed until 1787 when Ramsden supplied a new theodolite of unsurpassed accuracy: it could measure angles to within one arc second and therefore detect the curvature of the Earth by measuring the spherical excess of the triangles of the survey. By the end of that year he had completed measurements at all but two of the trigonometric stations. Many of the measurements, particularly the cross channel sightings, were taken at night using intense flares (handled by the artillery). Others required the placing of the instrument on church towers, or even on scaffolded steeples, and in their absence it was sometimes necessary to use a specially constructed portable tower some 30 feet high.

The final report of 1790[18] presents figures for the distance between Paris and Greenwich as well as the precise latitude, longitude and height of the British triangulation stations. Throughout the survey Roy took every opportunity to fix the position of as many landmarks as possible and these formed the basis of the topographic surveys from which new maps could be prepared. Roy died when only three pages of his final report remained to be proofed.

His death and Legacy[edit]

Scientific

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.[19] Early twentieth century technical books on modern surveying and geodesy include Roy's work as the historical starting point for the modern profession.[20]

Rough Castle, on the Antonine Wall, drawn by William Roy in 1755.

Antiquarian

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.[21]

Historical work

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 ..."[22]

Roy's maps and plans (partial list)[edit]

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)
Blue plaque for William Roy in London
Maps and Plans drawn between 1752 and 1766
  • Roman Post at Ardoch
  • Culloden House
  • Roman Camp, Dalginross, Genearn
  • Esk River
  • Kent, New Romney to North Foreland
  • Louisbourg
  • Milford Haven
  • Roman Temple at Netherby, Cumberland
  • Stratgeth Roman Post, near Innerpeffrey, Strathearn
  • Coast of Sussex
  • Southeast part of England
  • Country between Guildford and Canterbury
  • Hindhead to Cocking
  • Lewes Road from Croydon to Chailey
  • Country from Dorchester to Salisbury
  • Country from Gloucester to Pembroke
  • Marden Castle, near Dorchester


Notes[edit]

  1. ^ A factor in Scotland is a representative of a landowner with the responsibilities of an estate manager.
  2. ^ a b Rankin 1874 The Parish of Carluke, 1288 –1874
  3. ^ James Roy 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.(Rankin 1874)
  4. ^ Seymour 1980 A History of the Ordnance Survey. The material on Roy is in pp.3–9 for the Military Survey, pp.13–18 for the Hounslow base, pp.33–37 for the calculation of the Anglo-French Survey and pp.363–365 for his Instructions to Surveyors.
  5. ^  "Watson, David (1713?-1761)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  6. ^ a b Campbell 1832:32 Memoirs of James Campbell of Ardkinglass,
  7. ^ a b Roy's map is held in the British Museum but it is available online by courtesy of the National Library of Scotland. The index page links to several views of the map including one in which it can be superimposed on the modern map.
  8. ^ Porter 1889 History of the Royal Engineers, Vol. I, Chapter 8, pp. 167–199 covers the period 1743–1763.
  9. ^ a b c Roy 1785 The measurement of the Hounslow baseline.
  10. ^ Some sources wrongly attribute military rank or regiment to Roy in 1746: the obituary of Burke (1793), page 212, states that Roy held the rank of Colonel of Artillery; a book by Irving (1885), page 242, also has him as an army Colonel. Neither was Roy the nephew of David Watson as claimed by Porter (1889) in Volume 2 (page 229) of his history; Porter also quotes General Wolfe for the same error (page 388). Rankin (1784) has him a Deputy Quartermaster General of the Survey in 1746.
  11. ^ Owen & Pilbeam (1992) Ordnance Survey, map makers to Britain since 1791, Chapter 1, pages 12–20
  12. ^  "Dundas, David (1735-1820)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  13. ^ Porter 1889 History of the Royal Engineers, vol. II, Part 2, Chapter 1, pp. 88–100 covers the structure of the Board of Ordnance.
  14. ^ Anderson 2010, Chapter 3, gives full details of the structure of the Board of Ordnance at the time of Roy. This thesis also contains many excellent images of maps and plans from the survey in the period.
  15. ^ Close 1924, p. 4, and Rankin (1784), online, give a details of Roy's promotions.
  16. ^ Maskelyne 1787 includes Cassini's memoir (in French) and his rebuttal.
  17. ^ a b Roy 1787 Proposals for the triangulation
  18. ^ a b Roy 1790 Account of the triangulation and the calculations involved.
  19. ^ Hutton 1831:26–98 A Course of Mathematics, Spherical Trigonometry, for example.
  20. ^ Popplewell 1915:170–71 The Elements of Surveying and Geodesy, Geodetic or Trigonometrical Surveying, for example.
  21. ^ Hübner 1886:111 Archaeologia Aeliana, The Roman Annexation of Britain
  22. ^ Skene 1886:22 Celtic Scotland, Introduction, Notation of Spurious Authorities

Bibliography and general references[edit]

Roy's major scientific papers[edit]

Roy's historical publication[edit]

General references[edit]


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to William Roy at Wikimedia Commons