This Week in History
British Surveyor Charts "Lots" of Land
This story was initially published in 2003
On March 23, 1764, Samuel Holland received instruction from King George III of England to survey newly acquired territory in British North America (BNA). Holland worked as a surveyor and cartographer along the eastern coast of Canada; the accuracy and volume of his work earned him a place in the history of Canadian science and technology.
Holland’s principal task was to survey the Island of St. John (now Prince Edward Island), the Magdalen Islands, and Cape Breton — all areas of importance due to their fisheries. Supplied with equipment and rations for his crew of 40, Holland arrived in North America in October 1764. The extremely cold weather delayed the surveying until February 1765, but in the interim the men completed unfinished maps of Quebec. Holland’s work on the Island of St. John was completed within two years of his arrival. In his reports, he detailed the island's agricultural possibilities, its best harbours and best sites for major towns. These reports provoked “land-speculation fever” in British noblemen, officers and civil servants, and the surveyed lots were quickly distributed.
Holland set a new standard for accuracy in land measurement and mapping. He employed innovative equipment developed in England, including the astronomical clock and refracting telescope, to record his measurements with remarkable accuracy. Sitting for a brief time on the Legislative Council of Quebec, Holland consulted on such matters as roads and public works. He also surveyed Atlantic coastal land down to New York City before America's independence in 1783 reduced British land, and he continued to work in British territory until his death in 1801.
Additional information on the settlement of Prince Edward Island is available in the archives of This Week in History : "The Small Under the Protection of the Great"
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