igures surveying the eastern end of Loch Rannoch as part of the Military Survey of northern Britain; one figure using a circumfrentor; another holding a flag; trees throughout the scene; hills in the distance.

Surveying Scotland

Looking at original drawings and maps in the King’s Topographical Collection, Stephen Daniels and John Bonehill explore Paul Sandby’s contribution to the Military Survey of Scotland (1747–55): a ground-breaking project which influenced today’s Ordnance Survey.

Drawings and maps made by figures associated with the Board of Ordnance feature a good deal in the King’s Topographical Collection. Among the works assembled in a volume dedicated to locations in the southern highlands of Scotland is a drawing by Paul Sandby, dated 1749 and titled on the mount as View near Loch Rannoch (and now catalogued as a Surveying Party by Kinloch Rannoch).

View near Loch Rannoch

igures surveying the eastern end of Loch Rannoch as part of the Military Survey of northern Britain; one figure using a circumfrentor; another holding a flag; trees throughout the scene; hills in the distance.

Paul Sandby's portrait of the Scottish Military Survey at work 

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Its connection with the Military Survey has ensured that this particular drawing has had wide currency, beyond that of grander, perhaps more obviously ambitious examples of landscape art in the period. 

Often reproduced, illustrating almost every text on the mapping of Scotland after ‘the forty-five’, the drawing has become in a sense emblematic of the Military Survey, even perhaps, by extension, George III’s vast Topographical Collections, which also contain the striking maps it produced. Rather than a matter of landscape aesthetics, it is sometimes assumed to be a contemporary, documentary image of a surveying party at work in the highlands, even by implication an on-site record, if the accumulated effect of its reproduction – including use as a jacket illustration and endpapers – has also enhanced its iconic quality.[1] Yet, on closer look, the more puzzling the picture seems, with some intriguing details hiding as it were in plain sight, leaving larger questions about its composition and rationale, date, even perhaps its attribution, not easily resolved; for there is little information on its production, circulation or provenance before it was acquired for George III’s collection. 

A party of surveyors in the highlands

This print depicting a survey party in the Highlands and dated 1750 was published in 1765 by Ryland and Bryer as part of a collection of 100 etchings by Sandby

This print depicting a survey party in the Highlands was published in a collection of 100 etchings by Paul Sandby

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View near Loch Rannoch portrays a military survey party at work; one of three such scenes by the younger Sandby now known, two of them being of this view. These include an etching by Sandby, dated 1750, published as part of a series of Scottish scenes, some locatable but all with a strong element of capriccio, with pastiches of Dutch, Flemish and Italianate landscape art, and re-issued in the 1760s in a collection of the artist’s early prints. 

In some editions the survey scene was printed up alongside views of flourishing local scenery, connecting the mapping of this landscape with its improvement. It is a highly stylised, generic looking highland scene, featuring a party of five, one at a theodolite, if their disposition is compressed by the oval format and the distinction from the ground not clear as the eye is drawn through the group up the pass to the illuminated peak. Two figures dragging the measuring chain for the survey look less like British soldiers, more like Scottish highlanders, in pointed contrast perhaps to those drawings Sandby made of chained, manacled Jacobite prisoners.[2]   

View near Loch Rannoch is more legible as an account of the practice of surveying, as well as a portrayal of an actual place. Sandby’s drawing is carefully composed and, in places, highly resolved, in pen and ink, wash and watercolour, over graphite. If it appears as if done on the spot, or based on sketches, there is no evidence that Sandby himself was there, or that he accompanied this stage of the Survey. It is another estate view, a scene on lands forfeited by its former Jacobite landowners, the Robertsons, the Barony of Strowan, so this is not just pacified territory, but Crown Land. 

Shortly after the rebellion, 13 such properties, across northern Scotland, were placed under the control of the Westminster-appointed Board of Annexed Estates. Subject to civilian survey and re-mapping, the board set about progressively re-shaping their economy and society, encouraging manufactures and developing planned villages. Kinloch Rannoch’s improvement developed from and was enabled by the establishment of military barracks adjacent to the existing settlement, as part of wider measures to suppress the Jacobite rising and clan power. 

Subsequent projects at Rannoch included planting, draining and road building as well as plans for a crushing mill for an outcrop of limestone, to manure the ground, and a new nucleated settlement. Situated at the eastern end of Loch Rannoch, in northern Perthshire, in an area that had seen a good deal of fighting, the village was re-built as a model settlement for discharged soldiers and displaced crofters, the range of dwellings originally named Georgetown, if the royal name was soon abandoned.[3] It is shown as a square on the fair copy of the Military Survey, although that may, like other post-war constructions on the map, be a projected feature and not an actual one.  In his picture Sandby clearly shows the stone buildings, below a finely delineated, quarry-like, crag face. 

In Sandby’s drawing, the survey party is silhouetted against a remarkably level, empty middle ground, a blank portion of the paper, reminding the viewer of the sheets on which this new view of the land will be inscribed. A stretching prospective view, it has parallels with a number of his brother Thomas’ drawings, including the Invarary prospect.[4] In its conjunction of crag and coulisse, with the rocky hillside framed by a foreground tree, seemingly planted in a rockery, Sandby’s view of Kinloch Rannoch also echoes a vignette the artist appended to a Plan of the Castle of Dumbarton, drawn up as part of the survey to repair and rebuild damaged and strategically important structures.[5]  

Plan of the Castle of Dunbarton

Plan of the Castle of Dunbarton by Paul Sandby

Paul Sandby combines his plan of Dumbarton Castle with two small profile views of the citadel from the river Clyde 

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In the Rannoch view, prospect and profile are joined, the two optics combined. There is perhaps an allusion as well to a further composite, the surveyor’s use of field book and sketch book, the mathematical and the pictorial. A later history of the Military Survey, compiled by Aaron Arrowsmith, noted how the surveyor: ‘In the first noted the Angles and Measurements of his Stations, in Interconnections made for each, with observations. In the second he delineated his stations on the face of the Country on each side of it which was much less inclosed and woody than at present and was favourably featured for a military sketch.’[6]

Sandby’s drawing shows a surveying party whose precise make up was also recorded in Arrowsmith’s memoir of his new 1807 Map of Scotland. Parties were usually comprised of an engineer, or surveyor, and six soldiers – two men with the chain in the middle ground, shown against the blank paper, one man with a staff and flag in the foreground, and another just visible in the distance, an officer standing by one of the horses and his batman working with the other.[7] The surveyor uses what one of Arrowsmith’s informants, a former cadet on the survey, David Dundas, (recalled as ‘a good plain theodolite . . . made by Cole’ (Benjamin Cole, the leading London instrument maker)), sometimes called a circumferentor, basically a compass with alidade, a slit, not a lens, for sighting.[8] 

By default, if not deliberation, as the only surveyor then working on the Survey, the figure represents William Roy, who went on to become the nation’s leading surveyor, if he looked back on his work in North Britain as a primitive stage in a progressive advance. In 1785, Roy recalled the Survey as poorly equipped and financed, ‘being carried on with instruments of the common, even inferior kind, and the sum annually allowed for it being inadequate to the execution of so great a design in the best manner, it is to be rather considered as a magnificent military sketch, than a very accurate map of the country.[9]

Frontispiece to Britannia

frontispiece to John Ogilby’s Britannia, 1675

This second state of a print by Wenceslaus Hollar was used as the frontispiece to Ogilby’s ground-breaking road atlas Britannia

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While the personnel of Sandby’s surveying party corresponds with reported procedure, this does not mean it was so observed on this spot as workday practice. Rather, the Rannoch view is a normative image, as in an instruction manual. Moreover, such surveying parties frequently figured emblematically in cartouches to maps, or title pages to published atlases, to national road traverses like John Ogilby’s much reprinted Britannia as well as estate surveys. [10] 

The party itself is shown more grandly than a functioning unit. It features two figures in highland dress, one between the officer and surveyor looking out at the survey, and one on the far right. There were local guides and interpreters for surveying parties, but these figures appear both loyal and more important than the rank and file doing the work, both in demeanour and costume. A highlander at the centre of the group, looking along the line of the traverse, seems an equivalent complementary character to the British officer facing the spectator, almost the same figure in different dress. 

Indeed, the whole party has a highly formal, symmetrical, appearance, and the figures are more doll-like than most in Sandby’s highly animated scenes, almost puppets, like some of the military figures on the cartouches of maps of forfeited estates.[11] Another highland figure on the far right strikes a standard pose of gentlemanly refinement, one foot forward, hand on hip. He is matched on the far left by a figure which looks almost comically out of place in a site of rapid military reconnaissance, a lady in full, formal gown. They could be taken from figures in refined conduct manuals of the day, like those engraved by Boitard for François Nivelon, the male figure striking the pose of ‘standing’, the female one ‘walking’. They look transposed from the work of another émigré, Philippe Mercier, for Sandby often styled his more elegant figures in the manner of the French master.

L’Heureuse Rencontre

The meeting or the encounter, la promenade, l'heureuse rencontre: in a forest, a couple standing in the centre, the woman in a black dress looking towards the viewer, the man with a cape, looking towards her; another couple seated on the ground on the left; looking towards the first couple; a woman seated under a tree on the right, sleeping; after Watteau. c.1725

Polite sociability is the subject of this fêtes galantes by Philippe Mercier

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Mercier had played a key role in introducing the fête galante to the English market, and Sandby’s scene has the pastoral air of that genre, notably as it was adapted to the empirical imperatives of social portraiture, with the central surveying instrument in place of a musical instrument, so as much a garden party as a surveying party. Indeed, Sandby’s scene resembles a highly-staged polite conversation piece, like those around figures at a globe in an interior or more especially looking through a telescope on a terrace overlooking a park.

Ramnock in the High Lands of Scotland

Paul Sandby (1731-1809), Ramnock in the High Lands of Scotland 1749 when the military survey, 1749, bistre and wash over pencil, 20.9 x 29.5 cm, in extra-illustrated copy of Thomas Pennant’s Tour of Scotland 1769-72, 1772 (vol. 1, part 2, facing p. 249), National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.

This view by Paul Sandby was added to a grangerised, or extra-illustrated, edition of Thomas Pennant’s Tour of Scotland 1769-72

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How refined an image is this picture becomes evident when it is compared with a more informal version of the same scene by Sandby, in wash and pencil, now in the National Library of Wales. This is inscribed ‘Ramnock [sic] in the Highlands of Scotland 1747 when the military survey’. This is a historical note by David Pennant, son of the naturalist and travel writer Thomas Pennant, when he purchased the picture in 1816 for a grangerised version of his father’s Tour of Scotland (1769–71).[12] In this version, the striking, almost diagrammatic, conjunctions of the British Library drawing are less pronounced, the surveyors sharing evidently undulating pasture with a herd of cows, grazing safely from the district’s infamous cattle stealers. There are many fewer, and less defined buildings in the village. The surveying party itself is more informal: the officer is missing, a highlander lounging to the right, and the female figure – now a milkmaid not a lady – a rustic rather than polite. In contrast to the fine arboreal specimen, set in its rockery, framing the prospect in the British Library version, the tree looks now more like one which has seeded naturally, if stunted in bare rock. It is more sketchy in execution, but no less composed than the more resolved of the drawings, if in style it is distinct, being more Dutch than French, so not necessarily closer to documentary reality, but rather portrayed in a different pictorial register.

A closer look at the British Library’s version raises the question of why it was made and indeed when. It is dated 1749, if not at the time, and there are indeed stylistic correspondences with other finished drawings made during Sandby’s tour of duty as well as aspects of his work on the fair copies of ‘the Great Map’. It may have been done in the early 1750s to accompany some of the presentation copy reductions of the Survey, with which it shares its muted palette as well as hatched shading in the relief elements, as a design for a cartouche perhaps, or drawn up to be engraved, as a title page, for a later published account or tour that was not issued, or considered as a contribution to a later print series, such as The Virtuoso’s Museum, produced in the wake of another period of national emergency, around the time of the American War.  

View of Ben-Lomond, near Dunbarton

View of Ben-Lomond, near Dunbarton,

Sandby's view of Ben Lomond was published in the hugely popular 18th-century print publication, The Virtuosi’s Museum

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A number of Sandby’s pictures from the 1740s were reworked for The Virtuoso’s Museum, a long series of prints published between 1778 and 1781 by George Kearsly, ranging over sites covering all three kingdoms.[13] Scenes in Scotland showed changes to a landscape now pacified by improvement. A View of Ben-Lomond from Dumbarton featured a much reduced army camp from the original sketch (also part of the extra-illustration of the Pennants’ own copy of the Tour), presided over by a companion soldier and highlander, performing their guide duties, in their own act of union. 

Accompanying letterpress for most of the Scottish scenes in The Virtuoso’s Museum either quoted or paraphrased from Pennant’s famous Tour, which portrayed North Britain as occupying the moral centre, rather than the periphery of the nation, a testing ground for the state, and a robust reproach to a metropolitan England softened by commerce and luxury.

Written in the late 1760s, Pennant’s Tour was very much a response to the effects of the imperial expansion of the Seven Years’ War. With some irony, it had been the defeat of the rebellion and the consolidation of the Union that had laid much of the ground for the nation’s newfound imperial prowess. Large-scale diplomatic and military recruitment in the highlands had begun at the start of the Seven Years’ War, their involvement heightening the perception of this as a war fought for and by Britons. Such were the military contributions of the newly founded highland regiments the region came to be seen and fostered from that point on as a nursery of martial virtue that had to be carefully cultivated, to be protected from the pressures of commercialisation.[14]

Highland improvement had to be balanced against the necessity of maintaining the local population as a military and social bulwark of landed interest in the region. These widely-reported and debated enterprises and schemes coincided and overlapped with the cultural promotion of the highland landscape in James Macpherson’s contested ‘translations’ of antique bardic verse, beginning with his Fragments of Ancient Poetry (1760) and followed by the epics Fingal (1762) and Temora (1763). 

Title-page to Fingal; an Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books

Title-page to James Macpherson, Fingal, an ancient Epic Poem

Fingal by James Macpherson (1736-1796) was presented as a ‘close translation’ of the Gaelic epic by the third-century highland bard Ossian

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Yet, the status of cultural, economic and social landscapes north of the river Tweed in the project of national imagining was of course still more complex, more fraught at the time Pennant was writing. 

Ossian’s verse was implicated in the direct, often vicious debate and satire that had characterised political culture since the end days of the Seven Years’ War. Macpherson’s ‘improbable fiction’, as Samuel Johnson was to dismiss it, was caught up in the ferocious Scotophobia aroused by James, 3rd Earl of Bute’s role in administrating the Treaty of Paris that had brought the war to a conclusion and the undue sway he was held to exert over the young George III.[15] 

‘North Britain’ as an imaginative geography had come to have a wide resonance in these debates and the political culture of the 1760s more generally. What was understood by this dual-edged term, which asserted the country’s connection with and its detachment from the other kingdoms at one and the same time, had been made central to images of Scotland and Scottishness, not least as these addressed the place of the region in the imagining of Britain and Britishness. 

Historians have seen the very pervasiveness of anti-Scottish sentiment in the 1760s as revealing of the success of the Union, though it may also be seen as indicative of the sense of contest that accompanied that process, its conflicts and contingencies, its fragmentary and uneven passage.[16] While resentments and uncertainties about Scotland’s place in the nation remained, either side of the Tweed, by the time of the American War, when The Virtuoso’s Museum was in print, its critical role in providing men, loyal to the Crown, in the fight for empire was hard to contest or deny.

At Loch Lomond, Pennant found the scenery ‘unspeakably beautiful’, there being ‘scarcely a spot on its banks but what is decorated with bleacheries, plantations and villas’, in a wider region encompassing Port Glasgow, Greenock and the Clyde. Elsewhere, in former Jacobite strongholds illustrated in The Virtuoso’s Museum, Pennant found salutary signs of the failure of the rebellion, the abandoned mansion of an annexed estate and a fort blown up by rebel forces (shown intact in the print after Sandby’s drawing). These extracts from Pennant’s writings deferred to their cultural authority, but also continued an ongoing dialogue between author and artist. Plates illustrating the various editions of Pennant’s Tour had included a number after some of Sandby’s earliest designs. Word and image reflected on a landscape in a process of transformation, its progress still precarious and uncertain, in danger of ‘relapse’ into its former state.

‘[T]here is still a mixture of the old negligence left amidst the recent improvements’ Pennant remarked, which gave them the look of ‘the works of a new colony in a wretched impoverished country’.[17] On the west coast, at Inveraray, the now late 3rd duke’s plans had advanced only in the most fragmentary, piecemeal fashion, frustrated by a combination of local resentments and mismanagement. Though he was admiring of the new castle and its parkland, for Pennant it served rather to highlight the lack of progress at its edges. On paper and in time, the place promised to ‘be very magnificent’. On the ground and for now, however, ‘the space between the front and the water’ remained ‘disgraced with the old town, composed of the most wretched hovels that can be imagined’.[18]   

Writing of the Board of Annexed Estates, Pennant was approving of the ‘rare patriotism!’ shown by its members and operatives, readily endorsing ‘the great object’ of their enterprise, to promote the values of Anglican worship, ‘good government, industry, manufactures, and the principles of loyalty to the present royal line’.[19] Signs of the board’s activities were evident in the landscape, in the construction of new bridges, roads and settlements. Some, he was forced to acknowledge, already lay in ruin, however. Visiting the now largely deserted homes of veterans settled on highland properties, Pennant could not but conclude that the board’s ‘Utopian project of establishing colonies (on the forfeited estates) ... by no means answered the intentions of the projectors’.[20] When he described Kinloch Rannoch in his Tour, it was in equivocal terms. Hospitably received by the factor of the estate, he found little to dilate on in the view:  

Not far off were some neat small houses, inhabited by veteran soldiers, who were settled here after the peace of 1748; had land, and three pounds in money given, and nine pounds lent to begin the world with. In some few places this plan succeeded; but in general was frustrated by the dissipation of these new colonists; who could by no means relish an industrious life; but as soon as the money was spent, which seldom lasted long, left their tenements to be possessed by the next comer.[21] 

Kinloch Rannoch was an island which drew attention to a surrounding sea of ‘Utopian’ projects and designs, in varied stages of advance and abandonment, in a still fragile landscape, keeping up appearances. 

View near Loch Rannoch, as with many other of the landscapes Sandby produced throughout his career, is less a matter of fact, of eye-witness observation and record, so much as a work concerned with documenting the various claims on a place, combined and sometimes competing versions, views and visions, forward and backward looking, some more secure or reliable than others, with values affirmed here because they were being put into question elsewhere. Sandby often flagged this quite consciously in relation to other pictures, some by him, but also with some critical reflection on looking at a scene, and making a picture. View near Loch Rannoch might be situated alongside his other essays on civilian observation and spectatorship, a scene of a magic lantern show set in a London house of 1753, of view making with a camera obscura at Roslin Castle of 1780, or the spectacle of the brilliant meteor of 1783 observed from the terrace of Windsor Castle.[22] These are pictures about viewing and making images, about the practice and performance of various forms of spectatorship which make up the field of vision, including acts of using instruments of observation and depiction.


[1] Yolande O’Donoghue, William Roy 1726-1790: Pioneer of the Ordnance Survey (London: British Museum Publications, 1977); Raleigh A. Skelton, 'The Military Survey of Scotland 1747-1755', Scottish Geographical Magazine, 83 (1967), pp.5-16;  William Roy, The Great Map: The Military Survey of Scotland 1747-55, with introductory essays by Yolande Hodson, Chris Tabraham and Charles Withers (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2007).

[2] John Bonehill and Stephen Daniels, Paul Sandby, Picturing Britain (Royal Academy of Arts: London, 2009), p.104.

[3] G. Whittington and A.J.S. Gibson, The Military Survey of Scotland 1747-1755: A Critique, Historical Geography Research Series, 18 (Norwich: Geo Books, 1986) pp.44-50; A.H. Millar (ed.) A Selection of Scottish Forfeited Estate Papers (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1909), pp.207-218.

[4] Paul and Thomas Sandby, Inverara, 1740-50, pencil, 13.5 x 76 cm, National Library of Wales, 99389501102419.

[5] Bonehill and Daniels (eds.), Paul Sandby, pp.90-91.

[6] Aaron Arrowsmith, Memoir Relative to the Construction of a Map of Scotland (London and Edinburgh: Constable and Co, 1809), p.8. 

[7] Ibid.

[8] Memorandums Respecting the Map of Scotland, June 12, 1806, National Archives of Scotland RH i/2/523 (1a-c). 

[9] William Roy, ‘An Account of the Measurement of a Base on Hounslow-Heath’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, no.75, 1785, pp.385-480, (p.387).

[10] Catherine Delano-Smith and Roger J.P. Kain, English Maps, A History (London: The British Library, 1999), pp.60-61.

[11] For example as shown in Christopher Fleet, Margaret Wilkes, Charles Withers, Scotland, Mapping the Nation (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2012).

[12] Paul Joyner, ‘Some Sandby Drawings of Scotland’, Journal of the National Library of Wales, vol.23, no.1, 1983, pp.1-8.

[13] Finola O’Kane, Ireland and the Picturesque: Design, Landscape Painting, and Tourism, 1700-1840 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013), pp.129-132; Helen Wyld, ‘Re-framing Britain’s Past: Paul Sandby and the Picturesque Tour of Scotland’, British Art Journal, vol.12, no.1, 2011, pp.29-36; Bonehill and Daniels (eds.), Paul Sandby, p.187; Andrew Kennedy, ‘Representing the Three Kingdoms: Hanoverianism and the Virtuosi’s Museum’, in Mark Dorrian and Gillian Rose (eds.), Deterritorialisations: Revisioning Landscape and Politics, (London and New York: Black Dog, 2003), pp.272-283.

[14] Frederik Albritton Jonsson, Enlightenment’s Frontier: The Scottish Highlands and the Origins of Environmentalism (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013).

[15] Samuel Johnson, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (London: J. Pope, 1775), p.192. There is a large literature on the politics around Bute in the 1760s, beginning with John Brewer, ‘The Misfortunes of Lord Bute: A Case-Study in Eighteenth-Century Political Argument and Opinion’, Historical Journal, vol. 16, no. 1, 1973, pp.3–43.

[16] Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837 (New Haven and London:Yale University Press, 1992), p.121.

[17] Thomas Pennant, A Tour in Scotland MDCCLXIX (Chester: J. Monk, 1771), p.40-41.

[18] Pennant, A Tour in Scotland MDCCLXIX, p.189.

[19] Thomas Pennant, A Tour in Scotland MDCCLXXII, Part 2 (London: Benjamin White, 1776), p.91.

[20] Pennant, A Tour in Scotland MDCCLXIX, p.140.

[21] Pennant, A Tour in Scotland MDCCLXIX, p.95.

[22] Bonehill and Daniels (eds.), Paul Sandby, 106, 176; Stephen Daniels, ‘Great balls of fire: envisioning the brilliant meteor of 1783’, in Stephen Daniels, Dydia DeLyser, J. Nicholas Entrikin and Douglas Richardson (eds.), Envisioning Landscapes, Making Worlds: Geography and the Humanities, (New York: Routledge, 2011), pp.155-169; For the most recent discussion of Sandby’s magic-lantern images, see Joseph Monteyne, From Still Life to the Screen: Print Culture, Display, and the Materiality of the Image in Eighteenth-Century London (Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 2013), pp.214-221.

  • John Bonehill
  • Dr John Bonehill is a lecturer in the history of art at the University of Glasgow. His research interests encompass British art and culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, art, travel and natural history and the work of the Paul and Thomas Sandby.

  • Stephen Daniels
  • Stephen Daniels is Professor of Cultural Geography at the University of Nottingham. 

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