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Timothy Pont lived from about 1565 to about 1614. A graduate of St Andrews University he went on to produce the first detailed maps of Scotland, many of which later formed the basis of the first atlas of Scotland, published by Blaeu in Amsterdam in 1654, as the fifth volume of his huge world atlas, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, sive Atlas Novus: later also known as the Atlas Major. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Hard facts about Timothy Pont's life are few and far between. However, it would seem he was probably born in Shiresmill, in Fife, in about 1565. He was the second son of a notable cleric, lawyer and naturalist, the Reverend Robert Pont. In 1571, Reverend Pont took up a position as Provost of Edinburgh's Trinity College, and it seems likely that Timothy attended school in the city.
Between 1580 and 1583, Timothy Pont was a student at St Andrews University and it seems that he learned the art of map-making from a law professor there, William Welwood. Pont probably spent much of the latter half of the 1580s and the first half of the 1590s travelling the length and breadth of Scotland, possibly finishing his field-work in April 1596. 77 of his maps survive, though it is known that there were others that have since been lost. Of them, only one is dated, the sheet covering Clydesdale, which carries the date September and October 1596. It seems probable that Pont spent the latter half of the 1590s producing the maps, and writing the text descriptions that originally accompanied them.
Much of Pont's work was carried out under his own initiative, though the surveys he undertook of Orkney and Shetland in 1593 were the result of a paid commission to look for evidence of minerals and precious metals.
From 1601 to 1614, Timothy Pont was appointed church minister of the parish of Dunnet in Caithness: as far north as it is possible to go in mainland Scotland. In 1609 he applied, unsuccessfully, for a land grant as part of James VI/I's plantation of Ulster, and he probably died in 1614, the year he was replaced as minister at Dunnet and the year before his wife is recorded in a document as a widow.
Pont always intended his maps to be published, and he made considerable efforts to bring this about in the last years of his life. One of his maps, of West Lothian, was probably published in 1612, the work being paid for by the Edinburgh bookseller, Andrew Hart. Pont's maps of Orkney and Shetland went on to be published in 1638 (the originals have since been lost). But most of Pont's maps slowly rotted away amongst his effects in the years after his death, and many were probably lost as a result, as were most of the accompanying texts. Eventually the surviving documents were purchased by the well known geographer Sir James Balfour. A letter from King Charles I in 1629 granted Balfour £100 to help him publish the maps, and in it Charles Inoted that it had been the intention of his father, James VI, to assist Timothy Pont himself to publish the maps before Pont's death had intervened.
Sir John Scott of Scotstarvit in Fife, knew that Blaeu was looking for maps of Scotland to include in his planned atlas, and introduced him to Sir James Balfour. During the printing process a number of the surviving original maps went missing. When Blaeu's atlas was published in 1654, he formally credited 36 of the maps of Scotland in Volume 5 to Pont. No other cartographer made such an extensive contribution to the atlas, with the result that when it appeared Scotland was the best mapped country in the world. Meanwhile Charles I had also commissioned the noted cartographer Robert Gordon of Straloch to verify and update Pont's mapping, a task undertaken during the 1640s and published shortly afterwards by the Blaeus of Amsterdam under the title of Theatrum Scotiae.
Anyone interested in Timothy Pont's enormous contribution to cartography and to the recorded history of Scotland can take a very much closer look on the website produced by the National Library of Scotland. This contains a wide range of background material as well as making all of Pont's surviving maps available online.