World-famous Bartholomew cartography empire put Edinburgh on the map

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Tributes paid to map-maker John George Bartholomew 100 years on from death

The chief of a cartography empire that pioneered techniques still in use today, it is no great exaggeration to say that John George Bartholomew put Edinburgh firmly on the map.

In the days long before satellite navigation systems and Google Street View, the name Bartholomew was a by-word for map-making excellence.

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Now, one century on from the death of their founder, members of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS) have paid tribute to a “modest but brilliant” Scots cartographer who, quite literally, mapped the world.

John George Bartholomew at home.John George Bartholomew at home.
John George Bartholomew at home.

RSGS chief executive Mike Robinson said: “His greatest legacy surely is that 136 years later this small charity

continues to deliver for Scotland, producing publications, journals, magazines and 100 public talks a year, and with a continuing network of some of the greatest minds, and most adventurous spirits of our age.”

Edinburgh-born John George took over the running of his family’s map-making firm Bartholomew & Son in the 1880s, showing a level of enthusiasm and far-sightedness that would take the brand to new heights and uncharted territories.

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His maps were regarded beautiful works of art, with soft greens and browns indicating low-lying areas, darker browns for high ground, and white for mountain summits. Many of Bartholomew’s techniques remain in use today.

Falcon House, Morningside. The former home of the Bartholomew family.Falcon House, Morningside. The former home of the Bartholomew family.
Falcon House, Morningside. The former home of the Bartholomew family.

To reflect the academic aspect of his work, Bartholomew named his Duncan Street map-making premises The Edinburgh Geographical Institute. This title proudly adorned the building’s Palladian frontage, an architectural feature which came from the Bartholomew family’s former home at Falcon Hall in Morningside.

Speaking of his ancestor’s legacy, great-grandson, John Eric Bartholomew, told the Evening News that the fact John George Bartholomew is recognised as the man credited with being the first to put the name Antarctica on the map remains a great source of pride.

Little known is that, in 1886, Bartholomew had a brief flirtation with considering the name “Antipodea” for oceanographer John Murray’s map depicting the continent, before settling for Antarctica.

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John Eric, who is a cartographer himself, also revealed he couldn’t have escaped his family’s map-making exploits, even if he’d wanted to.

He added: “When I was an Edinburgh schoolboy, you couldn’t get away from the family’s maps. They were in every city bus shelter.”

Operating during a golden age of exploration, Bartholomew enjoyed close acquaintance with leading academics and travellers of the time, including Sir Ernest Shackleton, Dr William Bruce, HM Stanley, and Cecil Rhodes, and he worked with many of them to represent their discoveries in map form.

His extraordinary achievements were recognised in 1910 when he was invited to become Geographer and Cartographer to the King for Scotland.

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He died ten years later, in Sintra, Portugal, on April 14, 1920.

A family gathering had been planned to mark the centenary of his death this week, but this has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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