Monthly Archives: August 2021

When one name leads to another

Most of the blogs here are fairly easy to write. You have the map, you have enough knowledge to write about the map, and if not books in the library will help. Occasionally you start looking into something where one clue leads to another, where one name stands out or where something doesn’t seem right.

This seemingly innocent small atlas , with three maps from the U.S. Geological Survey at 1:125,000, looks at first glance to be a simple presentation to friends.

But the dedicator, Albrecht Penck, is a familiar name. Penck was a German geographer and geologist who was the instigator of the acclaimed mapping series the International Map of the World. At the 5th International Geographical Congress in Berne in 1891 Penck proposed that there should be a standard map coverage of scale and design covering the World, and after further discussion in following congress meetings a design and a way of producing the maps was agreed on at the London Congress in 1909. More on the IMW series of maps can be found here

As for why Penck was sending out best wishes from the Townshend Ranch, that is more of a conundrum. He travelled to the United States a number of times but there seems to be no biographical information about a trip to Colorado. The story takes another twist when you look into the Townshend Ranch, which annoyingly doesn’t actually appear on any of the three maps in the atlas, something not helped by the fact that the ranch was by Black Squirrel Creek, and there are a number of different creeks in El Paso County with this name (the extract on the right is just one of two Black Squirrel Creeks on the three sheets in the atlas, Big Springs Sheet, Colorado, 1:125,000 1900). Born in England in 1846 Richard Baxter Townshend emigrated to the United States in 1869, moving around the south west before building a ranch alongside the creek. Townshend returned to England after making money in the States, married and eventually got a tutor’s position in Wadham College, across the road from the Bodleian here in Oxford. He wrote about his adventures in ‘Tenderfoot in Colorado’, first published in 1923.

The maps are published by the United States Geological Survey (U.S.G.S.). The rather bland description ‘U.S. Geological Survey, J.W. Powell, Director’ doesn’t do justice to a remarkable man. Born in New York to English parents Powell had explored most of the major rivers of the Eastern United States before signing on as a cartographer and engineer with the Union army in 1861. During the Battle of Shiloh the following year his right arm was blown off, making his subsequent achievement of being the first man to sail down the Colorado and Green Rivers, passing through the Grand Canyon on the way, even more remarkable.

Townshend’s story didn’t end there though, as his name continues to ring out every time the ‘Enigma Variations’ is played. Townshend was a close friend of Edward Elgar, who dedicated the third of the Variations to ‘R.B.T.’



The first of these next two images comes from ‘My friends pictured within‘ by Edward Elgar, (17402 d.799) which shows the people Elgar dedicated the different variations to. The second image is the start of the score to variations No. 3, dedicated to R.B.T. This is from the first published copy of the score from 1898 (Mus 221 c.40)*.

The Townshend Ranch, El Paso County, Colorado U.S.A.’ 1908 F6:14 b.1

  • Thanks to colleagues from our excellent Music Department here at the Bodleian

The classical world

The subject of teaching Latin in schools has been in the news lately.  Go back a few hundred years, and learning about ancient languages and civilisations was a fundamental part of education. Fascination with classical learning, and the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, could be expressed in maps as well as other forms. This atlas containing 36 maps of the classical world, with accompanying tables describing the organisation of the Roman Empire, has just been catalogued. All the maps date from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, and almost all are French.

This is an atlas factice – a composite atlas, assembled to order or bound by the collector – and these are always particularly exciting to deal with as you don’t know what you will find next. It has no title page, but bears the spine title “Antient mapps”. It is quite coherently organized, beginning with maps of the eastern and western parts of the Roman Empire (see above), which even include small inset maps of the eastern and western hemispheres for a global view. It goes on to include more detailed maps of the Empire’s regions, and those associated with other early civilizations such as Greece, Illyria and Scythia; then come maps of the regions of Turkey and the Colchis and Albania regions of what is now Georgia in the Caucasus.

Most of the maps don’t appear to be very common, and a detailed map of Gallia Antiquae (ancient Gaul or France), which was first made by the French mapmaker Nicolas Sanson in 1627, appears in a later revised edition by Pierre Moulart-Sanson (his grandson) with additional descriptive text for which we have not been able to find any records elsewhere. It may however appear unrecorded in atlases.

All the countries around the Mediterranean are shown as they were in the times of earlier civilisations, with Roman provinces and in some cases Roman roads marked; roads can be seen converging on the city of Rome on the map above, reminiscent of the old joke that the Roman roads ran very straight in all directions, and all led to Rome. The details of roads are sometimes derived from the Peutinger Table, a Medieval copy of a an earlier map showing the roads of the Roman Empire (you can see a copy online and have fun planning routes on Roman roads here

By modern standards the maps are not that geographically accurate. Some places are shown as being on the same latitude when they are really an enormous distance apart, and ancient sites are occasionally shown in the wrong place. The shape of the Caucasus below is somewhat different to how it would be represented on a modern map. For some of the maps it is very difficult to calculate which prime meridian is being used.

Almost all the maps are French publications, with Nicolas Sanson and his son Guillaume being most widely represented, though a few Italian ones are included. This atlas is in the Bodleian Library, but nine of the maps also appear in another composite atlas held in the library of one of the university colleges, with a manuscript title page, suggesting that these may have been available as a set. These are nearly all by the Sansons.

Antient mapps. [1660-1723] . Map Res 152