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Old books, maps and prints by John Arrowsmith

John Arrowsmith (1790-1873)

John Arrowsmith (1790-1873) was one of the most influential British cartographers of the nineteenth century. Hailing from a family of cartographers and geographers, he inherited his family’s mapmaking business and created one of the most popular and accurate atlases in the mid-nineteenth century. He produced the largest scale maps, constructed mostly from official government sources, of the British colonies during the early to mid nineteenth century period.

John Arrowsmith was born at Winston, County Durham, England. He was the nephew of Aaron Arrowsmith, another English cartographer.

In 1810 he joined his uncle in the cartography business. They built on Aaron's A map exhibiting all the new discoveries in the interior parts of North America 1811 version which was heavily based on information provided by the Hudson's Bay Company, Indian maps, and British Navy sea charts to produce and publish an updated map: North America in 1821. Their contributions to Canadian cartography led to Mount Arrowsmith, situated east of Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, being named for them.

Aaron's sons Aaron Jr. and Samuel were substantially younger than John but inherited their father's business when they were young men (21 and 18 respectively) when Aaron Sr. died in 1823. John took the £200 left to him by his uncle and began working on his own. Aaron Jr and Samuel did not have the skills of their father and cousin and their contributions to cartography were minimal. Regardless, the three Arrowsmiths were founding members of the Geographical Society of London in 1830. Aaron Jr. left the family firm in 1832, and upon the death of Samuel in 1839, John purchased the assets and merged them into his own business.

The Arrowsmith River in Western Australia was named by Sir George Grey after Arrowsmith, who later produced the maps for the published journals of Grey's two Western Australian expeditions. In 1863 he received the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society, which was what the Geographical Society of London was known as after gaining the patronage of King William IV.

He died at home in Hereford Square, South Kensington, London on 1 May 1873.


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