22nd March 1860

The man who named Antarctica is born in Edinburgh

The Bartholomew family name remains a potent force in cartography. John George, who was born in Edinburgh on this day in 1860, entered the family map-making business that his grandfather had established and, over his lifetime, took it to new heights by introducing a broad range of new products, providing maps for third-party publishers, and coming up with the idea of using different coloured contour layers to illustrate changing elevations on a flat map.

However, his longest-lasting personal contribution to our understanding of the world is probably his naming of the continent of Antarctica.

Known but little-used

The name wasn’t entirely novel, but it also wasn’t in common use, and certainly hadn’t been formalised. In issue 13 (July 2008) of Carta, the newsletter of the National Library of Scotland’s Scottish Maps Forum, Bartholomew Archive curator Susan Woodburn notes that Greek writers from the first century were already using Antarktos to describe an unknown landmass on the far side of the planet. The name was a literal one pointing to something that appeared opposite the constellation of the bear (Arktos).

Antarctica was later called Terra Australis and, often, Australia, but when this name was co-opted by the country now known as Australia as a replacement for its original designation – New Holland – a replacement needed to be found.

The Bartholomew family influence

When Bartholomew began consistently to use the name Antarctica on his company’s products, most rival British maps were still describing the landmass as the South Pole. “The impetus,” writes Woodburn, “is likely to have come from the firm’s earlier involvement with John Murray on southern hemisphere maps for the Challenger Commission reports”.  Challenger was John Murray’s four-year expedition to collect marine specimens and monitor meteorological phenomena.

Bartholomew was educated at the University of Edinburgh and became mapmaker to the king. He was also one of the founders of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, of which he was secretary from 1884 until his death in Portugal in 1920. By then, he was known worldwide for the quality of his cartography and, when it announced his death, the Globe of 16 April 1920 called him a “world-famous maker of atlases” and wrote that “when the Edinburgh University conferred on him the degree of LL.D in 1909 it was stated of him that he was the very prince of cartographers”.



Other events that occured in March

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