Ormonde Estate Maps, c. 1810


Estate Maps

In the sixteenth century, following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the reallocation of newly available land gave rise to the development of the estate map. In the seventeenth century, plantation surveys in Ireland necessitated some level of state involvement but, from the 1690s, the creation of these maps was a private affair. The eighteenth century saw the production of such maps become increasingly elaborate, but they became less popular after the Ordnance Survey began mapping Ireland in the 1830s.


The maps on display in this exhibition were drawn up c. 1810 at the behest of Walter Butler, Earl of Ormonde. Their function was predominantly practical. The Estate Office needed visual records to show the exact extent of the Ormonde landholdings in different parts of Ireland. The physical boundaries needed to be clearly delineated – this was of assistance in land sales, succession rights, and solving ownership disputes.


Just as the development of the Ormonde estates in the latter half of the eighteenth century had harnessed the work of lawyers, architects, painters, landscape gardeners, agriculturists and agents, so the commissioning of the maps gave employment to surveyors and cartographers.


The surveyors carried out the practical work. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the vast majority of the population in Ireland lived as small tenant farmers on large estates owned, for the most part, by English or Anglo-Irish landlords. The maps on display are quite sophisticated for the time – they use reference numbers and show the division of land at field level. Surveyors could typically record 20 acres (8.1 hectares) per day and received 6d. an acre. Horizontal measurements were taken with a chain measure, and angles were most likely plotted using a circumferentor – a type of nineteenth-century theodolite.


By the nineteenth century, estate maps had also taken on a role as decorative objects – equally fit for display in the drawing room. Those exhibited here have elaborate cartouches, designed by the cartographers to proudly display the Ormonde name, the polar indicators also have artistic embellishments, some with a Greek key design. The Ormonde crest has been restyled to incorporate insignia related to the Order of St Patrick, specifically for Walter Butler.