We asked Robert Fleming, the Templer Study Centre Manager at the National Army Museum to give us a few tasters of some of the fascinating collections related to survey and cartography held at the museum.
Curatorial work in a military museum presents a great opportunity to explore areas of collections that personally interest us. As the manager of the Templer Study Centre, I am responsible for the care of our archives including our map collections. These include 3,670 maps, charts and plans ranging from early battlefield diagrams, to detailed First World War trench maps, and Second World War silk escape maps.
My personal interest in historical maps predates my work as a curator. As a child I poured over historical atlases in our house wondering why borders changed over time. This inspired me to take a professional interest in navigation, surveying, and cartography as part of my academic work on imperialism and military history.
In the mid-eighteenth century the surveyor-artist heavily influenced the development of topography and cartography, and their detailed maps and artistic depictions were vital to military commanders. This work predates the foundation of the Ordnance Survey in 1791, and often includes not just geography but also environmental observations.
This history of geography and cartography is hugely important to the understanding of military history in the wider context. This is reflected by some of the objects we display, such as a watercolour in our War Paint temporary exhibition by Thomas Davies’ ‘An East View of the Great Cataract of Niagara’, 1762. It shows the role of artistic instruction for officers, in order that they might make topographical observations, and this allowed them to sketch for survey and cartography purposes.
The role of scientific instruments is just as vital, such as the telescope of Sir John Moore used in the Peninsular War, displayed in the Battle gallery. It is a fine example of the type of instruments used by cartographers, as is a drawing board used by Major Jarrett of the 19th Punjabis in 1915 in the Army Gallery. It has slots built in for compass and clinometre to aid in the production of maps.
The collection also has a great photograph by Bourne and Sheppard of the Survey of the Kurram, 1879, during the Second Afghan War. It shows how the survey group relied on local soldiers and assistants, reminding us the mapping of the Empire was not conducted by Europeans alone. Our Insights gallery has reproductions of a series of maps that depict some of the regions that have been important and influential in British history and are used in a way to contextualise the objects in the gallery.
A special mention must go to the Siborne Model of the Field of Waterloo – one of the National Army Museum’s most iconic collections items. In 1830 William Siborne undertook an eight month long project to accurately survey the battlefield and interview surviving officers to ask about their units’ movements on the day. To redisplay the model in our Battle Gallery the museum had the entire model 3D mapped, and it can be viewed using augmented reality to add detail and context to the battlefield.
These are just a few tasters of some of the fascinating collections related to survey and cartography held at the National Army Museum. I encourage all readers to come down and explore the galleries, or perhaps access our maps for themselves through the Templer Study Centre.
National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Road, London SW3 4HT. Admission: Free
About the Author
Robert Fleming is the Templer Study Centre Manager at the National Army Museum in London. He studied Arts/Law at the University of Tasmania, and History and Archaeology at the University of Sydney. Robert specialises in new imperialism, decolonisation and post-colonial society, and the military history of British colonial and Commonwealth forces – particularly during the World Wars. He also has a strong personal interest in intelligence, exploration and mapping. He regularly gives lectures and has published journal articles on related topics and has written two books on the First World War.
Browse our historical map reproductions: stanfords.co.uk/historical-map-reproductions