CELT document E800002-010

Irish Topography

Thomas Osborne Davis

Edited by D. J. O'Donoghue

Whole text


Irish Topography

Complaints had frequently been made of the equality of the grand jury taxation before any attempt was made to remedy it. The committee on grand jury presentments, in their report, dated 12th June, 1815, stated that these complaints were well founded, and recommended ‘that some mode should be devised for rendering such assessments more equal, the defect appearing to them to arise, in a great degree, from the levy being made in reference to old surveys (which were taken on the measure of land which was deemed profitable at the time of such surveys), which, of course, cannot comprehend the great improvements which have taken place in Ireland since the period at which these surveys took place.’ ()

Though some of the evidence given before that committee displays a remarkable ignorance of this and many other facts, yet the fact itself of the oppressive inequality was put beyond doubt by the evidence of Daniel Mussenden, Esq., C. P. Leslie Esq., Right Hon. Denis Browne, Colonel Crosbie, General Archdall, ⁊c.

It appears, from their evidence, that the grand jury cess was in some places distributed in equal shares over districts of a size and value often differing as one from six, and in other places distributed in unequal shares, bearing no obvious proportion to the size or value of the different districts.

These districts were generally called townlands, sometimes ploughlands, cartrons, carvas, tates, ⁊c.  p.130 Most of the witnesses fancied that these divisions had been originally equal, and made by James I or Strafford, Sir W. Petty, or William III.

Mr. Mussenden suggested that they were made by the old Irish. It is possible that the Connaught divisions may have been effected by the Strafford survey, now lost; Ulster by the settlements in James's time, and many parts of Munster, Leinster and Connaught, by the forfeitures and division in William's, Cromwell's, Charles's, James's, and Elizabeth's times, or even by those of earlier date. With respect to these, we would remark that the forfeitures were according to previous divisions and so the grants generally were.

Some of the townlands, from their names, seem to have been household lands of princes; others hospitality lands attached to the caravanserais which the ancient Irish so liberally endowed; but most of them must be accounted for in other ways. If these divisions grew marked in the middle ages, we should be disposed to say that each was the possession of a large family or small sept, by the aggregation of many of which the great princedoms were made up. If these name and divisions are of older date (as we believe) then they either originated in, or were used for the annual distribution of lands which was customary under the Brehon law; and in either case were likely to have been continued during the middle ages for family purposes.

And here we would remark that this annual distribution of land has been foolishly censured. The Irish then lived partly as hunters—chiefly as shepherds and herds—very little as tillers. The annual distribution of grazing land seems not so unreasonable, nor could it have been attended  p.131 with the wasteful and disastrous results supposed to result from changeful tenures of tillage lands.

In a second report, in 1818, the Grand Jury Presentment Committee urged the immediate and complete alteration of the system, and, in 1819, a bill for the survey and valuation of Ireland was brought in. But this bill was soon abandoned.

In 1824 the subject was taken up in good earnest. The Commons resolved that ‘it is expedient, for the purpose of apportioning more equally the local burdens of Ireland, to provide for a general survey and valuation of that part of the United Kingdom.’ () Accordingly it voted £5000 towards a trigonometrical survey, and appointed an active and fair committee ‘to consider of the best mode of apportioning more equally the local burdens collected in Ireland, and to provide for a general survey and valuation of that part of the United Kingdom.’ ()

The committee sat and received the evidence of Major Colby (now, and then, head of the survey in both kingdoms), Lieutenant-Colonel Keane, Mr. Spring Rice (now Lord Monteagle), Mr. Leslie Foster (late Baron of the Exchequer), Mr. John Wilson Croker, Mr. Richard Griffith 1 (since intrusted with the valuation of Ireland), Messrs, Bald, Nimmo, Edgeworth, and Aher (civil engineers), Captain Kater, and many others. It reported on the 21st June, 1824.

The report states that the grand jury taxes for the preceding year were over £750,000 and that the assessment of this was most unequal and unjust, for the reasons before stated.


The committee speak separately on the survey and valuation.

The most material part of their Report on the Survey is as follows: —

They state the surface of Ireland at about twelve millions Irish, or twenty millions English acres, divided in four provinces, thirty-two counties at large, eight counties of cities or towns or other independent jurisdictions, two hundred and fify two baronies, about two thousand four hundred parishes, and an immense number of townlands or minor sub-divisions.

The existing surveys they describe as few a defective. They omit any notice of the survey of Ulster made in 1618–19, under royal commission by Pynner and others, and printed in the first part of Harris's 2 collection of tracts on Ireland, entitled Hibernica.

They state, on Mr. Nimmo's authority, that Strafford's Survey of the Forfeited Lands was a memoir, terrier, or written description, accompanied by outline maps, and that all these documents have perished.

Mr. Hardiman, in a paper on Irish maps, printed in the fourteenth volume of the Transactions of the Irish Academy, states that surveys had been made of Ireland by the Irish monarchs, that fragments of these remain, and that in one of them by Fenton, some allusion to a map seems to be made. If such ever existed, it no longer does.

The earliest published map of Ireland, according to Mr. Nimmo, is that in the Itinerary Antonine, published by Ricardus Corinensis in the fourteenth century, and taken from the table  p.133 of latitudes and longitudes, made by Ptolemy. Ware notices that Ptolemy places Mona, Man, ⁊c.,among the isles of Ireland, and adds that Marcianus (in Periploous) says that Ireland had sixteen provinces, fifteen famous cities, five noted promontories, and six eminent islands.

Mercator and Hondius published an inferior map, taken chiefly from Norse and Danish authorities Mr. Bald refers to a map of Ireland of the fourteenth century, contained in Arrowsmith's Memoir; but whether this is Ricardus's or not we do not know—neither can we get in Dublin Arrowsmith's Memoir, or Ricardus's map. But Bertram, who re-printed Ricardus, Nennius, and Gildas, in 1755, gives an original and highly interesting map of Ireland. Mercator was only copied until Elizabeth's time, when a map fourteen English miles to one inch was published.

Then follow Speed's, in 1610, of Ireland and of the four provinces, Richard Blome's and Strafford's before alluded to.

In the State Papers (temp. Henry VIII) there are three Irish maps, for the first time printed from old MS. maps. The first of these is a map of Munster, the date of which is only shown by its being noted in Lord Burleigh's hand. The second is a map of all Ireland, made by John Goghe in 1557; and the third is also a map of Ireland, made by John Morden, for the Earl of Salisbury, in 1609. All these contain clan names; one of them has the arms of the principal families, and they all, besides written names, contain topographical maps of much antiquarian value.

In the Pacata Hibernia, edited by Stafford in 1633, there are maps of Ireland, of Munster, and  p.134 fifteen plans of different places in Munster, roughly engraved, but usefully drawn as picture-maps panoramas—the best style for small plans at least and lately revived on the Continent in the panoramas of Switzerland, the Rhine, ⁊c.

D'Anville contains a map of ancient Ireland and he and Beaufort, and many others published made up maps of Ireland in the middle ages Ware, too, in his antiquities, prints a map ancient Ireland, made from Ptolemy, Camden and in one place from Orosius.

We now come to the celebrated Down Survey. 3 It was executed by Sir William Petty, Physician General, under a commission, dated 11th December 1654, at the payment of 20s. a day and 1d. an acre Petty got a lot of Cromwellian soldiers into training in two months, and then surveyed all the forfeited lands. These soldiers used the chain and circumferentor, and their measurements were sent to Dublin, and there plotted or laid down on paper, whence the work is called The Down Survey.

This Survey contained both barony and parish maps of two-thirds of Ireland; the former on a scale of forty perches to an inch, containing parish and townland boundaries, mountain and bog marks, ⁊c. 1430 maps remain in the Record Tower—of these 260 are baronial, 1,170 parochial. 130 baronial maps are perfect, 67 partially burned, 2 or 3 are “missing”. 780 parochial are perfect, 391 partly burnt in 1711 . A copy of the baronial maps exists in Paris in the King's Library, having been taken by a privateer when on their way to England for Sir W. Petty, and tracings of these  p.135 were made by General Vallancey and Major Taylor. In the Queen's Inns is copied his account of this survey. All Petty's maps have marginal descriptions and references to the Book of Distributions of the forfeitures. These maps are evidence between the crown and subject, and between two subjects holding as grantees from the crown by that distribution. There are some maps relating to, or part of this, said to be in the Landsdowne Collection

Sir William Petty published a folio County Atlas—so did Mr. Pratt. A miniature County Atlas was printed in London, in 1720, by Rowles, taken from Petty and Pratt. The latest County Atlas is the meagre one published with Lewis's Topographical Dictionary.

The next official survey was that of the lands forfeited in William's time, composing about two million of acres. It is lodged in the vice-treasurer's of office.

The following lists of maps and surveys was given in by Mr. Bald as part of his evidence:—  p.136

A map of Ireland in 1716, by Thomas Bakewill, who also issued a map of the city of Dublin.

Herman Moll gave a map of Ireland.

Ortelius (Charles O'Connor's) map of Ireland, with the names of the septs at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

Ditto, improved, containing proprietors' names in 1777, (Note too, that this has been re-printed in Madden's United Irishmen—2nd series).

Ireland, by Pratt, six sheets.

Ditto, J. Rocque, four sheets.

Ditto, C. Bowles, four sheets.

Ditto, Jeffries, one sheet.

Ditto, Kitchin, one sheet.

Ditto, Major Taylor, one sheet, 1793.

Ditto, Beaufort, two sheets, 1793, accompanied by a very bad memoir.


Ireland by Arrowsmith, four sheets, 1811, reprinted frequently since.

Taylor and Skinner's map of Irish roads, in 1777.

We may add, Ireland, by Overdon and Morgan; do., by Senex, ⁊c., in 1711.

County Maps of Ireland.

County of Dublin, published in 1760, by John Rocque, scale not quite six inches to three English miles.

Survey of the County of Dublin, by William Duncan, principal draughtsman to the Quartermaster-General of Ireland, published in 1821, scale three inches to one mile, and has been constructed on trigonometrical principles.

County of Louth, surveyed by Taylor and Skinner in 1777, scale two inches to one mile.

A survey of Louth, by Mr. John M'Neill. 4

County of Armagh, surveyed by John Rocque, scale two inches to one mile; states the impossibility of finding the barony bounds, and had recourse toSir William Petty's surveys.

Wexford surveyed by Valentine Gill, four sheets.

Westmeath, by Wm. Larkin, since 1800. 5

Meath, by Wm. Larkin, since 1800.

Waterford, by Wm. Larkin, since 1800.

Leitrim, by Wm. Larkin, since 1800.

Sligo, by Wm. Larkin, since 1800.

Galway, by Wm. Larkin, since 1800.

Cavan, by Wm. Larkin, since 1800.

All Mr. Larkin's county surveys were protracted from a scale of four inches to one Irish mile but do not appear to have been constructed from triangualar measurements.

Cork, surveyed by Edwards and Savage, in 1811.

Londonderry, by the Rev. G. V. Sampson, in 1813, accompanied by a statistical memoir; sections on the map, scale two inches to one mile.

Longford, surveyed by William Edgeworth. This map was constructed from trigonometrical data.

Roscommon, by Messrs. Edgeworth and Griffith. This survey has been done trigonometrically. The engraving was executed in a most superior manner.

County of Down, scale one inch to a mile, published in 1755. Hills drawn in profile no surveyor's name to the map; it has soundings along the coast.


County of Down, by Williamson, 1810.

Antrim, by John Lendrick, in 1780.

Kildare, by Major Alexander Taylor, in 1783, Scale one inch and a half to a mile.

Kerry, by Pelham.

Ditto, by Porter.

Wicklow, by Jacob Neville, in 1760.

Clare, by Henry Pelham, in 1787. Scale one inch and half to the Irish mile.

Kilkenny has been surveyed by Mr. David Aher in townlands.

Limerick, King's County, Donegal, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Carlow, Queen's County, Tipperary, Mayo, and King's County have all been surveyed.


Chart of Kenmare River, by William Irwin, 1749.

Mr. Murdock M'Kenzie made a general survey of the whole harbours bays, and shores of Ireland, on the scale of one inch to an English mile, with general charts, in two volumes. By the date of the variation, in 1759, it appears he was engaged about sixteen years. His sailing directions are valuable; and although the outline of the coast is faulty, yet all chart-makers have continued to copy his soundings.

Chart of Dublin Bay, by Seal and Richards, 1765.

Ditto of the Shannon, by Cowan, 1795, two inches and a half to an Irish mile.

Ditto of Dublin Bay, by Captain Bligh.

Several charts of the harbours on the east coast of Ireland have been published by the Fishery Board; they were surveyed under the direction of Mr. Nimmo, and are among the finest engraved specimens of our hydrographic surveys yet published.

Chart of Lough Derg, by Longfield and Murray.

Chart of Lough Ree.

Rocque was a pupil of Cassini, the astronomer and topographist, and came to Ireland in 1752. Mr. Nimmo states that he founded a class of surveyors and valuators, represented in 1824 by Messrs Brassington, Sherrard, ⁊c.; highly respectable, but who, not having much science, use only the circumferentor, chain and level. He added that the hydrographical survey of Dublin Coast,  p.138 by Scale and Richards, pupils of that old French school, was “respectable.”

The survey of the forfeited estates in Scotland founded a school with more science, using the theodolite, ⁊c. Among its pupils were Messrs Taylor, who, with Skinner, surveyed the roads of Ireland, Scotland, and part of England, and by others of this school the post-office road surveys were made.

Messrs Nimmo and Bald (Scotchmen), Vignoles (an Englishman  6), and Messrs Griffith, Edgeworth, Aher, and M'Neill (Irishmen), and all men of very high abilities and science bring down the pedigree of civil topography in Ireland to our time.

Among the greatest topographical works of these men were the Bog Maps (four inches to the mile); Mr. Nimmo's coast and harbour surveys for the Fishery Board; Mr. Vignoles' surveys for the Railway Commission, and Mr. Bald's superb map of Mayo, on a scale of four inches to the mile shaded, lithographed beautifully in Paris, and accompanied by raised models of the actual shape of parts of the county. Numerous other surveys and maps were made by these gentlemen, and by Mr. Griffith, ⁊c., for the Board of Works, the Woods and Forests, the Shannon Commissioners, and varions other public departments.

The Ordnance made a slight military survey by order of the Irish Parliament. At the head of it was General Vallancey, assisted by Colonel Tarrant and Major Taylor; but the witnesses in 1824 treat it slightingly.

The present survey has, besides it; own unrivalled  p.139 maps, given materials for several others. Amongst these are the maps in the census report, shaded to represent the density of population, the diffusion of houses, of stock, and of knowledge. Indeed, Captain Larcom's application of the electrotype to the multiplication of the copperplates enables him to represent on a map any single attribute of the country separately, with little trouble or expense. The materials for single and double sheet maps of the Useful Knowledge Society, price 6d. and 1s., were supplied from the Survey Office. The Railway Commissioners' general map was also made at Mountjoy. This is the only large-sized map of Ireland, shaded according to the slopes of the land, possessed of any accuracy. We can testify to this accuracy. It is published in six sheets for £1 uncoloured. It is also issued at a higher price coloured geologically. For those who have more time and energy than money to spare, we know no better in-door way of studying Irish geology than to buy this map uncoloured, and to put in the geological colouring from another copy.

The reader is, probably, wearied enough of this catalogue, and yet if he be a young student of his country's state or history, this catalogue will be most useful to him. If he be master, not apprentice, he will see how rude and imperfect this list is. We must ask him to forgive these crudities, and send us (as he well can) something better, and we shall be glad to use it for ourselves and the public. For a list of maps of Ireland, and parts of it chiefly in MSS., in Trinity College, Dublin, we must refer the reader to Mr. Hardiman's valuable paper in the 14th volume of the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy.

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Title (uniform): Irish Topography

Author: Thomas Osborne Davis

Editor: D. J. O'Donoghue

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Electronic edition compiled by: Beatrix Färber

proof corrections by: Laura Harmon

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Date: 2010

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Editions of this text and/or other writings by Thomas Davis

  1. Thomas Davis, Essays Literary and Historical, ed. by D. J. O'Donoghue, Dundalk 1914.
  2. Thomas Davis: selections from his prose and poetry. [Edited] with an introduction by T. W. Rolleston. London and Leipzig: T. Fisher Unwin (Every Irishman's Library). 1910. [Published in Dublin by the Talbot press, 1914.]
  3. Sir Charles Gavan Duffy (ed.), Thomas Davis, the memoirs of an Irish patriot, 1840–1846. 1890.
  4. Thomas Osborne Davis, Literary and historical essays 1846. Facsimile reprint, with an introduction by John Kelly, 1998, Washington, DC: Woodstock Books.
  5. Essays of Thomas Davis. New York, Lemma Pub. Corp. 1974, 1914 [Reprint of the 1914 ed. published by W. Tempest, Dundalk, Ireland, under the title 'Essays literary and historical'.]
  6. Thomas Davis: essays and poems, with a centenary memoir, 1845–1945. Dublin, M.H. Gill and Son, 1945. [Foreword by an Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera.]
  7. Angela Clifford, Godless colleges and mixed education in Ireland: extracts from speeches and writings of Thomas Wyse, Daniel O'Connell, Thomas Davis, Charles Gavan Duffy, Frank Hugh O'Donnell and others. Belfast: Athol, 1992.

Selected further reading

  1. Arthur Griffith (ed.), Thomas Davis: the thinker & teacher; the essence of his writings in prose and poetry. Dublin: Gill 1914.
  2. William O'Brien, The influence of Thomas Davis: a lecture delivered by William O'Brien, M.P., at the City Hall, Cork, on 5th November 1915. Cork: Free Press Office, 1915.
  3. Johannes Schiller, Thomas Osborne Davis, ein irischer Freiheitssänger. Wiener Beiträge zur englischen Philologie, Bd. XLVI. Wien und Leipzig, W. Braumüller, 1915.
  4. Michael Quigley (ed.), Pictorial record: centenary of Thomas Davis and young Ireland. Dublin [1945].
  5. Joseph Maunsell Hone, Thomas Davis (Famous Irish Lives). 1934.
  6. M. J. MacManus (ed.), Thomas Davis and Young Ireland. Dublin: The Stationery Office, 1945.
  7. J. L. Ahern, Thomas Davis and his circle. Waterford, 1945.
  8. Michael Tierney, 'Thomas Davis: 1814–1845'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 34:135 (1945) 300–10.
  9. Theodore William Moody, 'The Thomas Davis centenary lecture in Newry'. An t-Iubhar (=Newry) 1946, 22–6.
  10. D. R. Gwynn, O'Connell, Davis and the Colleges Bill (Centenary Series 1). Oxford and Cork, 1948.
  11. D. R. Gwynn, 'John E. Pigot and Thomas Davis'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 38 (1949) 145–57.
  12. D. R. Gwynn, 'Denny Lane and Thomas Davis'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 38 (1949) 15–28.
  13. N. N., Clár cuimhneacháin: comóradh i gcuimhne Thomáis Daibhis, Magh Ealla, 1942. Baile Átha Cliath (=Dublin) 1942.
  14. K. M. MacGrath, 'Writers in the

    Title (periodical): Nation

    , 1842–5.' Irish Historical Studies 6, no. 23 (March 1949), 189–223.
  15. Christopher Preston, 'Commissioners under the Patriot Parliament, 1689'. Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 5th ser., 74:8 (1950) 141–51.
  16. W. B. Yeats, Tribute to Thomas Davis: with an account of the Thomas Davis centenary meeting held in Dublin on November 20th, 1914, including Dr. Mahaffy's prohibition of the 'Man called Pearse,' and an unpublished protest by 'A.E.', Cork 1965.
  17. Theodore William Moody, 'Thomas Davis and the Irish nation'. Hermathena, 103 (1966) 5–31.
  18. Malcolm Johnston Brown, The politics of Irish literature: from Thomas Davis to W. B. Yeats. Seattle (University of Washington Press) 1973.
  19. Eileen Sullivan, Thomas Davis. Lewisburg, New Jersey: Bucknell University Press, 1978.
  20. Mary G. Buckley, Thomas Davis: a study in nationalist philosophy. Ph.D. Thesis, National University of Ireland, at the Department of Irish History, UCC, 1980.
  21. Giulio Giorello, "A nation once again": Thomas Osborne Davis and the construction of the Irish "popular" tradition. History of European Ideas, 20:1–3 (1995) 211–17.
  22. John Neylon Molony, A soul came into Ireland: Thomas Davis 1814–1845. Dublin 1995.
  23. Robert Somerville-Woodward, "Two 'views of the Irish language': O'Connell versus Davis." The History Review: journal of the UCD History Society, 9 (1995) 44–50.
  24. John Neylon Molony, 'Thomas Davis: Irish Romantic idealist'. In: Richard Davis; Jennifer Livett; Anne-Maree Whitaker; Peter Moore (eds.), Irish-Australian studies: papers delivered at the eighth Irish-Australian Conference, Hobart July 1995 (Sydney 1996) 52–63.
  25. David Alvey, 'Thomas Davis. The conservation of a tradition.' Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 85 (1996) 37–42.
  26. Harry White, The keeper's recital: music and cultural history in Ireland, 1770–1970. (Cork 1998).
  27. Joseph Langtry; Brian Fay, 'The Davis influence.' In: Joseph Langtry (ed.), A true Celt: Thomas Davis, The Nation, rebellion and transportation: a series of essays. (Dublin 1998) 30–38.
  28. Joseph Langtry, 'Thomas Davis (1814–1845).' In: Joseph Langtry (ed.), A true Celt: Thomas Davis, The Nation, rebellion and transportation: a series of essays. (Dublin 1998) 2–7.
  29. Patrick Maume, 'Young Ireland, Arthur Griffith, and republican ideology: the question of continuity.' Éire–Ireland, 34:2 (1999) 155–74.
  30. Sean Ryder, 'Speaking of '98: Young Ireland and republican memory'. Éire–Ireland, 34:2 (1999) 51–69.
  31. Gerard Kearns, 'Time and some citizenship: nationalism and Thomas Davis'. Bullán: an Irish Studies Review, 5:2 (2001), 23–54.
  32. Ghislaine Saison, 'L'écriture de l'histoire chez la Jeune Irlande: quelle histoire pour une nation du consensus et de la réconciliation?' In: Centre de recherche inter-langues angevin, Écriture(s) de l'histoire: Actes du colloque des 2,3 et 4 décembre 1999. (Angers 2001) 435–46.
  33. Ghislaine Saison, 'Thomas Davis et la nation irlandaise'. Cercles, 4 (2002), 121–31.
  34. Helen Mulvey, Thomas Davis and Ireland: a biographical study. Washington, D.C., Catholic University of America Press, 2003.
  35. Samuel Lewis, A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, comprising the several counties, cities, boroughs, corporate, market, and post towns. Parishes, and villages, with historical and statistical descriptions (...) (London 1837). [Available online at http://www.libraryireland.com/topog/index.php].

Davis, Thomas Osborne (1914). ‘Irish Topography’. In: Essays, literary and historical. By Thomas Davis. Centenary edition, including several pieces never before collected‍. Ed. by D.J. O Donoghue. Dundalk: Dundalgan Press, pp. 129–139.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  author 	 = {Thomas Osborne Davis},
  title 	 = {Irish Topography},
  editor 	 = {D.J. O Donoghue },
  booktitle 	 = {Essays, literary and historical. By Thomas Davis. Centenary edition, including several pieces never before collected},
  publisher 	 = {Dundalgan Press},
  address 	 = {Dundalk},
  date 	 = {1914},
  pages 	 = {129–139}


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  1. Sir Richard John Griffith, F.R.S., the great geologist, was born in Hume Street, Dublin, in 1784, and died in 1878.—Ed. 🢀

  2. Walter Harris, the Irish antiquary, born 1686, died 1761.—Ed. 🢀

  3. People generally assume that this refers to Co. Down. As Davis explains in the next few lines, the name is due to another reason.—Ed. 🢀

  4. Afterwards Sir John M'Neill, F.R.S., a native of the county, born about 1793, and died in 1880.—Ed. 🢀

  5. The original contains a table the information in which cannot be encoded satisfactorily as it is. For convenience of reproduction, the following six paragraphs are slightly edited to include this information. The scale of these maps published by Larkin is two inches to one mile. 🢀

  6. A mistake of Davis's; this great engineer Charles Blacker Vignoles, F.R.S., was an Irishman, a native of Co. Wexford, born 1793, died 1875.—Ed. 🢀


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