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John Arrowsmith


John Arrowsmith was born in the village of Winston in County Durham, England. He is the nephew of Aaron Arrowsmith (1750–1823), who was a well acclaimed cartographer of the day. It was from his uncle that John learned the trade. John was also a long time member of the Royal Geographical Society.

John Arrowsmith was a perfectionist, or as much of one as the times would allow. It was a trait he’d learned from his uncle. Any map that left his business had to meet the standards of data known at that time. Accuracy was of the utmost importance. Today, one might think this is a trait all cartographers would follow, but there were always individually who willfully produced disproportionate maps to quickly make a sale. This was especially true when it came to the Americas and Australia, which were still being charted.

One of the major projects John Arrowsmith undertook after starting his own business around 1823 was the “London Atlas.” It was published in 1834 and contained fifty maps depicting the known world. At the time, Western Australia was only known in the form of rough sketches and Arrowsmith often waited at length to receive new information. Another of his great projects was something he worked on throughout his life, “The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London.” The “Journal” was published annually. It discussed the latest changes to the known world. In some volumes, John Arrowsmith was the sole cartographer used to illustrate it. He produced maps for the Society’s publication until he was eighty years old. His contributions were so great he was awarded the Patron’s Medal in 1863. He was the first person to receive the award.

Arrowsmith’s staunch attention to detail had its benefits and detriments. On the one hand, they held up the release of new material in the “Journal.” On the other, discoverers hailed the family for their precision, so much so that several geographic discoveries were named after them; the Arrowsmith River in Western Australia, Mount Arrowsmith on Vancouver Island and the Arrowsmith Plains in Nunavut, Canada.