The Old Print Shop

Aaron Arrowsmith


Aaron Arrowsmith was a highly respected British cartographer, born in Winston, County Durham, England. He moved to London at some point around 1770 and took up work as a surveyor, employed by the likes of cartographers William Faden and John Cary. Eventually, he started his own business in 1786 and published his first map in 1790. The large 8-sheet “Chart of the World” was based on Mercator projection and drew great notoriety. His subsequent work, including the 9-sheet “Chart of the Pacific Ocean,” was equally notable and caught the attention of the Prince of Wales, who hired him around 1810 as a hydrographer. In 1820, he was also employed by the King of England.

Arrowsmith taught both his sons, Aaron Jr. and Samuel, and his nephew, John Arrowsmith, the trade. John would go on to become an acclaimed cartographer himself, and was highly respected by the Royal Geographical Society and 18th-Century explorers. Part of what he imparted to his heirs was a sense of precision and perfection. Astute attention to detail was paramount. They would wait, sometimes at length, to receive the newest measurements from places being discovered. At the time, South America, the western coast of North America and Australia were major focuses of attention. They had the difficult job of creating maps based on rough sketches and ever-changing data.   

After his death in 1823, his sons, for the most part, continued his legacy. Aaron Junior stepped away from the business in 1832, when he enrolled in Oxford to become a minister. His brother, Samuel, remained a cartographer until his early demise in 1839. Nephew, John Arrowsmith, would live until 1873 and produced more than one hundred eighty maps before retiring at the age of eighty in 1870.

Mount Arrowsmith on Vancouver Island, Canada was named after Aaron Sr. and John Arrowsmith.