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Mapping rugged terrain-Human and Environment Blog


In 2012, the museum acquired a small collection of collections related to the outstanding career of Hobart Survey Chief James Sprent. The collection includes a very early large map of Tasmania, a Spulent degree certificate, a Reeves parallel ruler, three small certificates for a short-term course at the University of Glasgow, and a possible Spulent drawing tool Wooden box. This map is the first accurate map of a colony and the first to change the name of the colony to “Tasmania”.

James Sprent was born in Manchester, England in 1808, the son of a publisher from Glasgow. Spront is a scholar at St. John’s College at Cambridge University and the University of Glasgow. In 1825, he received a Master of Arts degree from the University of Glasgow. At the age of 22, he took a boat to Australia. Noval He arrived in Hobart in May 1830. Soon after he arrived in Hobart, Sprent opened a school for young gentlemen, teaching various subjects, including Latin, arithmetic, mathematics, and French. His ultimate goal was to gain a foothold on this land; however, despite his available funds, the colonial office rejected his application for a free land grant.

A map of Tasmania drawn by James Sprent in 1859. Dimensions: 1740 x 1270 mm.Photos Jason McCarthy

In 1833, Sprent was appointed as an assistant surveyor in the surveying department and began to make accurate maps of the colony. Spront and assistant surveyor James Calder set out on a difficult task, recording the triangulation of the entire Van Dimen land. Spront was the first surveyor on Van Dimen’s land with a qualification in mathematics. The combination of his qualifications and Calder’s practical knowledge of the terrain created a strong team. The rugged terrain and test weather conditions made the task more difficult.

Sprent and Calder conducted a five-year survey, established 50 sites and drafted temporary charts. In 1837, the investigation was suspended due to serious economic problems in the colony. Many incorrect property boundary discoveries are related to the government, so by suspending the investigation, they avoided the possibility of disputes with existing landowners.

The survey was suspended for 10 years, during which time Sprent continued to work as a surveyor for various projects around Hobart. One of his most important projects is the large-scale investigation of the town of Hobart.He produced more than 70 very detailed street plans, which were bundled into a large volume called Sprent’s book.

In 1847, under the new rule of William Dennison, Spront and Calder restarted triangulation and recorded 206 observatories over the next six years. The investigation was finally completed in 1853, and Sprent withdrew from field work shortly afterwards. Years of investigative work caused harm to his body.

Detailed part of the Sprent map
Click on these small sections to understand the level of detail recorded on the map-county, town, and village boundaries, roads and rivers, triangle points, mountain heights, deep sea sounding, sandbars, reefs and rocks, shipwrecks, lighthouses, and tide information.

Photo: Catriona Donnelly

The production of the map began in 1858. It proved to be a costly work, but the final product was the most comprehensive and largest map of the Australian colony ever. Four large hand-carved copper plates are needed to replicate the color map. The map was printed by map publishers W. and AK Johnston in Edinburgh, Scotland. A copy of the map arrived in Hobart in June 1859 and was sold in four formats, the most expensive, printed in color, painted and mounted on a mahogany cylinder, and sold for 3 13s 6d. The museum’s replica is the largest version installed on a mahogany roller.

Other items in the James Sprent collection

Three small certificates for short courses in public logic, humanities and Greek, 1822-23
In 1825, 18 scholars from the University of Glasgow signed James Sprent’s degree certificate
Zinc briefcase and wOden box.Photo: Katie Shanahan
Reeves parallel ruler.Photo: Jason McCarthy

In the early 1850s, the political, social, and economic structure of the colonies underwent extensive changes. These changes also flowed to the investigation department. There is a trend of hiring civilian personnel in positions previously held by military personnel. In 1855, James Sprent became the first civilian to be appointed to the position of Deputy Surveyor, and was promoted to Chief Surveyor in 1858.

Spront married Susanna Hasol in 1842, and they have five children. The tragedy occurred in 1853, when his two eldest sons died of scarlet fever. Sprent’s youngest son Charles Percy Sprent eventually followed in his father’s footsteps and became a regional surveyor in 1883. He played an important role in establishing a professional institution for colonial surveyors.

James Sprent’s map, parallel ruler and short course certificate are currently on display Hobart Exhibited in our landmark gallery.

Hobart case December 15
Hobart is exhibited at the Landmark Gallery.Photo: Catriona Donnelly

Feature image: detailed information of the map title.Photo: Catriona Donnelly



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