Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Adair, John

ADAIR, JOHN (d. 1722), an eminent Scottish surveyor and map maker, lived during the close of the seventeenth century and the first quarter of the eighteenth century. The earliest known mention of his name is by Sir Robert Sibbald, his patron, from whom Adair received his first public employment. In ‘An Account of the Scottish Atlas,’ a kind of prospectus published in Edinburgh, 1683, we read: ‘The Lords of His Majesties Privy Council in Scotland gave commission to John Adair, mathematician and skilfull mechanick, to survey the shires. And the said John Adair, by taking the distances of the seuerall angles from the adjacent hills, had designed most exact maps, and hath lately made an hydrographical map of the river of Forth geometrically surueyed; wherein, after a new and exact way, are set down all the isles, blind-rocks, shelves and sands, with an exact draught of the coasts, with all its bayes, headlands, ports, havens, towns, and other things remarkable, the depths of the water through the whole Frith, with the courses from each point [of the compass], the prospect and view of the remarkable islands, headlands, and other considerable landmarks. And he is next to survey the shire of Perth, and to make two maps thereof, one of the south side, and another of the north. He will likewise be ready to design the maps of the other shires, that were not done before, providing he may have sufficient allowance thereof. And that those who are concerned may be the better perswaded thereto, there is joyned with this account the map of Clackmannan Shire taken off the copper plate done for it, where may be seen not only the towns, hills, rivers, and lakes, but also the different face of the grounds, which are arable, and which moorish; and by convenient marks you may know the houses of the nobility and gentry, the churches, mills, woods, and parks’ (p. 4).

For the better enabling Adair to carry on the design an act of tunnage was passed by parliament 14 June, 1686, ‘In favour of John Adair, geographer, for surveying the kingdom of Scotland, and navigating the coasts and isles thereof’ (1st Parl. Ja. VII, cap. 21). At this period it would appear that his connection with Sir R. Sibbald had ceased. While engaged on this work he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, 30 Nov. 1688. In a report of the committee of privy council, Aug. 1694, ‘The Committee appointed to examine the progress made by John Adair in the maps of Scotland doe find that there are elleuen maps made by him relating to the land, and nyne relateing to the sea.’ The money raised in favour of Adair by the act of 1686 being found insufficient to cover his expenses, a new act of tunnage was passed 16 July 1695. In 1703 was published his ‘Description of the Sea Coasts and Islands of Scotland, with Large and Exact Maps for the use of Seamen. By John Adair, Geographer for that Kingdom. Edinburgh, fol.’ Of this work the first part only was printed; it is now rare. The second part was never published. The committee on public accounts, in their report laid before parliament 21 July, 1704, state ‘that four of our number did visit Mr. Adair's work, who told us it was far advanced and deserved encouragement’ (Acta Parl. vol. xi. App. p. 49). Another act of tunnage was then passed in his favour, 8 Aug. 1705, but the second part never appeared, and his papers are not known to have been preserved.

Adair probably died in London towards the end of 1722, for we find that in 1723 his widow obtained from government some remuneration for her husband's labours and losses, which last must have been considerable, as Adair, as early as July 1694, stated in a memorial to the lords of the privy council that these losses were ‘three times more than ever was gotten from the collectors upon the accompt of Tunnage.’ Among the records of the court of Exchequer is an ‘Inventory of the Maps and Papers delivered by Jean Adair, Relict of Mr. John Adair, Geographer, F.R.S., to the Right Honble the Barons of exchequer in persuance of a Warrent from the Lords Justices, dated 21st June, 1723;’ as is also a minute of the Barons of Exchequer, Martis 19o Nov. 1723, to the following effect: ‘Mrs. Adair, Relict of Jno Adair, late Geographer, having given upon oath an Inventory of all Maps and Papers belonging to her late Husband, in pursuance of the Lord Justices Sign Manual, dated 21st June past, Ordd that the same be lodged in the Remrs Office, and the Precept for payment of her allowance of £40 pr an. be delivered to her.’

Some of Adair's surveys are preserved in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh; others, MS. maps, probably copies, are preserved in the King's Library, British Museum. According to Gough, other sketches remained in the hands of his daughter, Mrs. Douglas.

Gough also mentions that ‘Mr. Bryan shewed the Society of Antiquaries, in 1724, two drawings of the whole coast of Scotland, upon the Frith of Forth as high as Stirling, and of the Cluyd to Glasgow, and of the Solway Frith to Carlisle,’ by the late John Adair (British Topography, vol. ii. p. 577).

One of the charts found in his ‘Description of the Sea Coasts and Islands of Scotland’ is of peculiar interest; it bears the following title: ‘A true and exact Hydrographical Description of the Sea Coast and Isles of Scotland Made in a Voyage round the same by the great and mighty prince James the 5th. Published at Paris by Nicolay D'Aulphinois, & Cheif Cosmographer to the French King, anno 1583; and at Edinburgh by John Adair, Fellow of the Royal Society, anno 1688. James Moxon sculp.’ (Adair brought ‘Moxon ane engraver’ over from Holland in the previous year, 1687.) This chart is engraved on a half folio sheet, the same size as the original, which is extremely rare, entitled ‘Vray et exacte description Hydrographique des côtes maritimes d'Escosse, & des Iles Orchades, Hebrides, avec partie d'Angleterre et d'Irlande, servant à la navigation. Par N. de Nicolay D'Aulphinois Sieur d'Arfeville et de Belar, premier Cosmographe du Roy, 1583.’ This again occurs in a book equally rare, but known as ‘La Navigation du Roy d'Ecosse Iaques cinquiesme du Nom . . . par Nicholay d'Arfveille.’ Paris, 1583, 4to. A copy of this book with the original chart is preserved in the Grenville Library, British Museum.

The remaining documents of Adair that call for notice in the Inventory are as follows:

‘Principal Manuscripts not printed:—

‘A Journal of the Voyage made to the North and West Islands of Scotland by John Adair, Geographer, in the year 1698, consisting of fifteen full sheets, and seems to be the original by his own hand.’

A list of nine maps relative to the said journal:—1, Channel between Hoy and Pomona; 2, West Coast of Ross; 3, Island and Port of Cana; 4, Scalpa, with the Coast of Harris; 5, East Coast of Uist; 6 and 7, Views of the foresaid Islands; 8, South Coast of Sky; 9, South Islands of Orkney.

[Sir R. Sibbald's Account of Scottish Atlas, 1683, fol.; Rich. Gough's British Topography, 1780, vol. ii., 4to; G. Chalmers's Caledonia, vol. ii. 1810, 4to; Watt's Bibliotheca Britannica (Authors), vol. i. 1824, 4to; Papers relating to John Adair, 1686–1723, printed in Bannatyne Miscellany, vol. ii. 1836, 4to; Biographical Dictionary, Soc. D.U.K. 1842, 8vo.]

C. H. C.