FROM THE ARCHIVES: Bishop Willson’s Map

By Freya Harrington, Archives Officer

Objects can give us a glimpse into the lives of people we will never have the chance to meet.

Long after they have passed, they can help to tell a person’s story; but few provide details like one extraordinary item in the Archives’ collection.

Printed by James Wyld, geographer to Queen Victoria, in 1846, this pocket map of the world belonged to Bishop Robert William Willson.

Born in 1794 in Lincoln, England, Willson was ordained in 1824 and was the pastor at Nottingham for eighteen years. In 1842, Van Diemen’s Land became its own diocese, with Willson arriving as our first bishop in 1844.

Measuring 96 by 66cm when laid flat, the map’s construction of printed paper pasted onto cotton fabric allows it to fold up into a rigid slip case that could be carried in a coat pocket or satchel.

Although the paper has discoloured with age, geographic details are still clear and some original colour remains. Whilst the map is now a rare example of its kind, it is particularly significant because of Bishop Willson’s additions.

Carefully marked with dots and lines he plotted his ocean voyages between 1844 and 1855, using coloured inks and a variety of markings to differentiate them.

Although marked, Willson’s first journey to Tasmania predates the map’s printing by two years, so we can only assume it was added later. It is likely Willson purchased the map in London on his first trip back to England in 1846.

On another trip home in 1854, he purchased a small diary to note his movements and appointments. The entry for Monday 16 October 1854 reads, ‘Sailed this day. Weighed anchor at 6 ½. Wind fair…’.

The first night was cold, wet, and stormy, he writes, and the next day they were abreast of the Isle of Wight. ‘Night dark, and many ships in the Channel’, Willson notes.

On Thursday he records they are at ‘Lat 48 Long W. 9.’ and the first blue dot appears on his map – marking the start of his 107-day voyage back to Hobart.

Considering the journeys it has been on, and it’s 177 year age, the map is in remarkable condition.

The porous fibers of its paper have taken in the salty air of three oceans; its sections folded and unfolded by the hands of a pioneer bishop who worked tirelessly for convicts, women, and those in need.

Tags: Archives & Heritage Collection