59 Samuel J Neele / Robert Fraser 1794


In the late eighteenth century The Board of Agriculture was established by the Government to further a general improvement in land and farming use of the country. A series of county reports was produced including that of Sussex in 1793 by the Reverend Arthur Young, Secretary to the Board and Robert Fraser’s paper on Devon of 1794. As Fraser makes clear in the introduction he planned his as a preliminary report to be expanded and completed later.

Each county was written by a different author and although some maps are similar few have the name of the artist or the engraver. The map was probably engraved by Samuel John Neele who was to become a well-known engraver of county maps in the nineteenth century. Among the few maps in reports that are signed are Durham, has the signature - Neele, sculpt. 362 Strand, Berkshire has Neele sc. and Sussex has Neele sc Strand.

The map of Devon included in Fraser’s work was a geological view of the county and depicts the various soils of the county, depicted by shading and an explanation key. It shows major towns with small rectangles, small towns or villages with a cross. There are no roads. It is precisely drawn with outlined coast but no Lundy. Only Crockern Torr on Dartmoor is shown; whether this was because Crockern Tor was the ancient meeting place of the miners can only be conjectured.

Some of the information in this map was later used by Charles Vancouver in his work on Devon and the map found in his publication, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Devon, was engraved by Neele in 1806 and appeared in 1808. William Marshall wrote The Rural Economy of the West of England which was publishedtwo years later than Fraser´s work. It is interesting to compare the three maps from these three surveys (see also 60 and 70).

Robert Fraser was obviously impressed by what he saw: The mild dispositions, affability, and kindness of its inhabitants, conspire with the temperature of the air, the fertility of the soil, and with the great beauty and variety of scenery, to render many districts of this county, particularly the southern, the most interesting and pleasing of any in the kingdom. He was very concerned with reclaiming the waste lands of Dartmoor and this is explained at great length. Mention is also made in the introduction to a forthcoming map by Mr Charles Tozer a surveyor at Broadhempston. No such map has been found.1

Fraser prepared a large number of reports for the government including agricultural reviews of Cornwall (1794) and County Wicklow (1801). He carried out a report on the coasts of Scotland in 1803 and one of his last reports was on the fisheries of Ireland completed in 1822.

The report on Somersetshire was written by John Billingsley and was first published with Cary’s map of the county from his New and Correct English Atlas coloured to show the agriculture of the county. This was replaced in 1795 by a new map drawn by William White.2

Size 237 x 215 mm.                                                                                                                                                                  Scale 1M = 3.3 mm.

MAP of the SOIL of DEVONSHIRE.         

1. 1794  General View of the County of Devon with observations on the means of its improvement by Robert Fraser, M.A. Drawn up for the consideration of the Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement. London, Printed by C MacRae MDCCXCIV.  
    London. R Fraser. 1794. BL, [DEI].


[1] General View of the County of Devon; reprinted in facsimile by Porcupines; Barnstaple; 1970; p.8. Charles Tozer is also mentioned on page 45 as having provided assistance. Tozer produced a large number of maps, including two maps of Tiverton for Dunsford´s Historical Memoirs of that town and a fine map of Exeter in 1792, but no map of Devon has been found.

[2] Keith Needell: The Printed Maps of  Somersetshire; July 1994.