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John Mathieson


1855 - 1945

Surveyor, map-maker and explorer. Born in Durness, a native Gaelic speaker, Mathieson spent his career working for HM Ordnance Survey, which remains the British national mapping agency. In 1909, he retired from his post as Division Superintendent to allow him to join William Speirs Bruce's expedition to Svalbard as chief surveyor, leading the surveying party on Prins Karls Forland. Mathieson spent five months on St. Kilda in 1927, mapping the islands in detail for the first time while also recording the placenames and archaeology. He was assisted by Dr. Alexander Cockburn, who mapped the geology. His map of St. Kilda remains definitive. He also wrote on Arctic and Antarctic exploration and contributed articles to the Scottish Geographical Magazine on Scottish placenames and General Wade's military roads. Mathieson is also known for excavating and drawing plans of an 'earth house' on the slopes above Loch Eriboll near Durness and for designing 'geographical indicators' for the summits of hills across Scotland, including Arthur's Seat (Edinburgh; 1910), East Lomond (Fife; 1928), Ben Lomond (Stirling; 1929 no longer extant), The Knock (West Lothian; 1936), Middle Eildon Hill (Scottish Borders, 1927), Corstorphine Hill Tower (Edinburgh; 1933), the Braid Hills (Edinburgh; 1937, no longer extant) and for an outlook point within Edinburgh Zoo (1938, no longer extant).

He died in Edinburgh. His surveying equipment and mapping tools are held by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in Perth, who had made him an Honorary Fellow in 1910 and awarded him their Gold Medal in 1927. He also served this Society as Honorary Map Curator (1918-40), a Member of Council and a Vice President. Mathieson received the Murchison Grant from the Royal Geographical Society in 1927 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1921.

The valley of Mathiesondalen in Svalbard is named after him.


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