The Welsh Assembly Government has designated 2018 the ‘Year of the Sea’ and fittingly sea charts and other matters maritime will be topics of the day in ‘Charting the Seas’ the forthcoming Carto-Cymru Symposium at the National Library on 18th May.
Consequently this is an appropriate time to recall the life and labours of Lewis Morris, Wales’s most esteemed hydrographer.
Lewis Morris (1701-1765) was a member of the celebrated family known as the ‘Morrisiaid Môn’, or the ‘Morrises of Anglesey’ who are remembered for their cultural endeavours. Lewis Morris was a polymath, being not only a hydrographer, but also a land surveyor, customs officer, antiquary, literary scholar, philologist and mineralogist.
His work in land and marine surveying has received scant attention until recently. Morris’s marine survey of the Welsh coast, undertaken with very little official support, was a supreme pioneering achievement, especially for a self-taught hydrographer. It is for this survey that he is now recognized as one of the most eminent of British cartographers.
Morris was raised near Dulas Bay in Anglesey and living near the sea, he would have observed vessels engaged in coastal trade or on passage to and from Liverpool and witnessed or heard about shipwrecks around the region’s hazardous coasts.
He became an estate surveyor and then a customs official on Anglesey and listened to seamen bemoan the inadequacies of contemporary local charts. In the interests of safer navigation Morris decided to embark on the immense task of surveying the Welsh coast, despite never having been formally trained as a marine surveyor. Welsh chart making had been neglected and shipping casualties were frequent. The poor condition of Welsh roads meant that coastal sea transport was more common at this time.
In 1734 Morris unsuccessfully placed his proposals before the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, but both the Admiralty and the Customs Commissioners refused him a survey vessel and he was obliged to hire one, at his own expense.
Morris embarked on his venture at Beaumaris in July 1737. Further complications and setbacks ensued and only in 1748, with an economic upturn following the war with France together with Admiralty encouragement were his charts published. Morris’s large general chart showed the coast from Llandudno to Milford Haven and twenty-five of his harbour plans were published in Plans of harbours, bars, bays and roads in St. George’s Channel, a small volume which sold well. All of his charts were a significant improvement on earlier ones and provided a wealth of information on local conditions and hazards. These works preceded improved charts from Admiralty surveys by about seventy years.
Morris’s son William revised and extended the general chart in 1800 to show the coast from Liverpool to Cardiff and his enhanced volume published in 1801 contained additional plans of harbours which had often increased in importance during the intervening years, such as Liverpool, Amlwch, Aberaeron, New Quay, Carmarthen Bay harbours, Burry, Swansea and Dublin.
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