Diederik van Vleuten

Diederik van Vleuten; Daar Werd Wat Groots Verricht

Mijn betovergrootvader Didericus Bernardus van Vleuten (1835-1904) was getrouwd met Anna Jacoba Holland (1843-1939). De 'Stamboom van het Geslacht Holland', die mijn grootvader Samuel Cornelis (1905-1967) vlak na de oorlog samenstelde, leerde mij in een oogopslag dat Anna Jacoba directe familie was van de Nederlandse cartograaf Samuel Johannes Holland (1729-1801), de leermeester van de grote ontdekkingsreiziger James Cook (1728-1779). In het Van Vleuten familiearchief bevinden zich vele oude documenten en parafernalia met betrekking tot de familie Holland, waaronder een lakzegel van Samuel Johannes. Dit is het tweede deel van een artikel dat ik heb geschreven voor Cook's Log, het 'clubblad' van The Captain Cook Society. 



Murray's Map

The surrender of Quebec in September 1759 was the beginning of the end of New France. But France wasn’t defeated yet. A counter-attack was expected sooner or later. The outposts and defences needed strengthening. Samuel Holland was entrusted with this work, keeping him busy throughout the autumn and winter of that year.

That winter was severe, with many consequences. The troops of General James Murray (1) now in command of Quebec, had lacked warm clothing. Disease and inadequate nutrition causing scurvy had seriously weakened them. The following spring, the French, under command of general Levis, defeated Murray’s army at Sainte-Foy, six miles from Quebec, and pushed the British troops behind the walls of the city. (2) When Murray’s Chief Engineer Patrick Mackellar was badly wounded Holland took over his duties.

The French, however, were unable to reconquer Quebec. Their siege was lifted in May 1760, when British naval reinforcements arrived on the Saint Lawrence. Montreal capitulated in September but the war dragged on. Only in February 1763 the Peace Treaty was signed in in Paris. France ceded to Britain all the territory between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, together with the territories of New France along the St Lawrence. And so ended the French Empire in North America.


Long before the end of the war the British authorities had ordered a careful survey, description and accurate map of the newly acquired territories. Holland was ordered to draw plans for a new citadel of Quebec and to take part in the upcoming minute survey of the Saint Lawrence and all settled parts along the river. In the autumn of 1760 General Murray appointed surveyor Lieutenant John Montresor (3) to supervise the field work, one of the biggest and most difficult ever undertaken by British map-makers until then.
Most of the work was done between February and November 1761. Many obstacles were encountered. ‘Heavy squalls’ and ‘canoes burned by bush fire’ wrote Montresor in his journals. Despite these troubles, the maps resulting from the surveys were the best produced in Canada in that period. Beautifully drawn,  ‘A Plan of the Settled Part of the Province of Quebec..’. was mounted on 44 linen sheets. It became famous as Murray’s Map. (4)

A Zeal for your Majesty's Service

The year 1762 was a turning point in Holland’s life. During his survey work in Quebec he had met a French woman of remarkable beauty. Holland spoke French fluently . His charm and self-confidence had done the rest. And although her father was adamant in refusing to permit a man from Wolfe’s Army to marry his daughter, he could not prevent that Captain Holland married Marie-Joseph Rolette aboard of a ship in Quebec Harbour.
In September 1762 Samuel Holland was sent to England with copies of Murray’s Map and other important work of his own. He took with him a letter from Murray to the Lord’s Commissioners for Trade and Plantations in London.

‘I have ordered Captain Holland to take an accurate survey of the ground and have the honour herewith to transmit the several plans he has drawn in consequence. I cannot slip the opportunity of recommending this gentleman to your Lordship’s notice. . . He is an industrious brave officer and an intelligent engineer in which capacity he deserves to be advanced (5)Holland’s ‘advancement’ was only a matter of time.


After the Treaty of Paris it was decided that an extensive survey should be made of all British possessions in North America.  Therefore the continent was divided in two districts - a Northern and a Southern. For each district a Surveyor-General was appointed, to act under instructions from the Lord’s Commissioners for Trade and Plantations. Holland offered elaborate proposals to the Board of Trade how such a difficult survey should be made. In a report from the Board to King George III we read .. We beg leave humbly to lay before your Majesty . . the annexed proposals offered to us by Captain Samuel Holland, who has great knowledge of the Northern parts of America, . . These proposals appear to us to arise entirely from Captain Holland’s zeal for your Majesty’s service.(5)

On March 6th 1764 Samuel Johannes Holland was appointed Surveyor- General of the Province of Quebec at a salary of £365 per year. Driven by his ambition he offered the authorities to fill the post of Surveyor-General of the Northern District of North America as well, but without additional salary. His offer was gladly accepted. Captain Holland was ready for ‘greater undertakings of the same kind’.

On March 23rd he received instructions to survey all British possessions north of the Potomac River, beginning with the Island of Saint John (nowadays Prince Edward Island), the Magdalen Islands and Cape Breton Island, so very important for their fisheries. Before proceeding to St John’s Island, Holland delivered to Murray at Quebec the British government’s instructions for organizing the civil government of the colony. Murray appointed him to the newly established Council of Quebec on 13 Aug. 1764. The following month he was named a justice of the peace.(6)

detail from Holland's Map of the Island of Saint John

Into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence

On the 4th of October 1764 Holland and his team of surveyors arrived in St John’s Island with The Canceaux,commanded by Lieutenant Henry Mowatt. Winter came early and weather conditions were very harsh.It was Holland’s original intention to conduct his surveys on the ice but he abandoned the plan after one soldier was frozen to death and others lost toes and fingers from frostbite. In February however Holland began his surveys, with a ‘travelling equipage’ of a ‘sledge of a foot in branch and six feet in lenght’ and ‘provisions for eight days … drawn by dogs purchased from Acadians’. Soon it became clear that a dwelling was needed, resistant to icy winds and deep snows. ‘The presence of Miss Holland on the island lent some urgency to the task’ (4) Holland built his refuge ‘on a spot in the woods near the seashore, properly situated for making astronomical observations’. He called the place Observation Cove. Nowadays it bears his name: Holland Cove.

It continued to be the home of Samuel and Marie-Joseph during the course of most of these ‘pioneer maritime surveys’. Two children of the Hollands were born on the Island: John Frederick and Charlotte, John being the first British subject to be born on Saint John Island. Though the working conditions were difficult, the surveys made such a progress that within a year after his arrival Holland was able to send his first reports and maps to England, together with complete maps of the Magdalan, that were compiled by other members of Holland’s surveying staff during the same period. He had divided Saint John Island in counties, parishes and townships. The soil and natural environment had been described in detail, longitudes and latitudes been fixed with great precision. Rivers and natural harbors had been recorded and all coastlines been mapped, with soundings of the coastal waters. Even a future capital, Charlottetown, was projected on the map.

The work of Holland and his men was very well received in England, with a rapid growing interest in land speculation as a result. Saint John’s Island was apportioned by lottery in 1767. Captain Holland’s Map of the Island of St. John in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence (7) was of the highest standards and would later be incorporated in Thomas Jefferys’ American Atlas of 1776. There is an insert on the first edition map called a List of Lots and Proprietors names showing the names of several people who played an important role in the life of James Cook: Stephens (lot 1), Saunders (lot 29) and Palliser (lot 63). Holland himself received lot 28 as a reward for his work. The property remained with his descendants for generations.

A closer look on Holland’s map reveals the names of people closely connected to his career: Richmond bay, Amherst Point, Carleton Cove, Haldimand River. We find a Murray River, Murray Island and Murray Harbour. North of Murray Harbour lies Desbarres Point. And on the west coast of the island we find Holland’s tribute to his friend that died in his arms on the Plains of Abraham: Wolfe’s Inlet, Wolfe’s Marshes and Cape Wolfe.


detail from Holland's Map of the island of Saint John, showing Observation Cove

Louisburgh revisited

The Island of Cape Breton was divided in the same manner as Saint John Island and though the circumstances were not as difficult as they were on Saint John’s, the survey demanded the utmost of Holland’s crew. And sometimes even more than that. In december 1765 Holland was closely working with his 24-year old assistant Lieutenant Peter Frederick Haldimand, nephew of General Frederick Haldimand (8). During a survey on a frozen river, the ice suddenly broke and Haldimand was drowned. Holland was deeply affected by the death of his young and very promising assistant. He would mourn for years the loss of ‘not only a friend but my principal assistant in astronomy in which he had made surprising progress’.

A month before the tragic accident on the 26th of October, Holland had arrived in Louisburgh, being back in a place he knew so very well. It’s not hard imagining him walking once again along the sandy beach of Kennington Cove. He might have wondered where on earth James Cook was. The answer is that the Surveyor of New Foundland  had arrived in the harbour of Saint John a few days earlier, at the closing of a long summer season and now was making preparations for the journey home across the Atlantic.

In the spring of 1766 the survey parties were set in motion and by the autumn the general outline of Cape Breton had been traced and all the facts gathered for a proper description. In july 1767 Holland sent completed survey plans of the island to England (9). With the surveys and mapping of the islands in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence Samuel Holland had established his reputation as one of the most important surveyors of British North America at that time.



Holland House on the Sainte Foy Road in Quebec

The storms of Revolution

By the autumn of 1767 Holland was residing at Quebec, where he had been granted a small lot adjacent to the Château Saint-Louis in October 1766. A year later he bought a residence on the Sainte Foy road. He called it, very appropriate, Holland House. But he did not stay long in Quebec. 

The British Government had ordered the survey and detailed mapping of the entire Atlantic coastline and Holland was, beyond doubt, the man to supervise this enormous task. At the same time his collegue Des Barres was employed by the Admirality to conduct hydrographic surveys around Nova Scotia.




It would take years of very hard work to compile the General Map of the Atlantic Coastline that ‘the authorities were so impatient for’.

In 1767 Holland advocated the search for a northwest passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, but he received little encouragement from the authorities. It was Cook who was sent out nine years later on a voyage to find the passage from the North Pacific side.When surveying the New England Coast, Holland made Portsmouth in New Hampshire his headquarters for the field operations. During his stay he compiled the first accurate map of New Hampshire. Apart from his fieldwork he served in commissions to settle bounderies between several states in New England. He was preparing to run the boundary line between New York and Massachusetts when the revolution broke out.

In 1773 Holland moved his headquarters to Perth Amboy in New Jersey. By the time the revolution began, he had obtained 3,000 acres of land in New Hampshire and 24,000 acres in Vermont. As a landowner and surveyor he had strong ties with the American Colonies and it was no surprise that several offers were made to him join ‘the enemy’, who highly valued his skills. But Holland was loyal to Britain and King George and rejected these offers ‘with indignation and contempt’ (5)

He was eventually forced to fly to the coast where he escaped to a British vessel and reached England in december 1775, leaving his family ‘to the mercy of an unrelenting and enraged multitude’. There are several traditions of Holland’s escape in the Holland family and their descendants. In one versions he fled by horseback from the point were he was surveying, the other tells about his imprisonment, how he broke jail and escaped. His wife and family were imprisoned and eventually taken to Boston. After the city was evacuated by the British in 1776, they went back to Quebec and later on to Perth Amboy. Tradition says that in 1776 Holland  found his family there at last, hiding in a tanner’s house.

portrait of captain James Cook by Nathaniel Dance 1776

Meeting an old friend

Samuel Holland stayed in London until May 1776. He had taken with him all his notes, sketches and plans in connection to the surveys he had done previous to the outbreak of the Revolution. He kept himself busy with the preparation of new maps. He cooperated with Des Barres, who was then working on his charts and sailing directions for the coastal waters of North America.(10)

And, at some time during his stay in London, Holland met his old friend James Cook. Unfortunately no records exist of their meeting. Holland only referred to it in his letter to John Graves Simcoe, son of Captain Simcoe, dated January 11th, 1792: Mr Cook expressed to me frequently the obligations he was under to captain Simcoe and on my meeting him in London in the year 1776, after his several discoveries .. (11)  Who wouldn’t dream to hear those two great men of science talk about their profession, sitting at a table in a London coffeehouse. No doubt they recollected memories of Louisburgh and Quebec, and of their joint survey of the great Saint Lawrence. No doubt Cook told his friend in detail about his two great voyages around the world. And at last, I imagine, James Cook unfolded his magnificent Chart of the Southern Hemisphere. No one could have appreciated his achievements more than Samuel Holland. His former pupil had become a brilliant master in his own right.

It was the last time they would see each other. Within three years after their meeting James Cook was murdered on a stony beach of a newly discovered island somewhere in the vast Northern Pacific. We can only guess what Holland’s feeling were when that terrible news reached his home in Quebec more than a year after the tragedy had happened. 


detail from Holland's The Provinces of New York etc.

Quebec and the final years

On the other side of the Atlantic the Revolution was unfolding.Great Britain, in an effort to suppress it, but lacking enough troops of her own, was employing many German mercenaries. Holland was proposed to return to America as an aid-de camp to General Heister, the overall commander of these so called Hessian Troops. He was promoted Major in March 1776 en embarked for North America in May. He appears to have seen action on the battlefields around New York, but most of time he was active behind the lines. In March 1777 he organized a colonial unit called the Guides and Pioneers. In October 1778 General Haldimand, now governor of the Province, called him back to Quebec to resume his duties as surveyor-general and to take up an appointment of ‘muster-master’ of German troops. He wintered in Halifax, reunited with his family in New York and arrived in Quebec in the spring of 1779.

As a member of the Legislative Council of Quebec he was much involved in politics in the years to come but until his last days his true hart remained with surveying and mapping.The British Government had decided to make extensive land grants to loyalists after the Revolution, making it necessary to survey new vast tracks of land. Holland took an active part in or supervised these demanding surveys.The Constitutional Act of 1791 had divided the Province of Quebec into Upper- en Lower Canada. In 1792 responsibility for surveys in the western regions passed to the Surveyor General’s Office for Upper Canada, and Holland and his deputies turned their attention to the new, or eastern, townships of Lower Canada. His surveying methods (survey, description, division into townships etc.) did not alter through the years and the standard of his work would remain of the highest level.

‘It is, indeed, the many maps and the layout of townships in Upper and Lower Canada under his competent administration that constitute the chief legacy of the Canadian career of this great surveyor and cartographer’ to quote the Canadian Dictionary of Biography.(6)


From 1779 on Holland struggled with his health, which more than one time prevented him to carry out his duties for a short or longer while. In 1790 he had an attack of palsy, that bereft him the use of the left part of his body. In April 1792 John Grave Simcoe noted:“Poor Holland, that good and faithful servant of the Crown, is worn out in body, tho’ in full possession of his intellect.” 

Samuel Johannes Holland died on the 28th of December 1801 in his Holland House. Three days later, on the 31st of December, he was laid to rest in a family plot in the garden of Holland Farm, the large family estate that he had bought some years before. He was buried beside his beloved 19-year old son Samuel Lester, who was killed in a duel in which he had used the same pistols that were ‘the gift of General Wolfe to Captain Samuel Holland’ on the eve of the famous battle on the Heights of Abraham.(12)
A circle was full. Samuel Johannes Holland, born at the borders of the IJssel in the Netherlands, had died in sight of the great Saint Lawrence. Between these waters he had lived his life, and these two rivers ran through it.

There are no statues of the great surveyor. He has no biography. But a college on Prince Edward Island bears his name. A rose is named after him, as is an elderly home and dentist practice in Quebec. We find his name on a bronze plaque near a remote little river in Ontario. We can walk along Holland Street. And ‘if we wish for more’ let the maps be enough that bear his name and signature. On these linen sheets and papers we will find his true spirit. In straight lines of longitude and latitude. In coastlines, hills, woods, valleys, rivers, inlets, townships and parishes, all laid down with the strong and confident hand of a man who, just like his kindred spirit James Cook, was a brilliant master of all he surveyed.



Thanks to Elwin Holland, Ian Boreham and Cliff Thornton

The IJssel river, The Netherlands
























James Murray (1721-1784) was appointed Governor of the garrison of Quebec on October 12th 1759. After the surrender of Montreal, October 1760, he became Governor of the District of Quebec. He was Governor of the new Province of Quebec from to 1764-1768.

2 John Montresor (1736 – 1799).

3Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War. The Seven Year’s War and the fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, chapter 41. Vintage Books 2001.

Don W. Thompson: Men and Meridians, The history of Surveying and Mapping of Canada, Volume I. P. 98, Ottawa 1966. Holland copied the Murray Map in 1767 under the title ‘A Plan of the Settled Part of Canada reduced from the large survey in the years 1760 and 1761 by order of General Murray’.

Chipman, Willis. The life and times of Major Samuel Holland. Papers and Records. Ontario Historical Society. Vol. XXI, 1924.

Thorpe, Fred. Samuel Johannes Holland. Canadian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. V.

The full title of the map was: Map of the Island of St. John In the Gulf of St. Laurence Divided Into Counties & Parishes And the Lots, as granted by Government, to which are added The Soundings round the Coast & Harbours, Improv'd from the late Survey of Captain Holland.

General Frederick Haldimand (1718-1791) was Lieutentant Colonel in the 60th Regiment of Foot in which both Holland and Des Barres had served. He was Governor of the Province of Quebec from 1778-1784.

Holland’s ‘Observations made on the Island of Saint John and Cape Breton to ascertain the longitude and latitude of those places .. were eventually published in the Transactions of the Royal Society in 1768.

10 These charts and sailing directions were published from 1777-1784 as The Atlantic Neptune. They were of such quality that they were in use as the standard charts for the East coast for over 50 years to come. Many  maps of Holland were incorporated in the four-volume Atlas.

11See Part I

12 The pistols are now in the McCord Museum at McGill University in Montréal; a watercolour of the pistols is in the Samuel Holland Collection at Holland College in Charlottetown, P.E.l.


© 2009 Diederik van Vleuten