Petty: Down Survey

Pdf Petty, Doctor William. The History of the Survey of Ireland, Commonly Called The Down Survey. Dublin: Irish Archaeological Society, 1851
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William Petty was born in Hampshire on 26 May 1623. He was a seaman, a teacher of music and of anatomy before he came to Ireland in 1652 as the Physician-General of Cromwell's army. He was not only a physician but a great mathematician.

In 1652, the Commonwealth Parliament found that, following the Irish rebellion and confiscation of the Irish chieftains’ lands, there were enormous arrears of pay due to the army. One of the Settlement Acts, passed on the 27 September 1653, provided for the soldiers to be paid out of the ‘forfeited’ estates. These lands consisted of those of Catholics who could not prove their good will towards the Commonwealth. These people were forfeit one third of their estates and assigned lands to the value of the other two-thirds wherever the Commonwealth appointed. The original estate was then deemed to be the possession of the King.

Of the earlier surveys made under this Act, the Civil Survey was the more important. Its purpose was the discovery and description of the forfeited lands. From these discoveries, lists were made, and these were then supplied to the surveyors, who measured and mapped the lands. This is known as the Down Survey.

Commissioners were appointed for the purpose of carrying out its direction. Petty was given the job of making a survey of the whole of Ireland with a view to the utilization of its natural resources and the improvement of its agricultural production. Abstracts from the Civil and Down Surveys were then made, divided into counties and bound up in large volumes. These volumes were called Distribution Books, and from them the list of forfeiture was taken. Petty’s maps are a fascinating insight into the attempt to make Ireland anew through population movement, transplantation and the settlement of thousands of Cromwellian soldiers on Irish land.

In undertaking the task, Petty trained and supervised a thousand soldiers who completed the work in 15 months. In return, he was to become an extensive landowner. As payment for the survey, he received 3500 acres of land in Kenmare, to which he added 2000 more from soldiers anxious to leave Ireland for home. In 1661, King Charles 11 knighted him and gave him the remainder of Kenmare and Tuoist parishes; he then owned 270,000 acres of land in County Kerry . In later years, Petty was to be one of the founders of demographic and economic statistics, a founding member of the Royal Society, and a Member of Parliament.

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