My 3rd great grandfather, William Slight, was born about 1832 in Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland to James Slight (a Mason) and Elizabeth Boyd (daughter of a Mason).

In the 1841 Scotland Census he was living at Court Street, Haddington with his parents James (40) and Elizabeth (40), his siblings Susan (11) and James (5), as well as an Irishman called Peter Murphy (25).

In the 1851 England Census he was recorded as working in Southampton as an "Engraver at Map Office" which means at the Ordnance Survey. He married Louisa Dorothea Hope Moore in 1852 at South Stoneham a few miles from Southampton and their first child (Elizabeth) was born in 1853 at Southampton. In late 1854 the family of three left Plymouth aboard the Shand and arrived in early 1855 at Portland, Victoria.

I know lots about the Australian part of their lives but would like to learn more about William's early life in Scotland. I suspect that Susan, William and James were orphaned not too long after 1841 but I do not know when or where either of their parents died.

My understanding is that Map Engraving was a highly skilled profession and I suspect that in the late 1840s he would have worked for a company in or near Edinburgh St Cuthberts because:

  • his sister Susan Boyd Slight married there in 1852;
  • his future wife Louisa was a Kitchen Maid in the household of Lord Fullerton there in the 1851 Scotland Census; and
  • in 1851 he was lodging in Southampton with the family of another Map Engraver called Thomas McLeod who had married there in 1839.

Prior to this period, I believe the Ordnance Survey "outsourced" maps of Scotland to Edinburgh companies but, when it moved office to Southampton in the early 1840s they brought that function "in-house", which was why some (many?) Edinburgh map engravers followed the work there.

David Law, who was also lodging with Thomas McLeod in 1851, "was one of many Edinburgh engravers who studied at the Trustees' Academy" so I suspect that William may have too.

However, I have not been able to uncover any apprenticeship, guild admission or employment records for him in Scotland, or anything to say definitively that he was living in Edinburgh, so am hoping someone may be able to provide me with some ideas about where to look next?

I also have a theory that William Slight may have worked for the same company as Thomas McLeod (while both were in Edinburgh) and I found that the latter engraved a map of Arbroath before 1842 but I have not yet found who published this map to help zero in on what surviving company records William Slight should be looked for in.

2 Answers 2


You may have checked all these but there are three catalogues I'd check first:

Do you know what trade guild engravers would have come under? I can only work from analogy with my knowledge of Dundee where most (all?) formal apprenticeships would have come under the auspices of one of the trades guilds. While the direct agreements between master and apprentice may not survive, the guild records will show when someone was admitted as a master engraver / whatever.

  • Thanks - I've checked them now but with no success. I've not been able to determine which guild map engravers (or any engravers) came under so any ideas on that are also welcome.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 23:38
  • When I searched on "Edinburgh apprentice", one of those references (NAS???) came up with a body called something like "Edinburgh Printing Guild" - don't bother searching for that, I'm probably wrong on the exact words! This didn't exist until later in the century but it might be worth seeing if that exists now - if it does, contact them and ask who their predecessor organisations were...
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 10:26
  • I'm now pursuing this via an email address ([email protected]) which I found at edinburghcityofprint.org/pages/working-conditions/starting-work/… - hopefully they will give me some more pointers in the right direction.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 11:17

William Slight, was also my ancestor actually my great great grandfather.

The question of whether or not William had a brother called James has fascinated our family for a long time. The distinguished map making career that Wiliam had in Australia was cut short by his death and aaccording to the article http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/latrobejournal/issue/latrobe-68/t1-g-t5.html his son James took over to finish the job. This son James features on all but one of the UK censuses during his adult lifetime and we would love to know if and when he travelled to Australia and whether his burgeoning young family travelled with him. The other family reference which has intrigued us states that the work of William's last project for Alexander John Skene (1820-1894), who was appointed Surveyor-General for Victoria in September 1869, was finished by William's brother James.

Curiouser and curiouser. The family seems to routinely reuse the names William and James so it will need some more detailed analysis, I guess. Maybe you have some clues from the Australia side?

We have only just seriously started further investigations into this branch of our family tree and we certainly discovered the Scotland connections and the strong possibility that William studied at the Trustee Academy in Edinburgh with William McLeod with whom he probably moved down to Southampton in his early twenties. We will happily share discoveries.

My grandmother was his son James's daughter and was one of them that moved into a photography related job no doubt inspired by their father's skills.

It would be great to solve the William 'son or brother' question if anyone can help.

  • The James who finished William's last map "Continental Australia" was his son (born 20 Oct 1855 at Ashby, Victoria, Australia). You seem to be descended from William's younger brother James (who I have been seeking) while we are both descended from their father James.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Jul 13, 2013 at 21:16

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