Benjamin Donn

(1729 - 1798)

Benjamin Donn, a West Country teacher and surveyor, was the recipient of the very first Royal Society of Arts award for the best survey of a county, at the scale of one inch to one mile.

Donn’s Map of the County of Devon, with the City and County of Exeter was engraved by Thomas Jefferys, Geographer to the King (although this connection with the publishing world actually prejudiced the awards committee against him) and published in 1765. It was composed on twelve sheets, with a separate single-sheet index map. Bound examples also have a letterpress title-page, and 12-page index, gazetteer, list of subscribers and so on.

The map is an impressive achievement; it is the first large-scale map of the County of Devon, with an elaborate title-cartouche and insets of Exeter and Plymouth; it also compares favourably with other large-scale maps of the day, both in detail, in the execution and quality of engraving and production, as full deserving of the prize.

Alas for Donn, the prize awarded was £100; he calculated the map cost him £2,000. It was also a relative commercial success: he received seven hundred and fifty subscriptions, with the two dedicatees each taking one hundred copies, but it is doubtful that Donn saw much profit from the venture. Indeed, this would also be his only foray into large-scale surveying. In 1773, he produced A Plan of the City of Bristol and in 1781 A Plan of the City of Salisbury with the adjacent Close.

His other publications were mathematical texts, evidently aimed at a school market, and useful for him in his mathematical school in Bristol.

His son, Benjamin Donne (fl1798-1831), was also a West Country surveyor and mapmaker, who produced plans of Bristol and Bath.