Holland College is named after Samuel Holland, a highly-esteemed 18th century surveyor who had strong ties to Prince Edward Island. A collection of Samuel Holland artifacts is on display in the foyer of the Centre for Applied Science and Technology on our Prince of Wales Campus.
Holland was well respected by his peers as a man dedicated to his profession, the advancement of technology, and education. He was commissioned by the British government to survey and map a significant portion of the lands on the eastern seaboard of North America.
Holland began his work in Prince Edward Island. Some 200 years after they were created, his maps are acknowledged by surveyors as being extremely accurate; so accurate, that if his map of P.E.I. – the first ever drawn – is overlaid on a satellite image, there are very few variations.
Samuel Johannes Holland was born in 1728 in Deventer, Netherlands . Holland entered the Dutch artillery at the age of 17. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1747, following the siege of Begen op Zoom in the War of the Austrian Succession. In 1749 he married Gertrude Hasse. The following year, Gertrude gave birth to a daughter. Records suggest that the child died.
In 1754, Holland left the Netherlands and travelled to England. There he received a commission in 1756 as lieutenant in the Royal Americans under the command of the Earl of Loudon and Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Haldimand. Holland sailed to North America in 1756 to work with others on the preparation of a map of New York province. The following year, Holland was promoted to captain lieutenant and in 1758 assigned the position of assistant engineer on an expedition to Louisbourg, ile Royale, in what is now Cape Breton.
At the time, Louisbourg was under French occupation. The British needed as much information as possible about the stronghold and the surrounding area in order to optimize the chances of staging a successful attack. Holland, under the instructions of Brigadier-General James Wolfe, surveyed the areas around the fortress, conducted soundings to determine water depth, and provided Wolfe with engineering advice. The work can’t have been easy. French garrisons posted around the perimeter of the fortress had no qualms about firing at the surveyor as he went about his work.
Holland’s courage and his dedication to his work did not go unnoticed by Brigadier-General Wolfe, who sent a letter of commendation about the young surveyor to the Duke of Richmond. Wolfe and Holland became fast friends, and would remain so until Wolfe’s death on the Plains of Abraham a year later.
The French capitulated at Louisbourg in July of 1758, and Holland spent the following months surveying the area. Working in nearby Kennington Cove one day, Holland was approached by a young officer by the name of James Cook. Cook was intrigued by the instruments that Holland was using, and Holland offered to train him. Together Holland and Cook worked on a survey of the St. Lawrence Gulf and river as the British prepared to attack Quebec.
For quite some time, Holland’s life seems to have entailed stretches of work in uncharted and frequently dangerous locations punctuated by periods of battle, culminating on the Plains of Abraham in 1759, the bloody battle in which Thomas Wolfe, Holland’s dear friend, died.
In the days and months following the siege of Quebec, Holland, then 31, found himself in the beautiful city with time on his hands, as did many of his fellow soldiers. The 18-year-old daughter of a prominent French family in the city caught his eye. Marie Joseph Rolette came from a staunch catholic family, and her father found the British occupation of his city abhorrent. Nevertheless, the young woman went against her father’s wishes, and allowed Samuel Holland to court her. When Holland was ordered back to England three years later, he wanted to take Marie Joseph with him, so the couple eloped.
Holland returned to North America in 1764, when he was appointed Surveyor-General of Quebec and the northern district of America-an area that reached from the Potomac to Niagara and Hudson’s Bay. The British government’s interest in the bountiful fishing grounds around Newfoundland, the Island of St. John (Prince Edward Island), and Nova Scotia dictated that this area should be the first to be surveyed.
So it was that Samuel Holland and his young wife Marie Joseph boarded their ship, the Canceaux, at the beginning of May, 1764 and set sail once again. Adventure and misadventure beset the captain and his crew, and the Canceaux didn’t reach the shores of the Island of St. John until August of that year.
With the prospect of winter looming and accommodations tight in the small settlement, Holland looked for a piece of land that was suitable both for building a home and as a strategic place from which to begin conducting his observations. He decided on a beautiful location just outside the mouth of the Charlottetown harbour, in Observation Cove, which is now called Holland Cove.
It was quite a transition for Marie Joseph. Raised in an elite metropolitan family, she left the luxuries of civilization and settled in a sparsely populated, isolated island; but the young woman proved worthy of the challenge, and seemed to thrive there.
Local Acadians found Marie Joseph more than sympathetic to their plight as they struggled for survival in a predominantly – and increasingly hostile – British environment. Documents show that Holland often spoke on behalf of the Acadians; probably in part at least at the behest of his wife.
With his assistant surveyor, Thomas Wright, and their crew, Holland divided the island into three counties, and then into 67 lots, the ownership of which was determined by a lottery amongst wealthy and influential British gentlemen in London. Samuel Holland was awarded Lot 28, which he had named after General Tryon, an acquaintance of his.
But Holland’s military career was far from over, and the family travelled with him along the eastern seaboard as he continued his work. The family lived in Boston for a while, and then in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, which was then a British colony. By this time, tensions between Britain and the American colonies were reaching boiling point. Holland, staunchly loyal to the king, rebuffed offers to join the revolutionaries and returned to London, England.
The Holland family were forced into hiding in Perth Amboy after their home was ransacked and looted by revolutionaries. Once again showing her strength of character and bravery, Marie Joseph managed to get not only her children safely to British occupied Boston, but also some of her husband’s treasured instruments.
Holland’s adventures continued throughout the American Revolution (1775 – 1783), although his loyalty to the British cost him his lands and property in New Jersey. He and Marie Joseph settled their expanding family a few miles outside of Quebec, near Sainte-Foy; and Holland focused on his latest responsibilities, settling displaced loyalists who had fled to Canada.
In total, Samuel Holland and Marie Joseph had 10 children, although the names of only seven can be found: John Frederick was born three weeks after the couple arrived on St. John Island; Henry was drowned at sea in 1798; Frederick Braham died in Quebec in 1836; George Speth, about whom there is little information; and Samuel Lester, who was killed in a duel at the age of 19. Samuel Lester’s death at such a young age was even more tragic because the pistols that he used in the fatal duel were gifts to his father from Thomas Wolfe. Holland also had at least two daughters: Josette Charlotte remained a spinster after the death of her fiancee and lived with her mother; and Susannah married Thomas Ward.
By the time Holland reached his early sixties his health was failing. A lifetime of adventure and peril had taken their toll on his body, although his mind remained sharp. In 1801 he officially passed on the duties of Surveyor General to William Vondenvelden, and passed away in December of that year.
There are hundreds of people across North America who can trace their roots back to Samuel Holland. All along the eastern seaboard there are schools, parks, and streets that bear his name; yet few remember the story of the man who dedicated so much of his life to the mapping of the New World.
At Holland College, we are proud of the connection that we have to this visionary. Holland’s dedication to progress, his willingness to embrace new technology, and his enthusiasm for teaching embody the principles that we hold very close to our hearts.
Davies, Blowden. “The Romance of a Map Maker”. The Canadian Magazine. October, 1928.
Suthren, Victor. “Creating the Instrument: The Transformation of James Cook in North American Waters, 1758-1767”. Soundings. Issue 2, Spring 2005. www.hmsrichmond.org.
F. J. Thorpe. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. www.biographi.ca. Downloaded January 8, 2007.
Special thanks to Jeffrey Lock, www.colonialinstruments.com for supplying images of period instruments.