The Surveyor’s Diary – Part 5

Challenges Faced by the Surveyor

As evident from the first article, life as a surveyor in the early 1800s was not easy. Today we learn about two other challenges that the surveyor Valentine Gill faced, from two diary excerpts. Mother nature and mankind.

Thursday, 11th July, 1815
This afternoon [I] renewed the survey after one of the most dreadful thunder showers I have ever experienced in my life. The hand of heaven was truly visible in protecting us. The trees over our head [were] struck with lightning, we strongly smelled the sulphur and had we reached the shore one minute sooner, we [would] have been struck also as the lightning entered the ground at our landing place.

Just last week Nova Scotia was rattled by a small thunderstorm. For most people today, lightning means a risk of losing electrical power, the possibility of property damage, the chance of brushfire, and the very unlikely chance of being struck. Usually lightning is more entertaining than it is scary. However, to somebody camping out along the lake 201 years ago, a violent thunderstorm could be quite dangerous. It is easy to understand how seeing the trees above you get struck by lightning while you are essentially in the middle of the wilderness would be quite scary, with no form of medical assistance available to you, and no way to reach a town quickly in the event of a disaster.

This next excerpt deals with a problem that many people can relate to, difficult neighbours.

Monday, 17th July, 1815
At this, [I] was overtaken by Dan McHaffy, a most uncouth and boorish man, who, to show me the lands were his, ordered me forthwith to leave them. Also, to show me how much Law he knew, [he] threatened me with an action of trespass, although at the same time I was over the shoe in mud that the tide had left at low water. I mentioned this to show the ill and litigious dispositions of many people in the country. It’s a pity such could possess property.

Today it is unlikely that a surveyor would be asked to study private lands without the permission of the land owner, but this was not so in 1815. Gill probably had some form of permission from the government to survey these lands, but with nobody within miles of the lake to back him up it makes sense for him to have backed off.

Thank you for reading! The next article will be the last of this series. It will be published on August 9th.

– Martin Earle