The Burgh of Dundee, before the Ordnance Survey started their large scale 1:500 survey of 1857/8, contracted the Aberdonian architect and civil engineer, James Collie (see The Dictionary of Scottish Architects website), to draw up plans of the town showing contours and principal drains.
Collie was born about 1810 and by the early 1830s had set up in practice in Glasgow. By 1864 he was operating mainly as a civil engineer in Edinburgh, mainly with railway works. He died of bronchitis and apoplexy on 5th May 1881.
Collie’s original index sheet (together with the scale used by him), has not been found. No contemporary scale is given, but a later engineer has pencilled on one of the sheets “50' to 1 inch” which would be 1:600. Collie’s sheets are not on a north/south grid, as later Ordnance Survey plans were to be, but on a skew with the horizontal plane parallel to the waterfront and the vertical plane parallel to Hilltown and the Newtyle Railway ascent. This skew could either have been an economy measure to fit as much as possible into the minimum number of sheets, or that Collie simply employed the older surveying technique of using an existing feature such as a straight stretch of a railway for a baseline. The Collie sheets are not quite as accurate as the later OS survey, so great care should be taken in any civil engineering use such as ground investigation. Although only seven years separated the Collie from the Ordnance Survey, it is astonishing to see the degree of development that occurred in Dundee and particularly in Lochee in that period. This was, of course, the golden period of “Juteopolis” when fortunes would be made from softening the cheap coarse fibre from the Indian subcontinent with whale oil and then spinning and weaving it at enormous profit.
In many cases what were open dams and streams in 1851 had been culverted or covered by 1857. The original line of the Dundee Newtyle railway can be tracked from its terminus in Ward Road at 69NW up to the east of Dundee Prison on 61NW before disappearing into the dogleg tunnel through The Law (the original line used stationary steam engines on the slopes of The Law to haul the wagons up in stages). The Collie survey is of extreme interest in that, unlike the later Ordnance Survey, it carries contour plans (so that the original extent of quarries can be plotted) and the route of drains and sewers (which may still be extant if later widened by the Dundee Police Commissioners).
The sheets have been heavily used by engineers and architects, with the result that they are worn, have annotations, and, unfortunately in the case of the town centre, a large ink stain. They have not been surface cleaned in case the light lines showing contours were erased in the process. To draw the contour rings at set heights would have been a painstaking and lengthy process for Collie. Instruments like a “Semi-circumferentor”, used from the late eighteenth century, used human hair in an eye piece to accurately measure the angle of a sloping hill from Collie up to his surveyor’s wooden cross. The distance on the sloping ground between the surveyor and his cross would be measured with a survey chain. The total length of a Gunter’s chain was 4 poles (66 feet), and the chain was composed of 100 links. This would give Collie the hypotenuse, known to every schoolchild as the longest edge of a triangle. In a process used by the Egyptians four thousand years before, the angle given by the semi-circumferentor would then be used to gauge the distance flown horizontally by a crow from above Collie to his cross. He would then have to gauge the set contour lines heights by extrapolating the set heights from his readings. The military Ordnance Surveyors seven years later would have the advantage of being able to afford brand new instruments such as the more precise “vernier compass” and being aware of up to date military surveying techniques.
As Collie’s original guide has not been found, a temporary location grid of his sheets has been drawn onto a later 1874 street plan, and so many locations on the 1874 grid guide, such as Baxter Park, and the infills to the north of the Dundee Perth and Dundee Arbroath railway embankments, are not shown in his survey; they have still to be constructed.
It is intended to eventually replace this temporary 1874 guide with a more contemporary OS 1:500 index of 1851 to superimpose the Collie grid onto.