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John 'Ian' Bartholomew

Led firm confidently through both wars and difficult times [1][2]

Photo of Ian Bartholomew at his desk
Ian Bartholomew at his desk (1890–1962)

John George's eldest son, John [known as Ian] Bartholomew (1890–1962), was born at 12 Blacket Place, Edinburgh, on 12 February 1890.

Ian went to Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh and later, following the family tradition of a career in cartography, undertook special studies in the universities of Leipzig and Paris before embarking on an Arts course back in Edinburgh University, under George G. Chisholm, in the elevation of whose Lectureship into a Chair of Geography he was later to play so large a part. Among his cognate studies, he took geology under Professor James Geikie, and some of his contemporaries still cherish a memory of a class excursion saved from scattering, in a dense fog on the Bathgate Hills one Saturday morning, by young Bartholomew suddenly producing a penny tin whistle—whippin’ them in to a merry tune.

Photo of Ian sitting in trench
Ian takes a break in the
trenches near Ypres, 1915

The First World War provided grimmer tests of leadership. In 1914 joined the army as a territorial sergeant and by the end of the same year was commissioned into the 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders and served in France and Flanders. He was ever mindful of his men, who loved him, and his particular mixture of kindly, though slightly wry philosophy and Scottish piety gained him a place both as leader and confidante. He was mentioned three times in dispatches and was awarded the Military Cross in 1915. His younger brother Hugh was killed in the war. Later he served on Haig's staff at St. Omer and Montreuil as a staff-captain of Intelligence.

At the termination of hostilities he returned to Edinburgh, was given his M.A. degree and re-entered the family business with his father John George.

Family photo of Ian and Minou standing with their children
Family photo (left to right): Ailie, Robbie,
Ian, Peter (front), Minou, Alick and John

On 22 May 1920 he married Marie 'Minou' Antoinette (1898–1972), the third daughter of Dr Georges 'Léon'[3] Hyacinthe Sarolea (1864–1928), a physician of Hasselt, Belgium, and his wife, Marie Félicité Goetsbloets (1871–1898). They had four sons and two daughters, one of whom died young.

Also in 1920 he succeeded to the management of the family business. Ian continued many of his father's cartographic ventures, notably the association with The Times, and began new ones, such as the production of road maps to satisfy the demand of an expanding motoring market.

He saw the family firm go from strength to strength and was himself appointed 'Cartographer to King George V' in 1921. The Times Survey Atlas commenced by his father was completed by him and he went on to produce a long line of universally acclaimed atlases—Handy Reference Atlas, Citizens Atlas of the World, Survey Gazetteer of the British Isles, Times Handy Atlas, Advanced Atlas of Modern Geography, and so on to The Times Atlas of the World (5 vols.) and some of the most up-to-date and most modernly produced maps for tourist and air-line companies.

His ever-active mind was always seeking further advances towards perfection in cartography—new methods of map projection, cleaner colours for differentiation, better type for lettering and paper more resistant to variations of temperature and humidity, to which end the Edinburgh Geographical Institute was an increasingly active laboratory. He oversaw the introduction of rotary offset printing machines.

His interest in promoting the cause and science of geography led him to give generously of his time and experience in raising the status of its teaching in the University of Edinburgh and in furthering its work by the provision of adequate library and laboratory facilities. He was also instrumental in establishing the chair in Geography at the University, completing a project his father had begun.

photo of Hillary and Hunt with wives on steps of Ian
Hillary and Hunt visit Ian's Inveresk home
with their wives in October 1953

Like his father he was intensely devoted to the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, following him as Honorary Secretary in 1920, a post in which he served most assiduously until, thirty years later, in 1950 he relinquished the duties to become President; for four years he guided the Society’s affairs with conspicuous success and general acceptance—years crowned by the return of the successful Everest expedition of Edmund Hillary and John Hunt.

Ian and Minou's visitor's book at home includes a long list of famous explorer's droppping in on their visits to Edinburgh. During the duration of Second World War, their home was a billet for a host of Polish and Belgian officers stationed in the city.

Informal photo of Ian sitting by a tree
Informal photo of Ian in later years

The call for Bartholomew’s services came from a wide field and, despite the later increasing handicap of severe arthritis, he never declined where he felt he could help. He was a member of the Royal Geographical Society’s Permanent Committee on Geographical Names, the Royal Society’s National Committee on Geography, the Board of Trustees of the National Library of Scotland, the Executive Committee of the National Trust for Scotland and the Council of the Royal Society of Edinburgh — the three last named appealing very deeply to his love for his home country. He was one of the very few honorary members of the Royal Society Club, and always a welcome figure among the dinner-jacketed company sitting beneath the benign portrait of Sir Walter Scott.

Medals and honours were bound to come to so distinguished and so public spirited a man, albeit so retiring a personality. The Royal Scottish Geographical Society awarded him its Gold Medal in 1954, his old university made him an LL.D. in 1956, in 1960 he received the C.B.E. and a year later the Royal Geographical Society bestowed upon him their Patron’s Medal for his outstanding 'contributions to cartography'.[4]

Ian died in Edinburgh on 9 February 1962, by then severely disabled by the arthritis that inhibited his mobility in his later years, and was survived by his wife, who died on 14 January 1972.

[1] Abridged & adapted from 'JOHN BARTHOLOMEW C.B.E., M.C., LL.D. An Appreciation by D. A. Allan (Scottish Geographical Magazine)
[2] includes extracts from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
[3] Léon Sarolea was brother Charles Sarolea (1870-1953) , the famous Edinburgh University Professor of French and bibliophile
[4] Obituary: John Bartholomew, C.B.E., M.C., LL.D.; G. R. Crone; The Geographical Journal, Vol. 128, No. 2 (Jun., 1962), p. 254

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