Saturday 18 July 2009

Comerford profiles 6: Nicholas Comberford (ca 1600-1673), 17th-century cartographer

Nicholas Comberford’s image of the Christmas Islands in 1667 was reproduced on a postage stamp from the Christmas Islands in 1991

Patrick Comerford


Nicholas Comberford is an important mapmaker from the 17th century and should also be regarded as a Kilkenny-born artist. But, while it has been increasingly easy to trace an identify his immediate family and his Irish family roots, it appears that art historians still find it difficult to accept his works as those of an Irish cartographer.[1]

In the past decade or two there has been a revival of interest in mapmaking, with old maps fetching new record prices in antique shops, and a flurry of new books on the subject.[2] Although mapmaking in the high Middle Ages moved from speculation and fantasy to one of providing worthwhile information for travellers, mapmakers often lived in poor conditions, working with limited knowledge, much of it acquired second-hand from travellers with little scientific, geographical knowledge. Despite the often poor rewards and very crude methods of working, early European mapmakers frequently produced works that not only provide interesting sources for social, economic, geographical and political history, but also produced maps that have been acclaimed in their own rights as works of art.

Nicholas Comberford and the Thames School

In recent decades, the 17th-century work of Nicholas Comberford has come to the attention of many scholars. His works have been catalogued in the British Library and can be seen in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, the New York Public Library, and the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University, and some other museums and libraries. Nicholas is a widely-acclaimed, leading and important member of the London group of chart-makers, who used similar colours, patterns and techniques, worked on vellum, and lived close to the dockyards at Stepney and Wapping on the Thames. They have come to be called the Thames School.[3]

Other leading members of the Thames School included John Daniel, to whom Nicholas was apprenticed, and Nicholas Comberford’s own apprentice, John Burston. [4] Although Daniel was admitted to the Drapers’ Company in 1590, his earliest known chart is dates 1614: “A chart of the South Atlantic.”[5] These chart makers were members of the Drapers’ Company, a mediaeval guild that continues to have wide-ranging interests and responsibilities in the City of London: it administers charitable trusts relating to relief of need, education and almshouses, it provides banqueting and catering services, and it fosters its heritage and traditions of good fellowship. The Drapers’ Company is ranked third in precedence of the great 12 livery companies of the City of London.

Nicholas Comberford of Stepney remained a member of the Drapers’ Company throughout his life. In a case at the Surrey assizes, he is referred to as “Nicholas Comberford of Stepney, citizen and draper.” His maps charted the world from the East Indies and India to Brazil and the coast of North America. However, unlike the other members of the Thames School, he was not an Englishman, but a Kilkenny-born Irishman, who, as well as being overlooked until recently by cartographers and art historians alike, has been overlooked too in his native county.

This Kilkenny-born artist appears to have lived in a garret in squalid conditions, working in obscurity as a map maker in the Wapping area. His main work appears to cover almost half a century, from 1626 to 1670, and is now highly acclaimed. But in the 1650s, at the height of his career, he was poor and was paid little for his work. Although he had charted much of the world, he never travelled much further than the journey from Kilkenny to London, a journey that he appears to have regretted in the closing days of his life, when he longed to return to Ireland once more.

Part of the difficulty in identifying Nicholas Comerford as a member of the Kilkenny family arises because many English map cataloguers have spelled his name Comberford,[6] leading to confusion and his identification with the Staffordshire family of that name. Nor was Canon Carrigan aware of Nicholas Comberford, his important contribution to 17th-century life, and his place in the Inchiholohan or Castleinch branch of the family.[7] Apart from the fact that the historic and artistic importance of mapmakers and their work have come to be appreciated only in recent years, the manuscripts relevant to tracing Nicholas Comerford’s life were not published and available to readers until after Carrigan’s four volumes went to press in 1905.

The Comerfords of Inchiolohan or Castleinch

It is easier to trace Nicholas Comberford’s ancestors in Kilkenny than to find details of his immediate family, or, indeed, details of his own life.

Grace’s Castle, the former gaol in Kilkenny … Nicholas Comberford says his father, Nicholas Comerford, was the King’s Gaoler at Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

According to his own account,[8] Nicholas Comberford’s father was Nicholas Comerford, the ‘King’s Gaoler’ at Kilkenny, and he was a grandson of Garret Comerford of Inshilholan (Inchiolohan or Castleinch). [See Chapter 7: The Comerfords of Castleinch and Waterford] Garret Comerford (c. 1550-1604) was the Queen’s Attorney-at-Laws for Connaught, MP for Callan, Second Baron of the Exchequer and Chief Justice of Munster [See Comerford Profiles 4: Justice Garret Comerford (ca 1558-1604), judge and politician].[9] [See ] Just a year before his death, Garret was the third or fourth richest person with lands in Co Cork.[10]

In his will, Garret or Gerald Comerford named two daughters, Margaret and Mary, and five sons: Foulk, James, Nicholas, Edward and Patrick.[11] The second named son, James, can be identified as the Revd James Comerford, SJ (1583-1640) of Waterford;[12] in addition, two other sons not mentioned in the will or at the inquest have been identified by the Jesuit historian Edmund Hogan as Jesuits and brothers of James Comerford: Richard Comerford (1579-ca 1624/26), later Rector of the Irish College in Salamanca, 1621-1624;[13] and Thomas Comerford (1583-1640), Professor of Theology at Compostella and later a distinguished preacher in Cork and Waterford.[14]

Move to Stepney

However, it is difficult to trace Nicholas Comberford’s immediate family, including his father, Nicholas Comerford. The elder Nicholas Comerford can be identified with the third son named in Garret Comerford’s will. Nicholas the mapmaker says his father, Nicholas Comerford, was the ‘King’s Gaoler’ at Kilkenny, but I have failed to trace this Nicholas Comerford in Kilkenny’s civic records or in the Ormond deeds, and can find no names for his wife or his other children.[15]

Nicholas Comberford the mapmaker was probably born in Kilkenny ca 1600. He moved to London in his teens, long before 1620, and settled in Stepney, where a number of Comberfords were living for a few generations. They may have been Irish cousins, or members of the Comberford family from Staffordshire, who would have accepted him as kin; in either case, they probably made it easy for him to find a place to live, and to find an apprenticeship with the Company of Drapers as a “plat-maker” or map-maker.

The parish records of Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, show that George Comberford (? born ca 1543-1548) had a daughter Abigail, who was baptised in Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 18 October 1573. She was married in Saint Dunstan’s on 3 April 1592 to Nicholas Synnas.[16] George Comberford may also have been the father of: [17]

1, Thomas Comberford, gentleman, of Westminster and Saint Dunstan’s-in-the-West [sic,], died ca 5 March 1636, when his will was proved by his nephew, John Comberford.
2, Agnes Comberford, who was married in Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 24 March 1588 to John Beverley.
3, William Comberford, who had one or two sons:
1a, William Comberford, who was baptised in Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 10 April 1608.
2a? John Comberford.

Thomas Comberford’s nephew, John Comberford, proved the will of Thomas Comberford, gentleman, of Westminster and Saint Dunstan’s-in-the-West. on 5 March 1636. John was married in Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 19 July 1620 to Mary Ady, and they had a daughter:

1a, Sarah (1626-1626).

John Comberford also had two sisters who were married in Stepney around the time that Nicholas Comberford moved there: Elizabeth Comberford, who was married in Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 26 February 1623 to Michael Morland; and Mary Comberford, who was married in Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 14 February 1628 to James Woolcock. [18]

Apprentice mapmaker

For civil purposes, Stepney was divided into four hamlets – Ratcliffe, Limehouse, Poplar and Mile End – and the northern part of the hamlet of Ratcliffe, where Nicholas lived, is on the north bank of the Thames, between Shadwell and Limehouse, and includes Saint Dunstan’s, the parish church of Stepney. Ratcliffe was known as “sailor town,” and from the 14th century had been a centre for shipbuilding and for fitting and provisioning ships. In the 16th century, various voyages of discovery were supplied from and departed from Ratcliffe, including those of Sir Hugh Willoughby (1553) and Martin Frobisher (1570s).

By the early 17th century, when Nicholas was living there, Ratcliffe had the largest population of any village in Stepney, with 3,500 residents. It was a site of shipbuilding in the 17th century, when a number of naval sailing warships were built there for the Royal Navy, including one of the earliest frigates, the Constant Warwick (1645). Located on the edge of Narrow Street on the Wapping waterfront it was made up of lodging houses, bars, brothels, music halls and opium dens. This over-crowded and squalid district acquired an unsavoury reputation with a large transient population.

The coat-of-arms of the Company of Drapers at the entrance to Drapers’ Hall, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

As Nicholas Commerford or Comberford, he was apprenticed to the mapmaker John Daniel in the London Drapers’ Company (coat-of-arms above) school of portolan chart makers.

Comberford’s master, Daniel, was the first draper-chart-maker of the Company of Drapers, and Nicholas completed his apprenticeship with him in 1620.[19] From about 1590 onwards, the seafaring developments of the late Elizabethan period generated a demand for charts and maps that was met by a group of draughtsmen who have become known as the Thames School, named from their obvious association with London and the river.

This group, active over a long period until the early years of the 18th century, embraced about 30 to 40 names, including Gabriel Tatton, John Daniel, Nicolas Comberford, his pupil John Burston (fl 1638-65), Burston’s apprentice John Thornton (fl 1667-1701) and William Hack (c. 1680-1700). Of these, the most active were Hack, who is credited with about 1,600 charts, Daniel, Comberford and Thornton. Daniel’s acclaimed chart of the Mediterranean (1642) was highly decorative and was typical of the maps and charts that would have graced the collections and walls of the merchants of London, of the ship masters themselves, and later of collectors of antiquarian items.[20]

Saint Dunstan’s Church, Stepney … Nicholas Comberford and Mary Kithen were married here on 10 June 1624 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

As Nicholas Commerford, he married Mary Kithen of Ratcliffe in Saint Dunstan’s Parish Church, Stepney, on 10 June 1624, when he is described as a “Draper.”[21]

Saint Dunstan’s in Stepney High Street dates back to long before 952, when the Bishop of London replaced the then wooden structure with a stone church dedicated to All Saints. In 1029, when Saint Dunstan was canonised, the church was rededicated to Saint Dunstan and All Saints. The church served the whole of Middlesex east of the City of London until the early 14th century, when new churches were built at Whitechapel and Bow. The existing church, where Nicholas was married and his children were baptised is the third on the site and was built of Kentish ragstone in the 15th century.

The church has a long traditional link with the sea and many sailors were buried here. It was once known as the “Church of the High Seas,” and until recently births, marriages and deaths at sea were registered there. During Nicholas Comberford’s lifetime, the churchyard was enlarged in the to cope with the massive number of deaths during the Great Plague of London: 6,583 people died in one 18-month period, with 154 being buried in one day in September 1665. Roger Crab, the 17th-century hermit, who lived on a diet solely of herbs, roots, leaves, grass and water, is buried in the churchyard.

Inside Saint Dunstan’s Parish Church, Stepney … Nicholas Comberford was an active parishioner, and took part in the vestry meeting in 1645 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

He continued to live in the parish, where he was “of the precincts of St Katherine,” was active in parish life, and is recorded as attending a vestry meeting in 1645. In the parish records, he is described as a draper and is named variously as Nicholas Cumberford and Commerford. At the February 1645 Vestry, there were no less than 11 captains from Ratcliffe and Limehouse among an attendance of 30 parishioners.[22]

Later, when he was living in London, Nicholas would tell visitors from Ireland that his kindred had many good estates in Ireland, but they also included a priest who by then was in Spain, and another who was a drunk and who robbed him. The priest in Spain may have been either Thomas Comerford (1583-1636) or James Comerford (1583-1640), two of his three Jesuit uncles who were sons of Garret Comerford. As Nicholas was a supporter of the Parliamentarian cause, and had left Ireland around 1630, he was unlikely to have known of the death in Ireland of his two Jesuit uncles since leaving Kilkenny, and may well have believed that one of them was still alive in Spain. Perhaps too he was unaware that his second cousin, Patrick Comerford, had become Bishop of Waterford and Lismore [See, ].

By the mid-1650s, Nicholas Comerford had been out of Ireland for 25 years, and he claimed that he had been true to Parliament. Like many an Irishman, he appears to have talked about returning home; he wrote home regularly, inquiring about his family in Ireland, and, according to distant kinsmen who visited him, he intended to go over ‘the next summer’ to see his family.

Squalor in Wapping

According to his signature on most of his maps and charts, Nicholas Comberford lived at Radcliffe in Stepney, although a visitor in 1655 says he lived in Wapping. We are left with a very full description of Comberford’s living conditions and family circumstances from an almost mocking account of a visit to him contained in a letter from that visitor, William Dobbyns, to his cousin John (later Sir John) Percivale, written on 17 December 1655.[23] Percivale’s neighbour, Alexander Pigott of Dounderry and Inishonan, Co Cork, was a younger son of John Pigott who was killed in 1641, and a grandson of Thomas Colclough of Tintern Abbey, Co Wexford. Alexander’s sister Thomasina had married another member of the family, Foulk Comerford, and so she was related by marriage of Nicholas Comerford the mapmaker.[24]

Dobbyns learned that Alexander Pigott had written ‘a very earnest letter’ to his brother, Thomas Pigott, of Long Ashton, Somerset. In his letter, he referred to his niece, a Comerford, probably Foulk Comerford’s grand-daughter, Thomasina Comerford, who later married Major Benjamin Barrington of Moret, Queen’s County.[25]

According to a family rumour, she had a rich childless uncle in England, who had an estate valued at £10,000. This man had sent over many times inquiring about his kindred in Ireland. Alexander Pigott, in his letter to his brother, asks him to locate his niece’s rich uncle. Pigott’s mother, Martha Colclough, also believed there was such a rich Comerford living in England. Dobbyns found the whole affair amusing, and said Alexander Pigott ‘deserves to be jeered to death’ because of his efforts to locate the man. Dobbyns and his friends located the ‘rich’ uncle, who turned out to be Nicholas Comberford, the poor mapmaker, who had left Kilkenny around the year 1630 and who was now living in squalor.

Dobbyns wrote to Percivale, giving an account of his visit to Nicholas Comberford’s home. The letter was for their mutual amusement, but the account is anything but comical, and shows how the fortunes of this branch of the family had declined within half a century of the death of Garret Comerford in 1604.

Dobbyns describes the squalid conditions in which he found Nicholas working and living with his family. An ‘old gent,’ he lived with a cousin, described as ‘an ill-favoured dirty slut … with a black neck cloth and her hair out behind her kerchief.’ Nicholas was ‘in a working Irish cap without a band, an apron before him and slip shoed.’ He worked with his son, who appears to have been married to an English woman, for she complained to the visitors from Ireland; ‘I think the devil spits Irish kindred … they will keep us poor enough … We are never a week almost but one beggardly fellow or other that wanted a meal’s meat came thither’ to claim he was her father-in-law’s kindred. There were five or six children in the house, with one shoe or stocking a piece. Dobbyns describes being sat down that Monday to a poor meal of lowly brown loaf, salt, two cold marrowbones, and three carrots from the day before.[26]

Pigott claimed he was related to the Comerford family, descended ‘from the best of the sept, from Garret of Inshilolan.’ Dobbyns describes the reaction of Nicholas: ‘At which he was in great rage, and swore, by my salvation, Garret and I are but three and three, for my father was Nicholas, the ‘King’s Gaoler’ in Kilkenny.’

Comberford’s earliest work

Nicholas and his son were described by Dobbyns as card makers or map makers of the sea coasts. Nicholas worked in a garret in the house in Wapping, and was paid 25 shillings for a map that would take about three weeks to make. Nicholas Comerford’s works remained unclaimed until the mid-20th century. In recent years, he has been fully identified as a member of the group of London chart makers now called the Thames School.

His first work has been identified by Thomas Smith and Thomas Suárez as an early chart of the Mediterranean, signed and dated 1626. This portolan is an illuminated manuscript, hand-drawn in colour on vellum and was once mounted on two boards or panels, and measures about 405 x 765 mm. It is smaller than later Mediterranean charts, which usually measure about 45 x 24.5 inches. In addition, it lacks the network of loxodromes radiating from the regularly spaced intersections and circular compass roses that characterise the oceanic charts of the mid-17th century. Instead, Nicholas used a grid of squares of about 2.75 inches on a side and covering the entire chart without reference to latitude.

This is an illuminated manuscript in vellum, measuring 405 x 765 mm. Pasting it on hinged wooden boards facilitated its use and storage both on board ship and at dockside facilities; the holes visible along its centre-fold were cut to allow the hinges to protrude. This “platt” covers the area from the Straits of Gibraltar through the eastern bounds of the Mediterranean, and includes most of the Black Sea. It is representative of the portolan charts which an English sailor might have purchased from a “platt-shop” when setting off on a voyage to the Mediterranean or Levant in the heyday of the English zeal for exploration As the chart’s function was strictly maritime, the use of inland data was unnecessary. Instead, lists of islands occupy Europe, and a mileage scale is placed in Asia Minor. Atypically, it is not criss-crossed with rhumb lines which formed a framework on most sea charts.”[27]

Two of the squares are occupied by a quarter rose, a common feature for pilotage charts, of which hundreds were made by the Thames School from about 1670s on. The chart shows strong similarities in craftsmanship to John Daniel’s chart of the west coast of Europe and Africa of the same year. [28]

Since its discovery, this chart has been used by all sides in the controversy over the use of the name “Macedonia” in the Balkans. This chart was in the possession of a French family living in the south of France for several generations, and it only came to the attention of academics interested in the work of the Thames School when it was acquired by a collector in Paris in the mid-1970s. [29] Until then, the earliest work by Nicholas Comberford was thought to be the Its discovery extended Nicholas Comberford’s known period of chart-making to nearly half a century, from 1626 to 1670, and provides an example of his early work that is similar to that of other members of the Thames School of the same period: “It indicates that Comberford, like Daniel and Burston, changed his style of work somewhat, although not as markedly as did the later practitioners of the Thames School.”[30]

The signature on this portolan, which Nicholas Comberford placed in Africa, reads: “This Platt was Made by Nicholas Commerford dwelling Neare unto the west End of the Schoole House at Ratcliff. For John Gibbons Ano 1626.” Smith notes the address is the same as that on Comberford’s 26 other charts of record, but the phraseology is slightly at variance with the more usual “Made by …” He also points out that is the only known case in which he spells with name with two Ms.[31] After this, Nicholas adopts the spelling of the name associated with the Comberford family of Staffordshire.

Comberford’s later works

In all 27 charts by Nicholas Comberford have been recoded.

The British Museum Library collection in London includes seven charts by Nicholas Comerford, dating between 1647 and 1665: [32]

1, A map of the south Atlantic (1647).

2, The north part of the Atlantic with part of Canada and the coast of Europe (1657).

3, The Mediterranean, with its coasts (1657).

4, A map of the Mediterranean (1663).

5, The Atlantic, with the west coast of Africa and part of Brazil (1664).

6, The Indian seas, parts of India and the east coast of Africa (no date).

7, The English Channel (1665): a Portolan chart.[33]

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, has a collection of seven maps by Nicholas Comberford:

1, North Atlantic (above) (1638): This chart, on four sheets of vellum, is the second earliest known work by Comberford, and is on loan to the museum in Greenwich from Lincoln Cathedral. It has suffered considerable water damage. The vellum was originally glued to oak boards but is now detached.

2,Atlantic Ocean 5 degrees south to 57 degrees north (above) (1650): This map, measuring 71 x 98 cm is on two sheets of vellum on four hinged boards, each 71 x 24.5 cm. It comes from the Heathcote family collection. The signature is: “Made by Nicholas Comberford dwelling neare to the west end of the schoole house at the signe of the platt in Redcliffe anno 1650.”

3, North-East Atlantic with the coasts of northern Europe, Iceland and Greenland (above) (1651): This measures 87.5 x 78.5 cm, and is made of two joined sheets of vellum each 21.5 x 87.5 cm on four hinged boards. It is curious to note that the Norwegian territory is named as “Finnmarken.” The signature reads: “Made by Nicholas Comberforde dwelling neare to the west end of the schoole house at the sign of the platt in Redcliffe anno 1651.”

4, Hispaniola (above) (1653): This chart, also from the Heathcote family collection, is a single sheet of vellum, measuring 47 x 89.5 cm, mounted on two hinged boards each 47 x 45.5 cm. It was made by Comberford in Ratcliffe in 1653. A year later, Cromwell’s forces attempted to take Hispaniola from the Spanish but failed. Today, the island is divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

5, The South Part of Virginia (above) (1657): This single sheet of vellum, measuring 38 x 50 cm is mounted on two hinged boards, each 39 x 25 cm. This chart is also from the Heathcote collection. Another copy with slight differences but the same date is in the New York Public Library.

6, East Indies (above) (1665): This single sheet Portulan measures 70.5 x 55.5 cm. It is made of vellum mounted on two hinged boards, each 70.5 x 27.5 cm. The signature reads: “Made by Nicholas Comberford dwelling at the signe of the platt neare the west end of the school house in Ratcliffe anno 1665.”

7, Atlantic coasts of Europe, Norway to Finisterre (above) (1666): This is made of two joined sheets of vellum, 78 x 107.5 cm, mounted on four hinged boards, each 79 x 27 cm. The signature states: “Made by Nicholas Comberford at the Signe of the Platt neare the west end of the schoole house in Ratcliffe anno 1666.”

There is one map by Comberford in the New York Public Library:

1, The south part of Virginia now the north part of Carolina (above) (1657). This map in the New York Public Library, is similar to Comberford’s map, The south part of Virginia (1657) in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, but the signature reads: “Nicholas C[o]mberford fe[c]itt anno 1657.” These two maps record for the first time many names still in use. Some of them, such as “Battis Ponte” on Pamlico River, were probably given by Captain Nathaniel Battis, an early explorer, landowner and settler. In the title of the New York map, the words “now the north part of Carolina” were added in a later hand some time after the grant of Carolina in 1663.[34]

The University of Kansas has four of Comberford’s works:

1, The Biscay Channel (1641): This was long thought to be the earliest work by Comberford.[35]

2, The English Channel and North Atlantic (1641): a Portolan chart.

3, The Mediterranean (1666): A Portolan map of four panels, formerly hinged together, each panel measuring 803 x 292 mm. It is paper on wood, and was made in Ratcliffe.

4, The English Channel and North Atlantic (1668): A portolan chart.

There are five Comberford maps or charts in the Sterling National Library in Yale University:

1, The Mediterranean (above) (1647): This portolan provides one of the earliest cartographic identifications of Romania as a placename for the area of the modern state of Romania. The westernmost point of the northern coastline marked on the map us ‘Barrannieda’ (to the west of Gibraltar and Seville) on that part of Europe which is identified by Comberford as Hispania.

The Mediterranean coast, on the north-eastern side ends with Gallipoli from where Comberford describes the coastline of the Sea of Marmora as far as Constane Napoli, only to continue with the western and north-eastern coastline of the Black Sea. The last port in the north eastern of the Black Sea is Pabassa to the east of the Crimean Peninsula. Comberford identifies about 100 ports on the Spanish coast, 25 for Languedoc, 35 ports on the coast of Proventia, 145 on the Italian coast, 20 in the Gulf of Venice, fifty on the Dalmatian coast, 100 in Macedonia, Achaia and Morea, 10 on the north-western part of the Sea of Marmora, and 58 on the western and north-eastern coast of the Black Sea of which 25 are on the coast where Romania appears.

A special legend, given on the upper part of the portolan, in letters and numbers, is provided for groups of ports or islands, i.e., “Name of Flands Alongst of the Coasts of Provence and Italia and Alongst of Sicilia, Corssica, and Sardinia (52 ports); … Mayorka, Minorka and Euissa (21 ports); … Golfe of Vencew and Alongst the Greatina Coast (51 ports); … Name of Flands in the Archipellage and Alongst the Coast of Achaia and Atena and the South Coast of Candia (Crete) (82 ports).” The southern coast identified on the map is that of Africa. The westernmost point is the port of Redferi, to the west of Seuta. Some 140 ports and locations are identified to the right of the north-western territory recorded as Barbaria, 26 ports are credited to the territory of Barcha, 30 to Aegiptus, 25 to Asiria which contains the north-easternmost port of the Mediterranean named Beyas.

The coastline continues to the west with Anatolia in Asia Minor and up to the Dardanelles it is possible to count about 67 ports. The southern coast of the Black Sea has 27 ports of which the easternmost on the shores of Asia Minor is Lunama. Many of the islands of the Mediterranean are described and located in terms of geographic positions and also in terms of compass diagonals used by Comberford for the express utilization of the chart for navigation purposes. In fact, no other place-names are identified apart from the ports and the names of adjoining countries. In that manner Comberford’s portolan differs from those of Catalan type of the Rennaisance period.[36]

2, Eastern North America and Northern South America (1650).

3, Hispaniola (1653).

4, South Part of Virginia, now the north part of Carolina (1657).

5, The North Sea with Lincoln, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent (1665).

Since 1972, the Antigua Museum has owned one work by Nicholas Comberford:

1, The North Atlantic (1650): a portulan Chart by Nicholas Comberford.

The National Library of Australia has one map by Nicholas Comberford:

1, East Indies (London, 1665): This colour map measures 40 x 32 cm and has an inscription: “Nicholas Cumberford dwelling at the Signe of the Platt neare the weste end of the School House in Ratcliffe, 1665.”

Nicholas Comberford also made a map of the Indian Ocean in 1667. A portion of this map, showing the Christmas Islands, was used in a postage stamp for the Christmas Islands in 1997.

The Bodleian Library in Oxford has what is probably the last traceable map by Comberford:

1, The Atlantic Ocean, including the West Coast of Africa and Europe (London, 1670): A portolan or coast map.

Smith says he was working until 1670, and I have traced no further works by Nicholas Comerford after 1670.[37] He died in 1673 in his early 70s, still living in poverty in Wapping.[38]

Maps for Samuel Pepys

Smauel Pepys … mentions Nicholas Comberford in his Diary on 22 July 1663

Nicholas Comberford is mentioned in the Diary of Samuel Pepys on 22 July 1663. who recorded how on 22 July 1663 how he travelled “by water to Ratcliffe, and there went to speak with Cumberford the platt-maker, and there saw his manner of working, which is very fine and laborious.” Comberford’s best-known apprentice was John Burston (fl. 1628-1665), a sailor’s son, and Burston, who knew Pepys, copied plans and charts for the diarist and his circle. In particular he made copies of the plan of the harbour of Portsmouth for Pepys, King Charles II, the Duke of York (later King James II) and the Earl of Sandwich. [39]

The relationship between Pepys and Burston continued over a number of years and Pepys later employed Burston’s apprentice, John Thornton (1641-1708).[40]

Children and descendants

Saint Dunstan’s Parish Church, Stepney … Nicholas Comberford and his family were assoicated with the parish throughout the 17th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Nicholas Commerford and his wife Mary Kithen were married in Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 10 June 1624, and were the parents of two sons and two daughters:[41]

1, John Comberford (1625-1626), baptised in Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 27 March 1625; died 5 March 1626, buried 1626.
2, Thomas Comberford (1626-post 1662), baptised in Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 14 January 1626. He was married at Wandsworth on 13 July 1648 to Elizabeth Soane. They had four sons and two daughters:
1a, Mary (1649-post 1671), baptised in Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 23 July 1649. She was “of Ratcliffe” when she was married at Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 18 July 1671, to Thomas Cole.
2a, Thomas Comberford (1650-post 1682), baptised Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 20 January 1650. He married Mary … He emigrated to new York, and around 1681 there is reference to Thomas Comberford of New York, citizen and draper, late of Stepney, a “plate-maker” or mapmaker. He may have returned to England, as daughter Elizabeth was still living in Stepney when she married in 1706. Thomas and Mary Comberford had at least one son, but perhaps two sons and a daughter:
●● 1b, Thomas Comberford, baptised in Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 7 June 1672.
●● 2b? Francis Comberford, baptised in Saint Giles, Cripplegate, on 22 December 1675.
●● 3b? Mary Comberford (1682-post 1706), baptised in Saint Botolph, Bishopsgate, on 31 March 1682. She was married in Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 2 July 1706, to Edward Savill.
3a, Elizabeth Comberford, baptised in Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 11 September 1654.
4a, Robert Comberford, baptised in Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 17 August 1659.
5a, Charles Comberford, baptised in Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 23 June 1661; buried in 1661.
6a, Nicholas Comberford, baptised Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 11 September 1662.
3, Anne, baptised in Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 21 February 1629. She was married in Stepney on 12 May 1656 to Richard Hankin.
4, Mary, baptised Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, 21 February 1629. She was married in Saint Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 16 June 1651, to Edward Dunning.

Later, in the same part of London, we find Nicholas Commerford and his wife Mary, who were the parents of Nicholas Commerford, who was baptised in Saint George-in-the-East on 5 March 1759.[42] So Nicholas Comerford the mapmaker may well have many descendants today, unaware, like him, of the value of his work, and unaware, like those who have written about the Thames School, of his origins in Co Kilkenny.

References and footnotes

[1] Much of the research in this essay was first published as: “From India to Brazil: Nicholas Comerford, a seventeenth-century Kilkenny cartographer,” Old Kilkenny Review (Journal of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society), 1999, No 51, pp 92-102.
[2] See, for example, J.H. Andrews, Shapes of Ireland: Maps and their makers, 1564-1839 (Dublin: Geography Publications, 1997, ix + 346 pp.).
[3] WP Cumming, SE Hillier, DB Quinn, and Glyndwr Williams, The Exploration of North America 1630-1776 (London: Paul Elek, 1974, 272 pp), pp 118 and 119, plate 164.
[4] Cumming et al, loc cit; TR Smith, ‘An early chart of the Mediterranean by Nicholas Comberford, 1626,’ Imago Mundi: The International Journal for the History of Cartography, 29/1, (1977), p. 73.
[5] Smith, p. 73; Map Library, British Library, Add Ms 5415 c. 1.
[6] See Cumming et al., loc cit.
[7] See (Revd Canon) WE Carrigan, History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory (Dublin: Sealy, Bryers and Walker, 1905), vol 3, pp 229-232.
[8] See Report of the Manuscripts of the Earl of Egmont, vol 1 (London: HMSO for Historical Manuscripts Commission, 1905), pp 569-573.
[9] Carrigan 3, p. 231.
[10] Carew Manuscripts, vol 4 (HMC), p. 441.
[11] Carrigan 3, pp 230-231.
[12] Edmund Hogan, Chronological catalogue of the Irish members of the Society of Jesus, 1550-1814 (Dublin, n.d., c. 1888). Hogan points out that James was a nephew of Chief Justice Nicholas Walsh; he was born in Waterford in 1583, entered the Jesuits in Spain in 1600, and returned to Ireland in 1630; he died in Waterford on 8 July 1640. He may be the same person as James Comerton from Co Waterford, an Irish Jesuit at Salamanca (see Hogan, p. 23); Comerton continues to be a conversational synonym for Comerford in parts of Co Wexford.
[13] Hogan, p. 15, where he identifies Richard as a brother of James and Thomas. Richard, sometimes known as Richard Comerton, was born in Waterford in 1579 and joined the Jesuits in 1604; he was at Bordeaux in 1609, back in Ireland in 1617, and was Rector of Salamanca 1621-1624. He died c. 1624-1626.
[14] Hogan, p. 15, where he identifies Thomas as a brother of Richard and James, and as a nephew of Peter Lombard. Thomas entered the Jesuits in Rome in 1604.
[15] I am grateful to Mary Flood of Rothe House for her efforts to assist me in this search. The King’s Gaol, County Gaol or ‘Sheire Gaol’ stood on Parliament Street, and was formerly Grace’s Castle. The castle was yielded to the Crown in 1566 by James Grace, and presumably rebuilt. Grace was rewarded by being appointed constable, or governor of the gaol, and was given an income of 20 nobles a year. Perhaps Nicholas Comerford was his successor. See Kathleen M. Lanigan, and Gerald Tyler (eds), Kilkenny: Its Architecture & History (Kilkenny: An Taisce, Kilkenny Association, 1977), p. 83.
[16] Stepney Parish Records.
[17] Stepney Parish Records.
[18] Stepney Parish Records.
[19] Smith, p. 73.
[20] Sarah Tyacke, Sandars Lectures, Cambridge University Library, November 2007, ‘Conversations with maps. Lecture III: There are maps and there are maps – motives, markets and users.’ [] Dr Tyacke is the former Chief Executive of the National Archives and was previously Director of Special Collections at the British Library, and long-time Assistant Keeper in the Map Library there.
[21] I am grateful to Michael Andrews-Reading for searching for Nicholas Comerford and his family in the records of the Drapers Company and in parish records in London, and to him for allowing me to use this information in this paper.
[22] ‘Stepney Folk Vestrymen.’ , 23.7.2009.
[23] William Dobbyns’s letter to John Percivale was part of the Earl of Egmont’s collection at the beginning of the [20th] century. Lord Egmont was a descendant of Sir John Perceval, the recipient of the letter, who received the title of baronet in 1661. But the letter would not have been known to Carrigan and was not accessible until it was reprinted in 1905, the year Carrigan’s history was published. It was reprinted in the Report of the Manuscripts of the Earl of Egmont, vol 1 (Historical Manuscripts Commission, London: HMSO, 1905), pp 569-573.
[24] Carrigan 3, p. 231; Burke’s Peerage, various eds, s.v. Pigott (1808).
[25] I am grateful to Clive Allen of Ryland, Bunclody, Co Wexford, for supplying very comprehensive details on the Barrington family during the preparation of this paper, and to John O’Grady of Rathgar, Dublin, for an extensive account of kinship over the generations linking the Pigott, Barrington and Comerford families.
[26] Dobbyns, passim.
[27] Smith, p. 73; Suárez, p. 130.
[28] Smith, p. 73; Thomas Suárez, Shedding the Veil: Mapping the European Discovery of America and the World (World Scientific, 1992), p. 130; Brit Lib Add Ms 1864-B.
[29] Smith, p. 73.
[30] Smith, p. 73.
[31] Smith, p. 73; Suárez, p. 130.
[32] British Museum Library index, London.
[33] British Museum Library index, London.
[34] Cummings et al, 2022, pp 168-169.
[35] Smith, p. 73.
[36] Constanta Petrea-Gatulescu, “Romania in Nicholas Comberford’s Portolan ‘Anno 1647’,” Imago Mundi 27/1, p. 39.
[37] Smith, p. 73.
[38] Tyacke, loc cit.
[39] The Diary of Samuel Pepys, (8 January 2007); Tyacke, loc cit.
[40] Tyacke, loc cit.
[41] Stepney Parish Records.
[42] Stepney Parish Records.

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