Captain Samuel Holland

Captain Samuel Johannes Holland 


Following the Treaty of Peace in 1763, Canada, and Ile Saint Jean, was bequeathed to Great Britain. It was of great concern to the British to further explore their new-found lands. King George III appointed Captain Samuel Holland as Surveyor-General of British North America in 1764.[1] Holland, who was a skilled surveyor and cartographer, was given the task of providing a detailed survey of the land and water ways of the Island. He was also responsible for noting the physical characteristics of the Island such as soil quality, timber, climate conditions, as well as animal and fish species’; all of which are pertinent to colonizing a new land.

            Captain Holland’s North American expedition was executed in 1764, with the first stop being Ile Saint Jean. The reason for starting on the Island is supposedly due to having the most optimal conditions for fisheries; a growing and important industry. The Canceaux, a vessel of 200 tons, was commanded by Lieutenant Harry Mowatt and housed 40 men for the journey to Ile Saint Jean.[2] Upon their arrival in the fall of 1764, they attempted to find shelter at Fort Amherst, but had little luck finding anything worth using. Most of the barracks and surrounding buildings erected by Lord Rollo were falling down.[3] He decided to build a house about a mile from the fort at what he called Observation Cove, better known today as Holland Cove. This locale was excellent for making astronomical observations as well as navigating through the nearby inlets and rivers. He used an old frame from a barn with several materials brought from Quebec to build a stable and suitable dwelling. Stoves were brought on the journey to provide heat, as it was December before they were able to move in, and winter was beginning to set in.

            Holland began documenting the Island as soon as he could, and reported to the Earl of Hillsborough stating, “if encouraged by his lordship it will become a very valuable settlement and it’s now the finest and best Island in the Gulf.” He notes successful production of wheat, oats, and barley, on what he refers to as “the finest grass countries I have met with, by which a great number of cattle may be raised.”[4] He listed off a number of mammals he encountered along the way, of those were: bears, wildcats, martens, wild fowl as well as deer and a few caribou. Another note, which came to no surprise, was his references made regarding the soil. He describes the soil on the south side of the Island as rough, steep coastlines comprised of reddish clay, which diminishes considerably each year upon the breaking of the frost.[5] The tiny Island has been crumbling under the sea pressures for centuries, a phenomenon which has proven to have detrimental effects on our coastlines. This particular phenomenon did not go unnoticed by Captain Holland, who resided on the steep coastal cliffs of Holland Cove, thus giving him a first-hand view of the erosion.

            The entire survey took the better part of two years to complete. After travelling around the entire Island with dog-teams of men and canoes, he was able to devise a map with utmost accuracy, displaying every river, stream, harbour and bay. He was notorious for dividing the Island into three counties, and 67 townships, each consisting of 20 000 acres.[6] Kings, Queens, and Prince were the names given to the three counties, and the Afton community was declared to be part of lot 65, which to this day, remains the same. Holland’s reputation as an excellent surveyor and cartographer most certainly holds true. There have been a number of surveyors come to the Island since Holland, only to rediscover the accuracy of his original mapping.[7] After almost 250 years, his maps are still used as a reference for the counties and townships of Prince Edward Island. The Captain was granted lot 28 on the Tryon River, and made P.E.I his home from 1764-1769, when he vacated back to the Mother country.[8] Holland has left behind a legacy, particularly in the Rocky Point, and Holland Cove region. Today, a solitary Island sandstone monument stands handsomely in an open patch of grass just up from his original campsite, which bears his name and brief description of his expedition in 1764. Holland’s survey of the Island is of great importance in our Island history, and especially to the history of the Afton community; the beginning of his great North American survey. 


[1] Willis Chipman. The Life and Times of Major Samuel Holland-Surveyer General 1764-1801. N.d., 16

[2] Ibid.

[3] Douglas Baldwin, Land of the Red Soil: A Popular History of Prince Edward Island. Charlottetown, PEI Ragweed Press, 1998

[4] Chipman, 19.

[5] Chipman, 23.

[6] “Duncan Campbell’s History of Prince Edward Island”, Island Register.

[7] “Capt Samuel Johannes Holland and His Survey of St. John’s Island”, Island Register.

[8] Chipman, 25


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