The survey was apparently called the "Down Survey" by Petty because the results were set down in maps; ‘admeasurement down’ was used; it is referred to by that name in Petty's will.
The Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652 provided for the confiscation and re-distribution of the lands of the defeated Irish, mostly Confederate Catholics, who had opposed Cromwell and supported the royalists. Parliamentarian soldiers who served in Ireland were entitled to an allotment of confiscated land there, in lieu of their wages, which the Parliament was unable to pay in full. Lands were also to be provided to a third group, settlers from England and America. The dispossed landholders were to be transported to Connaught and to other countries.
The method used was one of surveying the boundaries of parishes, the block of townlands inside those boundaries was not usually detailed. The scale used was generally 40 Irish perches to an inch (sometimes 80 perches), one perch equalling 21 feet (6.4 m). This land survey method was used widely in rural Ireland up to the nineteenth century and sorting out the precise details was left usually to the legal profession. As a result, the Down Survey is considered to be about 87% accurate.
Profitable and unprofitable land were distinguished, and there were abbreviated captions for arable, meadow, bog, woodland, mountain and several kinds of pasture, with area figures for each of these categories. Coverage of other subjects was uneven. In the parish maps, dwelling houses with the owners' names are entered in each townland.
Generally speaking, it was a survey of confiscated land. Parts of counties Roscommon, Galway, Clare and Mayo were not surveyed as they had been covered in the Strafford Survey of Connaught (1636-1640) and were anyway not to be confiscated.
Petty's other requests were reserved for consideration, and only after a delay of more than six months were his sureties released, and his claim for pay acknowledged.
After a delay, he received £18,532 for conducting the survey, to include payment for his assistants and general expenses. He had difficulty in collecting further agreed payments from the army, set at £3,181 which was still due in February, 1657. In payment of this debt, 9,665 acres (39 km²) of land were allotted to him.
As a result of the re-distribution, approx 7,500 New Model Army veterans settled in Ireland, in what became known as the Cromwellian Plantation.
Following investigations, he was acquitted, but a dissenting report accused him of magnifying the debt due to him by the army, of charging the army with debts not really due by them, of reserving for himself portions of choice lands.
Although never convicted of mis-appropriation, charges related to the Irish survey pursued Petty for a number of years. In 1660, Petty published a pamphlet, "Reflections upon some persons and things in Ireland" where he explained that he had defected from the ranks of scientists to doing the survey ...
Sir William Petty further used the Down Survey, supplemented with other materials from surveys in 1636-40 and 1656-9, as research towards his 1685 atlas publication, Hiberniae Delineatio, the first printed atlas of Ireland, which used reduced edited versions of his maps.
The survey brought him considerable personal profit. As his reward, he acquired approximately 30 000 acres (120 km²) in the Kenmare area, in southwest Ireland, and £9 000. This was described in Aubrey's Biography of Petty as 50,000 acres (200 km²) visible from Mount Mangorton. By 1658, when Cromwell died, Petty owned so much Irish land that he essentially owned what is now County Kerry and held the title Earl of Landsdowne, Landsdowne being a new British name for Kerry.
The English gentleman, Evelyn, who knew Petty well, spoke of him:
Petty also edited the parish maps into barony maps.
The details listed in terriers beside the maps include the names of previous owners of the lands, religious affiliation, land valuation, and area. The maps themselves include townland boundaries, and sometimes houses/castles, roads and fields. It listed the owners of land in 1640, and the new owners.
Considering the time and circumstances in which these maps were executed, their accuracy is surprising, and they continue to be referred to as trustworthy evidence in courts of law even at the present day.
Information from the following sites was used in writing this article
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