An Elliot Bros London First World War British Army military sketching board. The board normaly has an integrated clinometer and compass. On the board is written "Major Verners Patent". The artistic sketching ability of the Military in the late Victorian and WWI period was a key to their effectiveness as cameras had not really come into play.” The board could be strapped on a forearm. It was used by the Cavalry and the RFC.
It's 24 cm high and 17,5 cm wide. This one still holds the original notes.
AN UNUSUAL SURVEYING INSTRUMENT
In 1992 the grand-daughter of Major General Ewen George Sinclair-Maclagan (1868-1948) deposited a small surveying instrument in the Map Library of the National Library of Scotland. Recently she donated her grandfather’s papers and other memorabilia to the National Museums of Scotland and, following her request, the instrument, sometimes described as a continuous plane table or a surveyor’s sketching board, has now been transferred to join the related items in NMS.
Sinclair-Maclagan was born in Edinburgh and was commissioned in the Border Regiment in 1889. In his early career he saw service in India and South Africa, before serving for many years with the Australian armed forces, including a leading role at Gallipoli. According to information from the family, the instrument is likely to have been used in the Boer War. This also corresponds with the dates suggested by the maker’s name ‘Elliot Bros London’ which is embossed on the rear, and is known to have been in use between 1853 and 1916. It is also stamped Verner’s Patent No 2787: Captain Willoughby Verner of the Rifle Brigade modified the instrument with patents registered in 1887 and 1891. The cavalry sketching board was devised around 1880 by Colonel W H Richards, a topographical instructor at the Royal Military College, and the design was used for over forty years. According to his text book it was ‘intended to simplify the performance of rapid sketches on active service, a high degree of accuracy not being necessary…The board is constructed to contain a strip of drawing paper, about 7 inches wide and 2 or 3 feet long… To draw the direction of the road, or of any object –
1st. Turn the horse exactly in the direction of the object.
2nd. Revolve the board on the wrist until the meridian line corresponds with the [compass] needle…
3rd. By moving the arm to the right or left, bring the point from which the line is to be drawn on the sketch opposite the centre of the body. Now turn the ruler in the required direction, its edge corresponding with the point and draw the line…
After a little practice the whole operation may be accomplished in about 15 seconds,correct within 2 degrees. A horse will generally stand still long enough to permit the direction to be drawn… Horses soon learn that they are meant to stand steady for a few seconds… but being generally fidgetty in company, they will do best when alone...’ The scale was calculated by counting horse’s paces. There is no doubt that practice was required: it is not surprising that the ‘damnable cavalry sketching board’ was not universally popular, yet it continued in use until the early 1930s with various modifications by different manufacturers.
In World War I the sketching board appears to have found a new use. In his recent publication Mapping the world Ralph Ehrenberg, formerly of the Library of Congress, illustrates an almost identical instrument. Described as a ‘flying map with chart-holder’ it was used by early solo aviators to strap air charts to their arm or leg for navigation. Charts were specially mounted in strips to fit the rollers. The main difference between the sketching board and the chart holder is that the ruler has been removed. It seems likely that the first aviators, some of whom started their careers in the cavalry, adapted the sketching board for this new purpose.