Timothy Pont - ' A son of the Kirk'
In the last decades of the16th century, (1583-1596) this young man from near Culross in the kingdom of Fife and a graduate of St. Andrew's University undertook the monumental task of mapping his native Scotland. Pont's motivation for embarking on such an enterprise is unclear. However, the fact that it took place in the wake of the Reformation and that he was a son of the Kirk is surely no coincidence.
His father, Robert Pont (1524-1606) was a distinguished minister of the Kirk. He held several high offices including Moderator of the General Assembly. One office he did not covet however, was that of bishop. When James VI nominated him for the bishopric of Caithness, the Assembly declined on his behalf stating 'we find it not agreeable to the Word of God … neither is the said Mr. Robert willing to attempt the same in that manner' [Burleigh].
Robert Pont was a close associate of John Knox, the latter entrusting him to revising the first Book of Discipline (1561) [Project Pont]. The central thrust of this work was to regulate parish revenue, organize education and provide for the poor. How could John Knox, his compatriots and those Presbyterians that followed in their footsteps possibly realize their vision without knowing the distribution of the people that populated the parishes of their new Reformed Kirk?
Timothy Pont's maps provided a cartographic census of the parishes of Scotland and a blueprint that would facilitate the ongoing process of reformation.
The Kirk appears to have held an irresistible attraction to the young man and perhaps influenced by his father he became minister of Dunnet, Caithness in 1601. His wife was Isobel Blacadder; the Blacadders being near neighbours to his family home in Fife. Pont's sister Helen married Adam Blacadder, almost certainly a member of the same family and perhaps the brother of Isobel [Baptie].
'Visit to New Cumnock'
In 1650 the parish of Cumnock was divided into the two new parishes of Old Cumnock and New Cumnock. The parish of Old Cumnock was served by what was the parish church of Cumnock or Cumnock Kirk as it was called. A new parish church was erected for New Cumnock in 1659 on the site of the ancient seat of the barons of Cumnock, at Cumnock Castle.Therefore, neither the parish of Old Cumnock or New Cumnock existed at the time of Pont's fieldwork (1583-1596) but only the parish of Cumnock which was in the part of Kyle known as King's Kyle, in the sheriffdom of Ayr.
Pont would have felt at home in Kyle with people that embraced the Reformation of the 16th century and indeed were to lay to down their lives before the close of the 17th century in defence of their Covenants with the Reformed Kirk
He surely would have been a guest of William Hamiltoun, minister of Cumnock Kirk (1575-1595). This staunch Presbyterian is best remembered for refusing to comply with James VI wishes to appoint a new bishop of Glasgow [Warwick]. It is easy to imagine Hamiltoun drawing parallels with his stance on bishops with that of Pont's illustrious father
It would also be reasonable to expect that the baron of Cumnock, the patron of Cumnock Kirk would have entertained Pont. However, Sir Alexander Dunbar was most probably an absentee baron. His family had held this title for over 300 years, before relinquishing it in 1612. Indeed the Dunbars had started selling off their lands in Cumnock well before this time, including the baronial seat of Cumnock Castle which was known to be in the possession of William Cunningham of Caprington in 1580, a future baron of Cumnock [Warwick].
Perhaps, a cadet branch of the family, the Dunbars of Knockshinnoch at their tower house less than a mile from Cumnock Castle played host to Pont. A member of this family, George Dunbar was to succeed Hamiltoun as minister at Cumnock Kirk.
PONT & BLAEU
© Robert Guthrie
Reproduced by kind permission of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.