Holland was a Dutch artillery officer and military engineer, born in 1728, who joined the British army in about 1754 when he moved to England under the patronage of the Duke of Richmond. By the age of 26 he was a trained engineer who spoke several languages. By 1757 he was a Lieutenant-Captain in the Royal American Regiment and his skills as a draughtsman were already being appreciated.
Holland was involved in the siege of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia in July 1757 and immediately afterwards, whilst surveying the town he was visited by James Cook, the then Master of the Pembroke. Holland instructed Cook in the use of the plane table, an instrument used in surveying and, along with Captain Simcoe and Joseph Des Barres, tutored the young Cook in other techniques of surveying which Cook in later years would take to new levels. At this time Holland and Cook completed a chart of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
In 1758 Holland was appointed in to the staff of Brigadier-General James Wolfe, with whom he by all accounts became a great personal friend. He accompanied Wolfe on attacks on Miramichy (now Miramichi), Gaspe and other French settlements in the region, as well as surveying and engineering the palisades of St.Johns on the Bay of Fundy.
In April 1759 through to the September he was with Wolfe when his troops scaled the heights of Quebec. He was with Wolfe on the 23rd September on the Plains of Abraham when Wolfe was cut-down by enemy fire.
Holland was clearly well respected throughout his career as a talented and reliable professional. It is a fascinating insight as to the character of the man that he later wrote the following about the loss of his friend and mentor:
‘In the battle of the 13th September your memorialist lost his protector while holding his hand at the time he expired, who for reasons (best known to Mr West the painter) (was) not admitted amongst the group represented by that artist, as being attendant on the General in Glorious exit, but other men are exhibited in the painting who were not in the battle’.
In 1759 he was made Captain. For the next four or so years he surveyed the St. Lawrence River and produced some excellent maps in the process. He was made Surveyor General of the Northern District of America in 1764 – a position he held until 1801. Significantly this position was granted to Holland rather than the more obdurate Des Barres.
Holland started surveying the North American coastline about 1765 and was included in the committee to settle the dispute over the New York – New Jersey border in 1769. Also on the committee was W.G. De Brahm, the only other qualified surveyor. De Brahm had been appointed Surveyor General of the Southern District of North America in 1765.
Between 1765 and the start of the War of Independence Holland was engaged, along with his team of talented surveyors who included Thomas Wheeler, James Grant, George Sproule and Charles Blaskowitz, upon a plan to survey the land between the St. Lawrence and the New England Coastline roughly as far south as New York. A good deal of this work was undertaken with Des Barres who provided the hydrographical data.
With the advent of hostilities in 1775 Holland returned to more specific military work and, with the new rank of Major, was assigned to the Guides and Pioneers. During this time he surveyed the Hudson River around Forts Clinton and Montgomery as well as Long Island. He returned to England briefly in December 1776 in order to compile maps from his field notes and contribute to Des Barres compilation which was to become the Atlantic Neptune. He returned to America soon afterwards to fulfill the role of aid-du-camp to General Heister of the Hessian troop, aided no doubt by his linguistic skills.
In a memorial dated 14th May 1789 Holland stated that during the war he had served in different capacities under General William Howe, General Sir Henry Clinton and General Tyron. He was undoubtedly the driving-force behind some of the most innovative and accurate surveys of the 18th Century.
After the war Holland returned to Canada where he married again and took up his unfinished survey of the country around the St. Lawrence. He died in Quebec in 1801.