Moses Griffith (1747-1819) had an unusual, if not unique, position among British topographers of the eighteenth century, in that his chief patron employed him as a servant, yet made the most of his talents as a draughtsman, watercolourist and engraver.
Moses Griffith was born at Trygarn, Bryncoes, Caernarvonshire, in Wales, on 25 March 1747. The illegitimate son of a labourer, he received a rudimentary education at the free school attached to Botwnnog Church.
In 1769, Griffith entered the service of Thomas Pennant, the squire of Downing, Flintshire, and was immediately employed as a draughtsman on a series of tours of antiquarian and scientific purpose. The most significant destinations included Scotland (1769), the Hebrides (1772), Cumberland and Yorkshire (1773), North Wales (mid 1770s), the Isle of Man (1774), the Midlands (1776), Yorkshire and Derbyshire (1777), Staffordshire (1780) and the Severn Valley (1783).
Some of the resulting drawings were engraved on copper – by Griffith or others – for use as illustrations in several of Pennant’s published travelogues, including A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides (1774) and A Journey to Snowdon (1781); others appeared in Pennant’s volumes of natural history.
Pennant also acted as Griffith’s agent for work he undertook with other patrons, for example the illustrations that he contributed to Francis Grose’s The Antiquities of England (from 1773).
After Pennant’s death in 1798, Griffith was employed by his son David Pennant, and executed a group of about 200 watercolours of Welsh views between 1805 and 1813.
Marrying in 1781, Griffith lived with his family at Gwibnant, a house on Pennant’s estate. He died there on 11 November 1819, and was buried at Whitford churchyard.
His work is represented in the Government Art Collection and numerous public collections, including the Grosvenor Museum (Chester) and York Art Gallery; and The National Library of Wales (Aberystwyth) and National Museum Wales (Cardiff).