Successfully reported this slideshow.
We use your LinkedIn profile and activity data to personalize ads and to show you more relevant ads. You can change your ad preferences anytime.
International Symposium on 
Sino-French Geodesic Survey of the Qing Empire in the 18th Century 
Sanya, Hainan Province, Ch...
The main concern of this Meeting is with 
geography and geodesy in China in the 17th 
-18th centuries. It will however be ...
To begin the story at the beginning, the 15th 
century Portuguese initiative under Prince 
Henry the ‘Navigator’ to explor...
Huge profits were waiting to be made if ships 
could reach their destination and return home 
safely. In Europe, the marit...
In their early days in India, the European 
traders were confined to the coastal areas and 
had no reason to venture into ...
Modern European studies in Indian geography 
were driven by a combination of factors: 
commerce, geo-politics, military 
r...
There was a significant corollary of 
the 18th century presence of 
mathematically-enabled European 
astronomers/ geograph...
In the early days, the intellectual calibre of 
European traders was generally very low. The 
only well-educated Europeans...
The first modern maps to be made of India 
dealt with South India. They were drawn by 
the French from data supplied by th...
Jesuits: The secondary tools of the empire 
The Society of Jesus was set up in 1542. The 
Jesuits arrived in India in 1542...
Once the Jesuits became bereft of support from 
their original mentors, they placed their services at 
the disposal of the...
Peninsular India 
In 1687, the French King Louis XIV sent an 
expedition to Siam (Thailand) comprising 14 
Jesuits. They a...
Bouchet covered the Coromandel coast on foot, 
made astronomical observations at Pondicherry, 
and prepared maps and sketc...
Obviously there was some sort of coordination 
between the Jesuit data collectors on the one hand 
and the French commerci...
D’Anville even consulted tables in the 16th century texts 
like Ain-e-Akbari, and still older works of Ulugh Beg and 
othe...
The southern skies 
The first telescopic discoveries in the southern 
skies were made by the Jesuits. Fr Jean de 
Fontaney...
British India 
There are three important landmarks in the 
British conquest of India. Each is connected 
with a geographic...
The 1767 appointment of Bengal 
Surveyor General is taken as the starting 
point by the Survey of India. Thus, 
ironically...
The Great Trigonometrical Survey of 
India had a decided purely scientific 
dimension that went beyond 
utilitarianism. Bu...
The British in India had their tasks clearly laid 
out from the very beginning. Administration 
had to be set up in the ac...
(ii) Local people were hired as messengers to 
bring in intelligence on routes, roads, rivers, 
bridges, hills, etc. 
(iii...
There was already a precedent 
from Scotland, where after the 
1745 suppression of the 
Jacobite uprising, a survey 
was o...
Rennell remained in office as Bengal Surveyor 
General 1767 till 1777 after which he worked 
at the East India House in Lo...
The two first appeared together in 1782, but 
subsequently underwent revisions separately 
till 1793 incorporating new and...
Fr Claude Stanislaus Boudier (1686-1757) was 
based in Chandernagore near Calcutta. His chance 
to traverse north India ca...
During his journey both ways, Boudier fixed the 
longitude and latitude of many important places, 
and kept a survey of hi...
Fr Joseph Tiffenthaler (1710-1785) survived the 
dissolution of the Society of Jesus in 1773 by 
working under British aus...
Till 1771 he was continuously on the move making 
astronomical observations and surveys, employing also 
one or more local...
Bernoulli’s publication was incorporated by Rennell 
in London into his 1788 map. In India, Thomas 
Call (c. 1749-1788), R...
Wendel was a German who came to India in 1751 and 
in course of time became a British agent. For four 
years 1764-1768, he...
West of Delhi 
Ironically, the earliest Jesuit geographical work carried out 
in India was the last one to be taken into a...
Akbar encouraged Monserrate to take observations en 
route which he did as far as Jalalabad. Akbar however 
does not seem ...
It however had no contemporary significance. Ironically, 
Monserrate’s work carried out when the Agra Mission was 
just es...
Monserrate’s manuscript went into the valuable Map of the 
Countries West of Delhi as far as Cabul and Multan, which 
Fran...
Transits of Venus 1761 and 1769 
The twin events of the transits of the planet Venus across 
the disc of the sun that were...
The Madras government had earlier presented a 
telescope to the Nawab of Arcot. It was now borrowed 
back for the occasion...
The era of trained colonial officers 
In the last quarter of the 18th century, British India 
obtained services of scienti...
Reuben Burrow (1747-1792) was a brilliant English 
mathematician who arrived in Calcutta in 1783. 
In Calcutta, Burrow was...
While on official surveying tours, Burrow 
started looking for knowledgeable people 
and old books on astronomy and 
mathe...
In passing, we may note that Pearse 
came from a respectable but 
impoverished family. For him, colonial 
service was a me...
Triangulation 
In 1783, Cassini III, the director of Paris Observatory, 
wrote a memoir suggesting that the difference in ...
British Ordnance Survey was set up in 1791. In 1787, 
before starting the triangulation, Roy suggested that 
measurements ...
Madras Observatory (1787) 
As the sea traffic between England and India increased, the 
drawbacks of the Indian east coast...
A survey of the coast was thus literally a matter of 
life and death. Eventually in 1785 a trained 
surveyor-astronomer Mi...
Two points about the beginning of the survey are 
noteworthy. 
(ii) London-based Major Rennell, old-fashioned but still 
i...
(ii) Indian Trigonometrical Survey had an indirect China 
connection. The requisite instruments reached India from 
Englan...
I have tried to draw 
attention to the geographic 
and geodesic work done in 
India under European auspices 
during the 17...
Thank you
Indian geography under European auspices during 16-18th centuries
Indian geography under European auspices during 16-18th centuries
Indian geography under European auspices during 16-18th centuries
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in …5
×

Indian geography under European auspices during 16-18th centuries

2,281 views

Published on

(i) Whatever geographical information was available in pre-existing scientific and political documents was taken out and utilized.
(ii) Local people were hired as messengers to bring in intelligence on routes, roads, rivers, bridges, hills, etc.
(iii) Jesuits and ex-Jesuits took modern measurements and obtained valuable primary data.
(iv) Whenever an opportunity presented itself, Company officials made surveys.
(v) Lastly, as soon as it became possible, an exhaustive systematic field survey was ordered.
The geographic and geodesic work done in India under European auspices during the 17th and 18th centuries got eclipsed by the spectacular 19th century developments (epitomized by the naming of the highest point on the earth after a surveyor-general), it was solid and extremely significant in its time.

Published in: Education
  • Be the first to comment

Indian geography under European auspices during 16-18th centuries

  1. 1. International Symposium on Sino-French Geodesic Survey of the Qing Empire in the 18th Century Sanya, Hainan Province, China, 14-18 November 2014 Indian geography under European auspices during 16-18th centuries Rajesh Kochhar President IAU Commission 41: History of Astronomy Hon. Prof., Panjab University, Mathematics Department, Chandigarh Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali, Punjab rkochhar2000@yahoo.com
  2. 2. The main concern of this Meeting is with geography and geodesy in China in the 17th -18th centuries. It will however be instructive to see what was going on in the neighbouring landmass that is India. As we shall see, there are some interesting points of intersection.
  3. 3. To begin the story at the beginning, the 15th century Portuguese initiative under Prince Henry the ‘Navigator’ to explore the African western coast turned out to be momentous indeed. The European arrival in America, discovery of direct all-sea route to India, and regular oceanic voyages were all events of great significance in world history.
  4. 4. Huge profits were waiting to be made if ships could reach their destination and return home safely. In Europe, the maritime imperatives weakened the feudal hold; enhanced the status of merchants, sailors and mechanics; promoted boldness of thought and action; encouraged explorations; and spurred scientific discoveries.
  5. 5. In their early days in India, the European traders were confined to the coastal areas and had no reason to venture into the interior. In the early 18th century, the French and the British began intervening in the power struggles of local kings, princes and chieftains in South India. Very soon, they developed territorial ambitions of their own. If sea powers were to become powerful in distant lands, they must learn geography and prepare maps.
  6. 6. Modern European studies in Indian geography were driven by a combination of factors: commerce, geo-politics, military requirements, administrative needs and scientific knowledge. When in the early years of the 19th century, Britain’s military grip on India became unassailable, scientific aspects of the studies came into prominence, but in the preceding period, which we are interested in, practical considerations were of paramount importance.
  7. 7. There was a significant corollary of the 18th century presence of mathematically-enabled European astronomers/ geographers in India; they laid the foundations of the new academic discipline of history of ancient Indian astronomy and mathematics (not discussed here)
  8. 8. In the early days, the intellectual calibre of European traders was generally very low. The only well-educated Europeans in India at the time were the Jesuits who had the ability, scientific training, time and opportunity to criss-cross the country. They were India’s first modern geographers. Thanks to the Jesuits, the French were more successful on the scientific front than the colonial.
  9. 9. The first modern maps to be made of India dealt with South India. They were drawn by the French from data supplied by the Jesuits. This was in the first half of the 18th century. In the second half of the 18th century, England became a territorial power in North India and geographical exploration became its prerogative.
  10. 10. Jesuits: The secondary tools of the empire The Society of Jesus was set up in 1542. The Jesuits arrived in India in 1542 itself and remained active for more than 200 years. Three Jesuit missions were established in India (i) Agra, in 1580; (ii) Madura[i] in South India, in 1606, under Portuguese auspices; (iii) and Pondicherry, in 1702, by the French. In 1759 the King of Portugal expelled all Jesuits from his colonies and in 1773 the Pope banished the Order altogether.
  11. 11. Once the Jesuits became bereft of support from their original mentors, they placed their services at the disposal of the British. (The Order was revived in 1814, with the first English Jesuits arriving in Calcutta in 1833. By this time, Jesuits were not required in geography; they now focused on education.) Interestingly, Jesuit scientific activity in India was not the result of any planning but by chance.
  12. 12. Peninsular India In 1687, the French King Louis XIV sent an expedition to Siam (Thailand) comprising 14 Jesuits. They arrived in 1688, but were expelled the same year as result of a revolution that overthrew the King. The missionaries left for India and reached Pondicherry on 17 February 1689. It would seem that only three survived the ordeal. Nothing is known about one of them, but the other two have left a mark on history::: Fr Jean-Venance Bouchet (1653-1732) and Fr Jean Richaud (1633-1690).
  13. 13. Bouchet covered the Coromandel coast on foot, made astronomical observations at Pondicherry, and prepared maps and sketches. In 1719 he sent to France his map of Madurai and the neighbouring kingdoms, extending it slightly to the north of 140. The map was drawn on a small scale of not quite an inch to one degree of latitude, with the result that it was not capable of giving any considerable detail of the territories covered.
  14. 14. Obviously there was some sort of coordination between the Jesuit data collectors on the one hand and the French commercial and political interests on the other. ( It would be interesting to uncover the original correspondence on this.) The Jesuits next sent over several manuscript charts, and other materials from which a new map was prepared by the famous French cartographer Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon D’Anville (1697-1782). D’Anville published his map of the southern peninsula in 1737 and followed it by his famous Carte de l’Inde in 1752.
  15. 15. D’Anville even consulted tables in the 16th century texts like Ain-e-Akbari, and still older works of Ulugh Beg and others to get or compare data. An important feature of this map was that very conscientiously he left blank those parts of India about which he did not have authentic knowledge. There was a tacit understanding in Europe that commercial and military rivalries notwithstanding, scientific knowledge would be unreservedly shared. The significance of D’Anville’s efforts can be gauged from the fact that his Memoir was translated, annotated and published with a reprint of his map in London in 1754 and 1759.
  16. 16. The southern skies The first telescopic discoveries in the southern skies were made by the Jesuits. Fr Jean de Fontaney (1643-1710) observing from the Cape of Good Hope discovered in 1685 that Alpha Crucis was in fact double. He, along with other Jesuits, was in the Cape on way to China. In 1689, Richaud discovered that Alpha Centauri was in fact a double star. After Bouchet’s pioneering geographical work in South India, the scene shifted to North India.
  17. 17. British India There are three important landmarks in the British conquest of India. Each is connected with a geographical initiative. In 1757, the British conquered Bengal. Ten years later, in 1767, a Surveyor General for Bengal was appointed ( Major James Rennell). Military conquest of India was accomplished with ease except for two pockets of resistance.
  18. 18. The 1767 appointment of Bengal Surveyor General is taken as the starting point by the Survey of India. Thus, ironically, when India celebrates the anniversaries of its scientific institutions, it also unwittingly commemorates the step-wise entrenchment of the British colonial rule in India!
  19. 19. The Great Trigonometrical Survey of India had a decided purely scientific dimension that went beyond utilitarianism. But this developed only in the 19th century, when the British Empire was fully established. In the earlier centuries, however, the British in India were guided by hard practical considerations.
  20. 20. The British in India had their tasks clearly laid out from the very beginning. Administration had to be set up in the acquired territories; new lands had to be conquered; and land revenue ( and trade profits) enhanced. Military geography went hand in hand with the administrative. (i) Whatever geographical information was available in pre-existing scientific and political documents was taken out and utilized.
  21. 21. (ii) Local people were hired as messengers to bring in intelligence on routes, roads, rivers, bridges, hills, etc. (iii) Jesuits and ex-Jesuits took modern measurements and obtained valuable primary data. (iv) Whenever an opportunity presented itself, Company officials made surveys. (v) Lastly, as soon as it became possible, an exhaustive systematic field survey was ordered.
  22. 22. There was already a precedent from Scotland, where after the 1745 suppression of the Jacobite uprising, a survey was ordered in 1747 of confiscated estates which comprised the greater portions of the Scottish highlands.
  23. 23. Rennell remained in office as Bengal Surveyor General 1767 till 1777 after which he worked at the East India House in London, where he remained influential till the end. In London , Rennell regularly prepared maps which were sent out to Bengal in Company ships. His Bengal Atlas appeared in 1779- 1781. His magnum opus however was the Map of Hindustan accompanied by a valuable Memoir.
  24. 24. The two first appeared together in 1782, but subsequently underwent revisions separately till 1793 incorporating new and improved data. As Rennell recalled in 1808: ‘at that day we were compelled to receive information from others respecting the interior of the country’. The first informants for the British geographers were the Jesuits.
  25. 25. Fr Claude Stanislaus Boudier (1686-1757) was based in Chandernagore near Calcutta. His chance to traverse north India came about as a result of astronomical pursuits of Sawai Raja Jai Singh of Jaipur who wanted the Jesuit to visit him for scientific consultations. Accordingly, Boudier and another Jesuit, Pons, set out from Chandernagore on 6 January 1734. They returned to Chandernagore about a year later
  26. 26. During his journey both ways, Boudier fixed the longitude and latitude of many important places, and kept a survey of his route between Agra and Allahabad. He described places on the road from Agra to Bengal with the computed distance of each from the course of the Yamuna and Ganga. Boudier’s work was extensively used by D’Anville and Rennell.
  27. 27. Fr Joseph Tiffenthaler (1710-1785) survived the dissolution of the Society of Jesus in 1773 by working under British auspices. In 1756 Tieffenthaler boldly decided to appeal for financial help to the ‘famous English nation so well known for their humanity, liberality and charity to the poor’. He travelled to Calcutta keeping surveys on the way. Apparently he found the help he needed and settled in Oudh for the rest of his life, making Lucknow his headquarter.
  28. 28. Till 1771 he was continuously on the move making astronomical observations and surveys, employing also one or more local assistants ‘versed in geography’, whom he sent to explore the sources of the rivers Ganga and Gogra. Tieffenthaler was a tireless explorer. He was very keen that his work be noticed by the Europeans. It was. The German astronomer and mathematician ,John Bernoulli, at the time professor in Berlin, published Tieffenthaler’s treatise in three volumes in German (1785-1787) and French (1786-1789).
  29. 29. Bernoulli’s publication was incorporated by Rennell in London into his 1788 map. In India, Thomas Call (c. 1749-1788), Rennell’s successor as Surveyor General of Bengal, had already received copies from Tieffenthaler himself. Call’s Atlas of India embodies routes taken between Goa and Agra by Tieffenthaler and a survey of the country northwest of Delhi by him and Fr Francis Xavier Wendel (d. 1803).
  30. 30. Wendel was a German who came to India in 1751 and in course of time became a British agent. For four years 1764-1768, he remained in the service of Raja Jawahar Singh of Bharatpur gathering intelligence and passing it on to the British. From a scientific point of view his most notable contribution is A Memoir on the Land of the Rajputs and other Provinces to the South and South West of Agra, along with a map which he drew in 1779. These were afterwards presented by Colonel Popham to Rennell , who acknowledged Wendel’s help in the preparation of his great Map of Hindustan. Wendel died in 1803. With his death, the last links with the erstwhile Agra Mission were snapped.
  31. 31. West of Delhi Ironically, the earliest Jesuit geographical work carried out in India was the last one to be taken into account. Fr Anthony Monserrate (1536-1600) left for India in 1574. In 1579, he was chosen to be a member of the first Jesuit mission to Akbar’s court and was asked by his superiors to keep a diary. This he did most faithfully, adding greatly to its value by his geographical and astronomical observations. On his journey from Surat to Fatehpur Sikri in 1580, he made a survey and took observations for latitude. When in 1583 Akbar marched to Kabul against his half-brother Mirza Muhammad Hakim, he took Monserrate along for continuing the education of his second son Murad (1570-1599).
  32. 32. Akbar encouraged Monserrate to take observations en route which he did as far as Jalalabad. Akbar however does not seem to have shown any interest in the data collected by Monserrate who kept it with himself when he returned from the journey. On the basis of his observations, Monserrate, in about 1590, prepared a small map, 51/2 in. x 41/8 in. in size. This little map was a tremendous improvement on all previous efforts. It was based on actual observations rather than on travellers’ tales. It gave a better idea of the Himalayas and upper course of Punjab rivers than Rennell would do two centuries later. Expectedly, Monserrate did not have any knowledge about regions east of Yamuna. Keeping in mind the times when it was first prepared, its value cannot be over-estimated.
  33. 33. It however had no contemporary significance. Ironically, Monserrate’s work carried out when the Agra Mission was just established came to light only when the Mission was closed. In the opening years of the 19th century, Monserrate’s manuscript was dusted out of the archival shelves and incorporated into the corpus of geographical knowledge. The timing was not fortuitous. The British struggle for territorial control over north India was almost over, and the British were finally in Delhi. The territory west of Delhi was now of strategic importance. Monserrate was able to do his field work when Akbar marched to the north-west to secure his fledgling empire. The British needed Monserrate for the same reason. Monserrate’s geographical work thus neatly brackets Mughal Empire’s history.
  34. 34. Monserrate’s manuscript went into the valuable Map of the Countries West of Delhi as far as Cabul and Multan, which Francis Wilford brought out in 1804. This was a tremendous improvement on anything that had been produced before. It stretched as far as Sukkur and Dera Ghazi Khan on the south-west; Kabul on the west; and to Chitral and Gilgit in the north. For additional information, Wilford employed ‘A properly instructed native’, Mirza Mogul Beg, who carried out extended field work between 1786 and 1796. There were many other natives who similarly helped the British geographers.
  35. 35. Transits of Venus 1761 and 1769 The twin events of the transits of the planet Venus across the disc of the sun that were predicted to take place in 1761 and 1769 caused great excitement worldwide. Teams were sent out to far off places to observe the event. The excitement gave a great fillip to making of scientific instruments in Europe. Although the ostensible purpose of the scientific expeditions was to collect data that would enable astronomers to calculate the actual distance to the sun and therefore to scale the solar system, the transits became part of the ongoing geo-political rivalry between France and England.
  36. 36. The Madras government had earlier presented a telescope to the Nawab of Arcot. It was now borrowed back for the occasion. Astronomical expeditions and instruments were seen as symbols of a superior, science-driven culture. The latter were presented as official gifts to native rulers as show-off even when the latter had no use for them. French or British Indian observations of the transits did not make any worthwhile contribution to the scientific literature on the subject, but the events succeeding in creating a greater awareness of astronomical culture among the administrators.
  37. 37. The era of trained colonial officers In the last quarter of the 18th century, British India obtained services of scientifically trained officers. Colonel Thomas Dean Pearse (1741/2-1789) came to Calcutta in 1776 as an artillery officer. He set up a private observatory at his residence, and regularly made observations of longitude and latitude. He also recorded meteorological data. While on military tour, he estimated distance between Madras and Calcutta and fixed geographical positions of intermediate stations. Additionally, and more importantly, he trained next generation of officers. His young assistant, Robert Colebrooke, later became Surveyor General of Bengal (1794-1808). .
  38. 38. Reuben Burrow (1747-1792) was a brilliant English mathematician who arrived in Calcutta in 1783. In Calcutta, Burrow was hired at six times his British salary to teach mathematics and astronomy to young engineer officers. The geographical points he fixed from Hardwar to Assam were used by surveyors for the next 30 years. He compared the values of latitudes and longitudes given in the famous 16th century work Ain-e-Akbari with the modern ones. He also prepared astronomical notes for an English edition of the work.
  39. 39. While on official surveying tours, Burrow started looking for knowledgeable people and old books on astronomy and mathematics. His collection of Sanskrit and Persian manuscripts became available to European scholars in 1800. He owes his place in history to his scholarship on ancient India rather than colonial field survey.
  40. 40. In passing, we may note that Pearse came from a respectable but impoverished family. For him, colonial service was a means of regaining lost family status. In contrast, Burrow was considered low-bred in England. For him colonial service was a means of obtaining social respectability.
  41. 41. Triangulation In 1783, Cassini III, the director of Paris Observatory, wrote a memoir suggesting that the difference in the longitude and latitude of Greenwich and Paris observatories be precisely ascertained through triangulation. The suggestion was well timed. The American war of independence had just ended and a bit of geodesy would be seen as a great conciliator between traditional rivals, France and England. The memoir was presented by the French ambassador to the English King who readily agreed and asked the Royal Society to implement it with funding especially provided. Its president, Joseph Banks entrusted the task to William Roy (already mentioned), who measured the baseline in 1784, while actual triangulation was begun in 1787.
  42. 42. British Ordnance Survey was set up in 1791. In 1787, before starting the triangulation, Roy suggested that measurements be made in peninsular India for determining the length of a degree at lower latitudes. In April 1790, following explicit orders from London, British India reluctantly asked Burrow to begin work on measuring the degree of longitude near the tropic of Cancer. The work was however interrupted by Burrow’s death and not resumed. Burrow’s results were finally published by his friend in 1796. British India’s first half-hearted foray into geodesy was a non-success.
  43. 43. Madras Observatory (1787) As the sea traffic between England and India increased, the drawbacks of the Indian east coast became abundantly clear. The Bay of Bengal is affected by the monsoons for seven months in the year. Company ships that took barely six days between Calcutta and Madras in the winter months December-April, could require 4-6 weeks at other times. The coast itself is rocky and full of shoals. Madras was not a natural harbour like Bombay was , and did not provide safe landing to Indiamen which were often wrecked.
  44. 44. A survey of the coast was thus literally a matter of life and death. Eventually in 1785 a trained surveyor-astronomer Michael Topping (1747-1796) was sent out from England, passage paid and equipped with surveying instruments. Topping used a private astronomical observatory set up for him in Madras in 1787.( It was established by a senior officer William Petrie.) It was taken over by the Government in 1790. The observatory became the reference meridian for the trigonometrical survey proposed by William Lambton
  45. 45. Two points about the beginning of the survey are noteworthy. (ii) London-based Major Rennell, old-fashioned but still influential, whom the Court of Directors consulted on the subject, opposed the proposed survey. As it turned out, the Astronomer Royal Dr Nevil Maskelyne was a very close relative of the Madras Governor Lord Edward Clive (1754-1839). Maskelyne was Clive’s mother’s brother.) On Maskelyne’s intervention, Rennell changed his mind and extended full support. Thus, an important scientific decision came to be based on family considerations.
  46. 46. (ii) Indian Trigonometrical Survey had an indirect China connection. The requisite instruments reached India from England via China. Many instruments similar to the one made for Roy’s ordnance survey were purchased by the Company for presentation to the Chinese Emperor. On the failure of the embassy, they ended as the personal property of Dr Dinwiddie from whom they were officially purchased for Lambton’s use. The Great Trigonometrical Survey of India is the most spectacular example of colonial science, underlined by the naming of the highest point on the earth after Lambton’s successor, George Everest.
  47. 47. I have tried to draw attention to the geographic and geodesic work done in India under European auspices during the 17th and 18th centuries. Even though it got eclipsed by the spectacular 19th century developments, it was solid and extremely significant in its time.
  48. 48. Thank you

×