NINE ORIGINAL COPPER PLATES TO THE IMPORTANT SURVEYING OF INDIA. James Rennell (1742-1830) has been called ‘the father of Indian surveying (Gole). Born in Devon he went to India as part of the Royal Navy. After leaving the Navy he joined the East India Company as a surveyor. In 1767 the Board of Directors of the company in London wrote “So much depends on accurate surveys … that we have employed everybody on this service who could be spared … we have appointed Captain Rennell, a young man of distinguished merit in this branch, Surveyor General, and directed him to form one general chart from those already made” (Gole).
Ill health forced him to return to London where he continued to work on the maps and field sketches arriving from India. Rennell’s published with little help from the East India Company the ‘Bengal Atlas’ in 1779 with nine large maps. It was expanded the following year and again a year later. It remained the standard of the region for the next forty years. “By 1782 he had been able to collect sufficient material to publish a large map of Hindoostan’ (Gole). It was issued along with a Memoir outlining the sources used. The large map was entirely redrawn in 1788 to incorporate all the new information received in the meantime. It is three of the four copper plates engraved for this which are offered here, that of the north east is lacking.
The next major name in Indian cartography is William Lambton (c.1753-1823). He served in the American Revolution reputedly being taken prisoner at Yorktown. He transferred from Canada to the East Indies in 1796. In 1799 Lambton suggested that “a trigonometrical survey connecting the Malabar and Coromandel coasts. Lambton stressed to the government the practical benefits … it would provide an extendable lattice …” (ODNB). He began by “measuring a base-line at St Thomas’s Mount, Madras, in 1802” (ODNB) seen on one of the plates offered. Gradually working his way east to west he drew another base-line in 1804 at Bangalore which is also shown. Four of the original copper plates from this survey are offered here, those pairs stretching from east to west from 8 degrees north to 10 degrees 10 minutes and 12 degrees 30 minutes to 14 degrees 45 minutes north. It takes in the coastal cities of Madras and Mangalore and extends south to take in the Cape Cormorin peninsula. This work eventually was renamed the ‘Great Trigonometrical Survey’.
The group is finished with two complete maps in single sheets. The first is one of the maps from the original edition of Rennell’s ‘Bengal Atlas’ in 1780, that of Oude and Allahabad. The second is a ‘Sketch of the principal Triangles extending over that part of the Nizam’s Dominions’ published in 1827 by Captain George Everest who took over the Great Trigonometrical Survey and devoted his life to extending it northwards to the Himalayas. Some of the plates bear the stamp mark of the manufacturers Willm. Pontifex & Co. of Shoe Lane, London. They are described by the British Museum as having been started by William Pontifex (1766-1851) who joined in partnership with Richard Jones in 1788 before being sold in 1887.
The availability of original copper plates for printed maps is an extremely rare occurrence. Once in a while a small insignificant copper plate appears on the market, but to find one of great importance is very special. Of note in this regard was the appearance of ONE of the copper plates to the so called multi-sheet Copper plate Plan of London c.1559. This was sold at a Sotheby’s auction on 23 July 1985 for £50,000. Prior to that ONE copper plate of the multi-sheet Christopher Saxton wall map of England and Wales c.1580 appeared on the market in 1979 for £28,000! Provenance: scrap metal merchant in London since the 1950s. Gill, Brinda (2000) ‘The Big Man’, in ‘Mercator’s World’ vol. 5 no. 4 pp. 24-7; Edney (1997) ‘Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765-1843’; Gole (1978) pp. 75-83, nos. 82j & 86; ODNB; Shirley (2004) ‘Atlases in the British Library’ T.Ren 1a no. 10; Tooley Dictionary.