Maps and Map-making in India

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James Rennell: The Father of the Indian Survey

Atlas Vallard

Major James Rennell (1742-1830) became a midshipman at age 14, received training in surveying in the Royal Navy, joined the East India Company in 1763, was the first Surveyor General of Bengal (1767-1777), and carried out the first comprehensive geographical survey of much of India. The survey was a massive undertaking that mapped parts of India at a greater detail than many European countries had been mapped (Goss, p. 246). His survey led to The Great Trigonometrical Survey of India which began in 1802 (See the exhibit section: "The Survey of India"). He is most known for his Bengal Atlas of 1779 and Memoir of a Map of Hindoostan (1782). 

Renell continually updated his maps for accuracy and added new geographical information, using indigenous maps and drawings as sources for his maps of the Punjab region. His cartographic methods included gleaning information from earlier maps, measuring distances along roads, establishing the coordinates of control points, and then creating a “graticule” or grid to create his maps (Edney, p.17-8). Rennell’s maps were of such accuracy and quality that they were used well into the 19th century.

Rennell returned to England in 1782 where he continued to write and publish works on geography and history, and became an expert in the mapping and study of ocean currents.