Aaron Arrowsmith’s colossal wall map represents the apogee of the Enlightenment cartography of India and powerfully symbolizes the consolidation of British control over the subcontinent.
This gargantuan map occupies a special place in the history of the cartography of India, in that it is both a great technical achievement and a monumental object of profound political symbolism. Arrowsmith’s map is by far the largest, most accurate and most detailed general map of India made up to the time. It represents the apex of the Enlightenment Era Cartography of the subcontinent and is one of the finest maps of any subject produced during the early 19th Century.
Aaron Arrowsmith, as one of his final acts as the world’s leading mapmaker, produced the present map with the support of the East India Company and many of the individuals who played leading roles in the ‘Company Raj’. The map appeared at an especially critical time in the development of British India, for it came on the back of 65 five years of progressive British territorial gains on the subcontinent. The vast areas, colored in ‘pink’, the signature colour of the British empire on maps, is shown to have practically enveloped India, virtually encircling the various princely states, which were nevertheless client states of the EIC.
Arrowsmith’s map is a composite of a vast variety of carefully selected antecedents, so numerous they cannot possibly be covered here. However, the most authoritative sources available to Arrowsmith were the road route surveys done by military surveyors, either as part of general civilian mapping commissioned by the EIC (such as James Rennell’s maps of Bengal, Bihar and Oudh) or surveys tracking military movement during campaigns.
Arrowsmith was exceedingly well connected and relied on only the most authoritative sources to construct his map. His endeavor was actively supported by the EIC who made their archives freely available to him. Additionally, many surveyors and important political and military figures of the Company Raj went to considerable effort to ensure that Arrowsmith had access to the best intelligence. In some cases, these officials personally visited Arrowsmith in London, in order to assist him with making sure that his drafts were as accurate as possible.