This finely drafted manuscript represents the authoritative military engineer’s plan of Surat Castle, created shortly after the East India Company (EIC) assumed control of the fortress in 1759. The takeover of the Castle marked a milestone in the political history of India, as it represented the first time that the British had formally assumed sovereignty over Indian territory (as opposed to leasing land from Indian rulers), realizing the first formal step towards the creation of the ‘Company Raj’.
Surat Castle, a monumental 16th Century edifice, rests along the banks of the Tapti River in the heart of the city, and was impressively built with walls 40 feet high and 13 feet thick, with the masonry bound together by iron strips and molten lead. However, when the EIC assumed control of the Castle, they found the medieval fortress in a state of disrepair. They charged Ludwig Felix de Gloss, identified on the map as “Lewis Felix D’Gloss”, a talented German-born Captain of the Bombay Engineers who served as the commandant of Surat Castle, with bringing its defenses up to current European military engineering standards. The Castle itself occupies the upper center of the plan, and the “Explanation of the Figures” identifies 64 key sites within the fort and in the surrounding city. The different fazes of the improvements to the castle, both completed and planned, are distinguished through colour coding. Additionally, the plan lends an usually detailed perspective on the medieval centre of a major Indian port city.
The EIC first arrived in Surat in 1608, and the city served as their main base of operations in Western India until 1687 (when they moved their headquarters to Bombay). In the 1750s, the EIC cleverly exploited the infighting within the regime of the local naiwab that controlled Surat on behalf of the declining Mughal Empire. In 1759, it managed to strike a deal with the victorious claimants of the naibship, giving it sovereign control of Surat Castle.