Southern or Peninsular India was, for the first 250 years following the arrival of Vasco da Gama, the part of the Subcontinent that featured the most consequential interactions between Europe and India. European powers set up numerous bases and factories along the coastlines and extensively influenced the politics, culture and economy of Southern India.
The exquisitely engraved sea chart, made in Tuscany by Sir Robert Dudley, an English exile, shows that by the mid-17th Century, Europeans’ knowledge of the coastal areas was extensive, while their understanding of the interior was very limited.
Robert DUDLEY (1574-1649). [Southern India, Sri Lanka and Maldives]. Questa Carta contiene la costa dell’India Orientale con la costa de Coromandell e l'Isola di Zeilan e Finisce con la Parte Tramontna. di Sumatra. D'Asia Carta II. Florence, 1646. Copper engraving, 546 x 831 mm.
This chart of Southern India is quite impressive for the time, as while it is not based on systematic surveys, it shows a relatively advanced 17th Century mariners’ understanding of the nature of the coastlines of the Indian Peninsula.
Dudley relied on a variety of Dutch and English antecedents, although his mapping does not precisely correspond to any other known chart.
It is thought that Dudley had access to some of the manuscript maps made by the navigator John Davis (c. 1550-1605), who made three voyages to South and Southeast Asia between 1598 and 1605.
The chart is from Robert Dudley’s Dell' Arcano Del Mare (1646-7), which translates as ‘The Mystery of the Sea’.
A fantastic and highly unusual masterpiece that maintains the distinction of being the first maritime atlas to cover the entire known World as well as the earliest original maritime atlas made by an Englishman (albeit one who was working in Italy).
Dudley’s charts were masterfully engraved in a unique Italian Baroque style by Antonio Francesco Lucini, an accomplished Florentine artisan.
Lucini clamed that Dudley had spent around 40 years preparing the Arcano, while he himself had taken 12 years to engrave the plates, employing over 5,000 lbs. of copper.
Johan NIEUHOF (1618-1672). [Southern India]. Landt caert vande Cust van Malabaer, Madura en Cormendel. Amsterdam, 1682. Copper engraving, with original hand colour, 350 x 428 mm.
This fine example of the contemporary Baroque style of Dutch cartography portrays Southern India as it was conceived in the 1660s, during the height of the Dutch East India Company’s (the VOC’s) power in the region.
The map was drafted for the diplomat Johan Nieuhof, and was published posthumously as part of his great work on India and Sri Lanka, Zee- en Lant-Reise door verscheide Gewesten van Oostindien (1682).
The year this map was printed, the VOC engaged the English East India Company in what was known as the ‘Pepper War’, a high-stakes trade game that nearly bankrupted the latter.
While the map marks an advancement over Linschoten’s map, it nevertheless preserves many of the earlier work’s geographic misconceptions. Notably, the interior of the peninsula is shown to feature a single, central spine of mountains in place of the Western & Eastern Ghats & the Deccan Plateau.
The still mysterious nature of the interior is beautifully demonstrated by the appearance of African animals such as lions and ostriches, which accompany depictions of tigers and elephants native to India.
The west coast of India features several important trading ports, including ‘Goa’, the capital of Portuguese India (the VOC’s arch-nemesis), ‘Mangalor’ (Mangalore), ‘Cananor’ (Kannur), ‘Calechut’ (Khozikode), ‘Cranganor’ (Kodullungur).
It also shows ‘Cotchyn’ (Kochi, newly conquered by the Dutch in 1663), ‘Porca’ (Purakkad), ‘Coulan (Kollam), and ‘C. Comoryn’ (Cape Comorin).
The depiction of the east coast of India starts with ‘Madura’ and features the port of ‘Toutekryn’ (Tuticorin), ‘Adams Brug’ (Adam’s Bridge, the chain of islands which traverse the Palk Strait, dividing Tamil Nadu from Sri Lanka).
Also shown are ‘Negepatnam’ (Nagapattinam, an important trading centre acquired by the VOC in 1658) and ‘Kranckebara’ (Tranquebar, the main Danish base in India).
Also labeled are the ‘Seven Pagoden’ (the ‘Seven Pagodas’), referring the town of Mahabalipuram, which was famously rumoured to host seven major Hindu temples, although reality it was home to only one, the Shore Temple, built in the 8th Century BC.
Johann Lucas NIEKAMP (d. 1740). [Southern India]. [circa 1740]. Manuscript, pen and ink on paper, 565 x 325 mm.
This map is a magnificent and very rare survivor, being the western half of an original manuscript map of Southern India.
This is either the original antecedent or, more likely, a contemporary manuscript copy of a printed map devised by the German missionary Johann Lucas Niekamp, titled Special-Carte von der halb-insel Indiens dieserts dem Ganges (1740).
For some years, Niekamp was a member of the Danish-Halle mission in Tanquebar and he clearly went to great efforts to find the most advanced geographical sources for his map, which is perhaps the most accurate and detailed of the region produced during its time.
The coastlines are labeled ‘Westliche Kust’, (Western Coast), ‘Malabar’ (Malabar Coast), ‘Perlen Fischer Kust’ (Pearl Fishers’ Coast), and ‘Tondyscher MeerBusen’ (Gulf of Tondy).
The Western and Malabar coasts feature ‘Goa’, ‘Bassalore’ (Basrur), ‘Canonaor’ (Kannur), ‘Calicut’ (Khozikode), ‘Cranganor’ (Kodungallur), and ‘Codschin’ (Kochi).
Key places labeled on the Coromandel Coast include ‘Nagapatnam’ (Negapatnam), ‘Trankebar’ (Tranquebar), ‘Pondicherry’ (Puducherry) and ‘Fort St. David’ (near Cuddalore).
The treatment of the interior regions of Southern India is quite impressive for the period, as many important locations are correctly placed.
This includes ‘Tanschaur’ (Thanjavur), ‘Madure’ (Madurai), ‘Tricharapali’ (Tiruchirapalli), ‘Sirangapatnam’ (Srirangapatna) and ‘Golconda oder Bagnagar’ (Hyderabad).
Johannes van KEULEN II (1704-1755). [Konkan, Kanara and Malabar Coasts]. Pas Caart van een Gedeette van de Kusten van Cuncancanara en Malibar met het Noortlykste van de Maldivische Eylanden in de Oostindischezee. Amsterdam, 1753. Copper engraving, 629 x 540 mm.
The present sea chart covers the Malabar and Konkan Coasts, which since the mid-17th Century, were among the primary theatres of operation for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in India.
Up to this point, the VOC produced master charts of Asian waters that generally remained in manuscript form so that their dissemination could be carefully controlled, such that valuable intelligence would not fall into the hands of rival powers.
However, by the mid-18th Century, it was decided that these charts would be printed by a trusted mapmaker in limited quantities, with their dissemination carefully controlled.
The present chart is from the resulting ‘Secret Atlas’ of the VOC, issued in Amsterdam by Johannes van Keulen II, which was privileged for the use of the Company’s captains.
The style of the chart reflects the best practices of Dutch maritime cartography, which from the early 17th Century rose to dominate the genre. All major ports are identified and some are marked by the flags of the nations or companies that controlled the trade flowing through them.
The coverage extends from ‘Vingorla’ (Vengurla), in the north, all the way down past ‘Cochin’ (Kochi), in the south.
The main ports, working from north to south and commencing along the ‘Kust van Cuncan’ (Konkan Coast) are ‘Goa’, the capital of Portuguese India; ‘Carvar’ (Karwar, featuring an EIC flag); and ‘Bassalore’ (Basrur, with both VOC and EIC flags).
The coastline labeled ‘Canara’ refers to the Kanara Coast (the coast of modern day Karnataka), of which ‘Manguloore’ (Mangalore, with the flag of the Nayakas of Keladi) is the preeminent port.
The ‘Kust van Malabar’ (Malabar Coast) features ‘Cannanoor’ (Kannur, VOC flag); ‘Tellechery’ (Thalassery, EIC flag); ‘Calicut’ (Kozhikode, EIC flag); ‘Cranganoor’ (Kodungallur, VOC flag); and ‘Cochin’ (Kochi, VOC flag).
[Coromandel Coast]. Nieuwe afteekening van de Kust van Coromandel en een gedeelte van de Kust van Golgonda. Amsterdam, 1753. Copper engraving, 629 x 540 mm.
This fine chart depicts the Coromandel Coast and was included in the ‘Secret Atlas’ of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). It extends from ‘Goetepatnam’ (Gopalapattinam), along the Palk Strait, in the south all the way up north to the Andhra Coast beyond ‘Vizagapatnam’ (Visakhapatnam).
Beginning from south to north is ‘De Noord hoek van Ceÿlon’ (the northern cape of Sri Lanka), and then along ‘De Kust van Coromandel’ (Coromandel Coast) is ‘Negapatnam’ (Nagapattinam, VOC flag); ‘Karikal’ (a French possession); ‘Tranquebar’ (a Danish colony);
‘Pondichery’ (the capital of French India); ‘Sadraspatnam’ (Sadras, VOC flag); ‘Cabelon’ (Covelong, a former Flemish-Austrian factory); ‘Madraspatnam (Chennai, EIC flag); and ‘Palleacatte’ (Pulicat, with an EIC flag, although it was generally a VOC base from 1609 to 1825).
Further north, the coastline is labeled ‘Golconda’, referring to what was then known as the Northern Circars (today’s northern Andhra Coast), then ruled by the Nizam of Hyderabad.
Important ports are noted, such as ‘Masculipatan’ (Machiliptnam); ‘Nassipore’ (Narsapur); and ‘Vizagapatnam’ (Visakhapatnam, VOC flag).
Curators Dr. Vivek Nanda Alex Johnson
Maps part of Kalakriti Archives Prshant Lahoti Collection
Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.