Cosmology to Cartography - Conflict of European players in the Indian Subcontinent

Kalakriti Archives

From 1745 until 1783, India was one of the epicenters of global conflict, revolving around the efforts of France and Britain to gain imperial dominance over the Subcontinent. While conflict between European players in India was nothing new, previous to this period these rivals begrudgingly tolerated their coexistence, with each focusing their energies on mercantile interests. However, beginning with the First Carnatic War (1745-48), the French and British East India Companies began to make bold plays for ‘winner take all’ domination of India. Many of the great Indian regional states that had arisen in the wake of the decline of the Mughal Empire were caught up in this contest, as were the minor European powers.

Jean BOURCET (fl. 1757-d. 1776) /
Louis Marc-Antoine de VALORY, Marquis d'Estilly (1740/1-1792) /
Louis François Grégoire LAFITTE DE BRASSIER (b. 1745, fl.1757-1786).
Theatre de la Guerre dans L’Inde sur la Coste de Coromandel par M.B.C.T. 1770.
[Paris: n.p., circa 1782].
Copper engraving, with manuscript additions in red wash colour,
646 x 1010 mm.

This magnificent composition focuses on a large map embracing the Coromandel Coast and the Carnatic, from Pulicat, in the north, all the way down south to Cape Comorin, as it appeared during the era running from the Third Carnatic War to the First Anglo-Mysore War, during the 1750s & 1760s.

These conflicts involved the EIC and the Nawab of the Carnatic, on one side, versus, at various times, France and the Sultanate of Mysore on the other.

This main map is based on a manuscript by the military engineer Jean Bourcet and features all cities, villages, forts, major temples, roads, rivers and territorial boundaries in exacting detail.

Every major battle site is marked with the symbol of crossed swords, including the date and names of the relevant French commander, employing letters as symbols to mark the outcome of each battle.

‘G’ means ‘Gagner’ (a French win), ‘P’ makes ‘Perdue’ (a French loss), ‘C’ ‘Canonade’ (a draw), ‘CR’ ‘Canonade avec un Retraite’ (a draw followed by a French retreat), while three naval battles are noted off shore.

The panels along the sides and lower part of the map contain 19 cartographic vignettes of key locations in the wars fought in the region.

These are based on a series of manuscript maps made in 1777 and 1778 by Louis Marc-Antoine de Valory and Louis François Grégoire Lafitte du Brassier, French officers who were separately engaged in reconnaissance and espionage missions in various parts of Southern India.

This unique example features the territory of Mysore, ruled by Hyder Ali, coloured in a pink wash, labeled in manuscript as “Etats de Ayder Aly Kan”.

Raousset de BOURBON, after Louis PARADIS de la Roche (1701-48).
Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
[Untitled Map of Madras, but featuring the dedication: “Dedié A Madame La Comtesee de Bourbon Par son tres humble, tres Obessant Serviteur et Petit Fils. De Raousset de Bourbon Officier au Regiment des Guardes Françoises.”].
[Madras, 1746].
Manuscript, pen and ink with red wash on paper, 461 x 610 mm.

This exquisite, yet unfinished, manuscript map was prepared by a French officer to illustrate the Fall of Madras, which represented the worst defeat the British would endure India during the 18th Century.

During the First Carnatic War (1746-1748), the first widespread conflict that pitted France against Britain for colonial dominance over India, French forces managed to besiege and quickly conquer Madras (Chennai), one of the EIC’s three most important bases in India.

The French forces under the Marquis Dupleix, the Governor of French India, backed by a naval force under the Comte de La Bourdonnais, attacked Madras on the morning of September 7, 1746.

The modest British garrison of only 300 men was poorly prepared and it was also soon revealed that Madras’ defenses were poorly constructed, as they crumbled with each salvo.

When Fort St. George’s liquor warehouse was hit, many of the dispirited British troops availed themselves of libations and were rendered unfit for combat.

Realizing that his predicament was hopeless, on September 9, the British surrendered Fort St. George, the city’s main defensive structure, to Bourdonnais, although the city was not fully occupied by the French until some days later.

This unfinished map was drafted by a French nobleman, Monsieur de Raousset de Bourbon, who was an Officer of the Regiment of French Guards.

As the intended key on the map was never filled in, the action can be interpreted through a printed edition of Paradis’s map of the Fall of Madras (see next map).

Louis Paradis de la Roche
Chennai (formerly Madras), Tamil Nadu
Copper engraving,
164 x 322 mm.

This printed version of Louis Paradis de la Roche’s map was engraved for Jacques-Nicolas Bellin and appeared in Abbé Prévost’s Histoire générale des voyages (Paris, 1758), a popular book on global exploration and colonial affairs.

It explains the operations leading to the Fall of Madras in September 1746. The ‘Renvoy’ (Reference) on the printed map identifies 51 key aspects of the action (lettered A to Z to identify sites in Madras, while those lettered a to x identify aspects of the attacking French forces).

These include: A) Fort St. George; B) The Governor’s House; F) the powder magazine; M) the ‘Ville Noir’ (the part of the city inhabited by Indians, partially destroyed by French artillery); V) the houses of the British residents; and Y) houses intentionally burnt by the British prior to the French siege.

The action follows with: c) hospital destroyed by the French; e) houses intentionally destroyed by the British, so as not to be used by the French as cover; g) the first camp of the French army; h) the second camp of the French army;

o) a great Hindu temple; q) the place of the landing of the French troops brought by the Comte de Bourdonnias; r) Bourdonnias’ three vessels, the Phenix, l’Achille and the Bourbon; t) supporting ships; and x) small landing vessels.

After a two-day siege, the French secured the surrender of Fort St. George on September 9, 1746, although they would not occupy the entire city of Madras until September 21.

Jean-Claude Dezauche
Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu
Copper engraving with original hand colour, dissected and mounted on linen as issued,
448 x 493 mm.

This excellent battle plan depicts the height of action during the Siege of Cuddalore in June 1783, a key event of the Second Anglo-Mysore War, which pitted Britain against an alliance of France and Mysore, as part of the grander global contest of the American Revolutionary War.

Cuddalore and nearby Fort St. David had been a major British base on the Coromandel Coast since 1690. While the war in India had gone well for the British overall (in sharp contrast to the global situation), in 1782, the French captured Cuddalore.

In the spring of 1783, the British dispatched as sizable army under General James Stuart, consisting of over 11,000 troops to retake the town, which was defended by a Franco-Mysorean force under the Marquis de Bussy-Chastelnau and Sayed Sahib.

As shown on the map, Stuart’s forces mounted a series of inconclusive attacks on Cuddalore as part of a siege that lasted over three weeks.

However, suddenly, on June 30, 1783, news arrived that Britain and France had agreed to end the war between them (although Britain and Mysore remained at war). The events at Cuddalore were significant in that it represented the last time that France seriously challenged British power in India.

Credits: Story

Dr. Vivek Nanda
Alex Johnson

Maps part of
Kalakriti Archives
Prshant Lahoti Collection

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