THE MAP THAT MARKS THE END OF FRENCH COLONIAL ASPIRATIONS IN INDIA: THE MOST ACCURATE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT MAP OF INDIA FROM THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
THE MAP THAT MARKS THE END OF FRENCH COLONIAL ASPIRATIONS IN INDIA:
THE MOST ACCURATE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT MAP OF INDIA FROM THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
FRENCH MANUSCRIPT MAP OF NORTHEAST INDIA
Watercolor and ink on paper: 42” x 66”
This magnificent, large-scale manuscript map of present-day northeast India is a unique monument in the cartography of that region. Dating from ca. 1765-1770, the map is exquisitely detailed in ink and watercolor, with indications of river courses, the locations of settlements, towns and forts, roads, and mountain ranges. A table at the center of the map (detail 1) provides a key to some of the more important locations that are represented. The map extends from Delhi at the northwest (detail 2) down to Patna and beyond in modern Bihar at the southeast (an area to the west of the modern states of West Bengal and Bangladesh). The backbone of the map is the Ganges River, which snakes from Delhi down past Agra (detail 3) and through the modern state of Uttar Pradesh, and then turns east at Allahabad (detail 4), where it is joined by the Jumna River and widens as it continues its southeastward course to ward the Bay of Bengal. The Himalayas appear at the top right or northeast quadrant of the map; on the other side of them, “Tibet” is inscribed in the corner (where present-day Nepal begins).
The map is clearly the product of a French military cartographer: all text is in French; the map itself bears the stamp of the Depot de Marine in Paris; and four of the sites listed in the table are explicitly identified as English camps.
Because British colonial domination of India was so enduring, it often goes unremarked that the French had their own aspirations to political dominance in this highly profitable part of the world. In 1664, a French entrepreneur named Jean-Baptiste Colbert had started the French East India Company (Compagnie des Indes Orientales). For a period in the early eighteenth century, profits posted by the French company actually surpassed those of the British East India Company. During the period that this map was made, however, the French were rapidly losing ground to
the British in India. The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) resulted in the defeat of the French forces and limited French imperial ambitions. Robert Clive, the Governor General, led the British to an astounding victory against Joseph François Dupleix, the commander of the French forces in India. In 1757, the French were defeated at Calcutta and pushed out of Bengal. They soon suffered a similar fate in the south, where the British, after further advances, defeated them soundly at Wandiwash in 1760. More grievous losses were to follow in the next few years. By the Treaty of Paris (1763), the French were forced to maintain their trade posts only in small enclaves in Pondicherry, Mahe, Karikal, Yanam, and Chandernagar without any military presence. Although these small outposts remained French possessions for the next two hundred years, French ambitions on Indian territories were effectively laid to rest in 1763, thereby eliminating a major source of economic competition for the British East India Company. Thus this map was made in the very years when the French were losing their hold on India. Such a map would have been kept in the strictest secrecy during this time when geographical knowledge was so closely intertwined with political domination.