Monday, 30 January 2017

MacKenzie Lambton and Buchanan - S Muthiah

These are my note from S Muthiah's lecture in December 2016 at the Madras Literary Society. He spoke about three British men who contributed to Madras and its history

S Muthiah lecturing at MLS

Francis Buchanan-Hamilton added his mother's maiden name Hamilton to his own later in life. The story starts with William Jones who founded the Asiatic society of Bengal in 1784. Jones proposed that the Society study, "Man and Nature, what is performed by one or produced by the other." While in Calcutta the efforts were made under the offices of the Asiatic Society, in Madras, mostly there were individual efforts until the formation of the Madras Literary Society in 1812.

Three things one needs when one takes over and rules a country. An army, an administrative service and an understanding of what the country produces. The British did this well, and the Americans fail miserably at the third of these.

Buchanan moved up from the South to the Ganges studying agriculture, natural wealth and fauna. Buchanan was the third director of Calcutta botanical gardens. Pioneering botanical work was done in Madras before Buchanan, by Dr James Anderson. Experiments were performed first with a Nopalry in Saidapet, then at Anderson Gardens in Nungambakkam, across the current MLS premises. 

Buchanan was followed by Edinburgh doctors Johann of Copenhagen, appointed natural historian of East India company 1779. Then Roxburgh. Later Nolte commissioned local painters to draw watercolor paintings of South Indian plants, flowers, leaves etc. Nolte 's book is a treasure. Hugh Clayborn followed them. Said Nolte, "The Hindus excel in this kind of minute detail. Every detail of every leaf and flowers (250 thousand sketches) was captured by these artists."

Muthiah says we don't know who the descendants of these artists are. This knowledge is still the basis of the Botanical and Zoological surveys of India.

Anderson's house and perhaps Gardens, Nungambakkam
Colin MacKenzie He fought in the last Mysore war. Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, commanded the 33rd Regiment in Madras. He lost his way with the Army on the way to Mysore and Colin MacKenzie rescued him and showed him the right way. Later after the Battle of Assaye, Wellesley marched the Madras Regiment into a hail of Scinidia 's guns. He later said, "there is no equal to the Madras soldier anywhere in the world. "

MacKenzie became surveyor general of India. The practices he laid down are still followed. I was part of the Survey of India (said Muthiah) from 1968-1990 before satellites and GPS and we followed most of MacKenzie practices.

Mackenzie collection at GOML, Univ of Madras

Mackenzie's greatest contributions were to Indology. He collected seven thousand artefacts and number of books, mostly on palm leaves. Most of these were translated, mostly by Kavali Boriah and later, his brothers Ramiah and Lakshmiah. In 1821, three quarters of the collection was sent to Britain but much of this came back. This formed the nucleus of GOML, which added the Leyden and CP Brown collection. Mackenzie was the first of the Indologists of South India. To him more than anyone else, South India owes the records of its history.

Kavali Boriah, who assisted MacKenzie, was called the father of Indian epigraphy and paleography. 
The first Indian to write in English, he kept a journal in English.

William Lambton might make claim to greatest contribution to scientific knowledge about India. Trigonometric survey of India. Gave the shape to the map of India as we know it. Began at St Thomas Mount. First survey from Madras to Mangalore and then Kanyakumari and then the rest of India. One of the greatest achievements of nineteenth century.
Anglo Indians many from St George's school participated in survey. Much more dangerous than conquest of Wild West in America. Heat and dryness and rains and floods and snake and Tiger infested jungles. Lambton died at age of seventy near Nagpur. The trigonometrical Survey was continued by Lambton's assistant, George Everest, who completed the survey at the Himalayas, and was honored by having the highest peak named after him. Joshua d'Penny a Madras surveyor did most of the calculations for TSI for Everest. There is a Lambton peak near Ooty, which is all there is to honor his memory. More recently, a bust of Lambton was installed at the St Thomas Mount, to commemorate his accomplishment.

There is also a Lambton's pillar at the Meteorological office in Nungammabakkam, next to MLS.
William Lambton bust at St Thomas Mount

Lambton Pillar at Meteorological Office

Lambton climbed Tanjavur Big temple with the half ton theodolite, because there was no hill or any elevation in those flat plains to help the TSI. The theodoloite fell and damaged some part of the vimanam, and Lambton to wait months for it to be fixed. Perhaps the European face sculpted on it is Lambton as suggested by Venkatesh Ramakrishnan.

Notes of other lectures by Muthiah

0. William Jones and James Prinsep
1. Ellenborough - Abolition of slavery in India
2. Robert Caldwell - discoverer of Munda language family
3. Francis Whyte Ellis - discoverer of Dravidian language family
4. An Englishman's Tamil inscription
5. Did Macaulay undermine Indian education?
6. Erdos on Madras - A Hungarian mathematician's poem

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