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An extraordinarily detailed wall map of British interests and possessions in the Indian Subcontinent at the dawn of the 19th century, executed by one of the Empire’s foremost cartographers.

Place/Date: London / 1804
Title: To Mark Wood Esq. M.P., Colonel of the Army in India, Late Chief Engineer and Surveyer General, of Bengal, This Map of India Compiled from various Interesting and Valuable Materials Is Inscribed in Grateful Testimony of His Liberal Communications By his obedient and most humble Servant A. Arrowsmith.
159 x 197 cm (63 x 78 in)
Original color
Condition Rating


This detailed map of British possessions and interests in India encapsulates the development of colonial powers at the turn of the century. Still largely in the hands of the British East India Company (BEIC), India had not only become a key supplier, but also a stepping-stone for further colonization of Asia.

Because this map was executed before British control of the Subcontinent had been fully established, the different regions or presidencies under the control of the BEIC are depicted with varying levels of detail, depending on their prominence in commercial systems. Coastal provinces such as Bengal and Andhra Pradesh in north, and the Coromandel and Malabar coasts in the south are shown in great detail. The same goes for Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon), revealing where British assets were concentrated. But the inland regions stretching from the Bay of Bengal towards Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and the Indus Valley have also been lent considerable importance and hint at Britain’s growing colonial ambitions.

In addition to recording as many toponyms as possible, Arrowsmith closely studied records from the British Army’s route surveys in order to compile a precise rendition of India’s transport infrastructure. The map also includes a plethora of physio- or topographic features, notations on the presence of natural resources, and seasonal navigation tips on the seaborne approach to Calcutta.

The map was produced as a copperplate engraving printed onto six sheets, which were then joined into three sections and mounted on fine Belgium linen. It is in excellent condition, retaining its original color and showing only light browning /foxing. It was published by George Allen in London.

In many ways, this particular map represents the height of the British East India Company’s influence and power, yet it was also a time in which both Company and Crown were planning to bring new territories and people under their dominion. The rapidly changing borders and political alliances are reflected in Arrowsmith’s decision to execute an entirely new map of India some 12 years later, in which the political landscape was wholly redrawn.

In addition to fortifying and expanding British dominion, the British Army combined military expeditions with cartography, mapping out routes and road networks as they traversed them. The close connection between cartography and military expeditions is seen in the dedication of this map to Sir Mark Wood, a British army officer and engineer who had a distinguished career in India, culminating in his appointment as surveyor-general in 1787 and chief engineer of Bengal in 1790. The work of this office constituted a foundation without which Arrowsmith’s work would not have been possible.

OCLC lists only three institutional examples: British Library, Harvard, and BNF.



India at the dawn of the 19th century had not yet been fully converted to a British colony, as we know it. British soldiers had served in the region for more than a century, but for the most part, their job was to facilitate the activities of the British East India Company, which operated out of the Subcontinent. During the 19th century, British policy becomes increasingly focused on securing and expanding its control of India’s territories and the vast resources they represent. India is also seen as the gateway to both commercial and military control of Southeast Asia.

The BEIC and the British Navy had been efficient partners since the Seven-Years’ War (1756-63) and continued to rely on the mutual benefit of this alliance in order to continuously acquire new territories for the Crown. Consequently, joint missions between them include the capture of Java from the Dutch in 1811, the annexation of Singapore in 1819 and Malacca in 1824; and the occupation of Burma in 1826. The base of operations for the British East India Company was India itself, from where they controlled both the production and export of key commodities such as textiles, tea and spices.

Despite the fact that officers of the company enjoyed almost unfettered authority in India and lived opulent lives only second to royalty, their desire for more control and more wealth grew perpetually. This was, in part, due to shifting patterns of consumption in England, which saw new areas and new products overtake the old, but also because the Crown increasingly was demanding its cut and concessions had to be made. This situation prompted company men to always be on the lookout for new commercial opportunities, leading to a series of expansive moves in the first decades on the century. It was not until the company seemingly was involved in the 1857 rebellion against the Crown that serious investigations into their affairs were launched. The following year, the company was disbanded and British control over India was relegated to a governor-general.


Aaron Arrowsmith

Aaron Arrowsmith  (1750-1823) was perhaps the most important English mapmaker of his generation. He served as hydrographer to the British Royal Family from at least 1810 until his death. Born in County Durham in northern England, he moved to London around 1770 where he won an apprenticeship under William Faden, the royal cartographer of King George III. Soon after he also began studying engraving under John Cary, who despite being only a few years his senior, had set up a successful business focused on mapmaking.

One of the accomplishments that secured Arrowsmith renown as a cartographer, was his chart of the world based on the Mercator projection, which he published in 1790. Some years later, a second world map based on globular projection was published. In the coming years, Arrowsmith dedicated himself to producing detailed maps of the British Empire and beyond, famously producing his first North American chart in 1796, followed by a range of seminal maps depicting The South Pacific (1798), The West Indies and Spanish Dominions in America (1803), The Indian Subcontinent (1804), Egypt (1807), Scotland (1807), Mexico (1803 & 1810), South Africa (1815) and The North Pole (1818). His 1790 map of America was re-issued several times, the most important of which was in 1802. The detailed study of this particular map was a crucial part of Lewis and Clark’s preparations for the great Corps of Discovery expedition (1803-1806).

In 1804, the same year as this incredible chart is published, Arrowsmith joined forces with Samuel Lewis of Philadelphia to produce the New and Elegant General Atlas Comprising all Discoveries to the Present Time, which for many years set an American standard for compiling popular atlases.

In 1810, Arrowsmith was appointed royal hydrographer to the Prince of Wales, who upon ascending the throne a decade later appoints him as Hydrographer to the King (George IV). His success prompts several family members to follow in his footsteps (most importantly his son Aaron and his nephew John), establishing a line of English cartographers carrying the Arrowsmith name.

Mount Arrowsmith on Vancouver Island is named after him.

George Allen

Condition Description

Six sheets, in three sections joined. Light browning throughout. Sheets mounted on fine Belgium linen. Original color. Excellent condition.


OCLC lists only three institutional examples: British Library, Harvard, and BNF.

Allen, David Y. (2017). Mapping in Humboldt’s Shadow: Aaron Arrowsmith and the Cartography of Mexico, 1803-1825. Terrae Incognitae 49,1: 50-67

Verner, Coolie (1971). The Arrowsmith Firm and the Cartography of Canada. Cartographica: The International Journal for Geographic Information and Geovisualization 8,1: 1-7

Wood, Greg (2012). Successive States: Aaron Arrowsmith’s Chart of the Pacific Ocean, 1798-1832. The Globe 70: 1-17

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