I n histories of European archaeology, the term ‘antiquarianism’ usually refers to the discovery, collection and description of antiquities, to the amateur study of artefacts or monuments. In such study, artefacts and monuments are treated as ends in themselves. In early-nineteenth-century India, however, the word ‘antiquarianism’ had broader and more scholarly connotations. It was a time when strict disciplinary boundaries had not yet been drawn, allowing ‘antiquarian’ and ‘antiquary’ to be used as umbrella terms sheltering scholars who ranged over diverse areas—such as the study of ancient texts, languages, inscriptions, coins, antiquities, monuments, chronologies, and history. It was only in the second half of the nineteenth century that the term ‘archaeology’ came to the fore and began to assume a distinct identity within Orientalist discourse, denoting a branch of study concerned with the material remains of the past, with artefacts, sites, and monuments.
The formative phase in the history of antiquarian and archaeological research in India more or less coincided with the century of ‘Company raj’, the hundred years which stretched from the conquest of Bengal in the 1 750s and 1 760s to the Revolt of 1857. Changes in the nature and structure of colonial rule over this time, and the impact and responses these generated, had their ideological counterpart: there were visible shifts in the ideology of empire, in the many, complex intellectual strands that sought to justify and legitimize British rule in India. This process of legitimization rested as much on interpretations of India’s past as of its present.
The Discovery of Ancient India
The expansion of the East India Company’s Indian empire was accompanied by steadily intensifying initiatives and attempts to build up a body of knowledge about the country. The primary agents of these endeavours were the Company’s civil and military officers. One of the important early contributors to the construction of geographical knowledge was James Rennell. Rennell’s survey of Bengal (1765—71) was the first regional cartography of the subcontinent. His maps of India and their accompanying memoirs were published in the 1780s and 1 790s. Other landmarks in this mapping enterprise were William Lambton’s triangulation survey south of the Krishna rivet, funded by the Madras government. In 1817, the Calcutta government took over responsibility for the triangulation, and this came to be known as the Great Trigonometrical Survey. The separate trigonometrical surveys which assumed this grand collective name were meant to provide the grid for the various topographical, cadastral, and revenue surveys that were also launched in this period.
The surveys really took off in the second half of the nineteenth century, especially after 1857, when the rule of the East India Company made way for that of the British crown. Geological surveys were put on an organized footing in 1856; the first archaeological survey was launched in 1861, with the Archaeological Survey of India being established in 1871; the Indian Meteorological Department was set up in 1875; and by 1876 the basic triangulatory measurements of the Trigonometrical Survey of India were complete. By this time, a basic topographical survey of the country had also been almost accomplished. Geodetic observations began in the 1870s, and 1877 saw the beginnings of a systematic recording of tidal observations. Between 1875 and 1882 the Marine Surveys Department conducted the first phase of its surveys. The second phase followed in 1882—90, when the headquarters of the department moved from Calcutta to Bombay. The first general census was launched in 1871—2 and a second, more systematic and extensive one, was conducted in 1881. The establishment
2 The East India Company’s cartographic projects are discussed in detail by Edney (1999).
From Antiquarianism to Archaeology 3
of the Archaeological Survey of India in 1871 was thus part of a wide range of surveys launched by the colonial government.
Early survey activities, of both the eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries, were not as smooth and orderly as is sometimes thought. One reason was the initial lack of centralized coordination. The coordinating body, the Survey of India, which unified the trigonometrical, topographical, and revenue surveys, was established only in 1878, over a century after the earliest surveys had been launched. Uncoordinated statistical surveys of the eighteenth century were, similarly, placed on a systematic footing fairly late in the day—with W.W. Hunter, who was appointed director general of statistics in 1871. The nine volumes of the Imperial Gazetteer of India, published in 1881, were a consequence of this measure.
The idea of somewhat haphazard and amateur activity is reinforced if we look at the profiles of the men involved in survey work of various kinds during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Even among those who eventually applied themselves to fairly technical work, m had no special prior training in the area. They simply acquired their skill while on the job. This was the case, for instance, with the surveyor Reuben Burrow, who taught himself mathematics, astronomy, and surveying. Colonel Co Mackenzie, the better-known surveyor (and collector) of the period, was also a self-taught and self- made man. A third name of significance is Francis Buchanan. The statistical surveys of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were especially significant from the archaeological point of view.
Cohn Mackenzie was a Scotsman who started his Indian career with the Madras infantry; shortly after, he was transferred to the Madras Engineers.5 Between 1800 and 1810 Mackenzie was involved in a survey of Mysore and other parts of South India. In 1810, he became the first surveyor general of Madras. Between 1811 and 1814 he was sent off to serve in java Soon after this return to India, he was appointed the
Cohn (1997: 80—1) points out that in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries) the term ‘statistical’ did not have the connotations of collection, aggregation and presentation of numerical data. It simply implied the collection of information considered necessary and useful to the state.
First surveyor general of India (in 1815), and continued in this post till his death in 1821.
Mackenzie had come to India out of an interest in Indian mathematics. After his arrival, this interest broadened and came to embrace ancient manuscripts, antiquities, and history. In these spheres, Mackenzie is known primarily as a collector. Over the many years of his travels as surveyor, principally in South India, he collected an enormous historical archive—the largest ever amassed by an individual before or since his time. Over his early career, military and engineering duties frequently tore him away from survey work; in the second phase of his career the demands of official survey work in some ways helped and in others hindered the parallel survey’ or collection work he was con ducting at his own initiative and expense. In spite of the constraints under which he operated, by the time he died Mackenzie’s collection had swelled to include hundreds of manuscripts, drawings, copies of inscriptions, coins, transcripts of traditional histories, and antiquities. While Mackenzie was himself the dynamic force behind this mammoth venture, he was assisted by a number of Indian assistants (including Brahmin pundits and a maulavi), principal among whom were C.V. Boria and Cavelly Venkata Lachmia.
Mackenzie did not systematize his collection nor use it in any large measure to construct a men-text on India’s history. No report or journal of his surveys ever appeared in print. His collection was catalogued several years after his death by H.H. Wilson, in 1828, but no part of it was ever actually published. Today, almost two centuries later, the ‘Mackenzie Collection’) preserved in the British Library, has assumed a different sort of significance—as a graphic, if not entirely typical, representation of the encounter between early colonial rule and India’s past and traditions.
Francis Buchanan, like Cohn Mackenzie, was a Scot. Trained as a surgeon in Edinburgh, he joined the Bengal medical service (he assumed the name Hamilton some years after his retirement from India). In 1800, Buchanan was commissioned by Governor General Wellesley
After Mackenzie’s death, most of his oriental manuscripts eventually found their way to the Government Oriental Library in Madras, while the largest collection of the Mackenzie drawings currently forms part of the Oriental and India Office Library Collection of the British Library.
See Dirks (1994) and Cohn (1997): Chap. 4.
to conduct a survey of Mysore. The area was not under the East India Company’s direct rule, the survey set its sights on benefits that might accrue in the long run. The results of Buchanan’s investigations were published in 1807, in three volumes.
In the same year, the Court of Directors appointed Buchanan to undertake another statistical survey, this time of the Bengal Presidency. Buchanan did a variety of things in the course of this survey:
he compiled details of the occupational background of the inhabitants of various places, measured the temperatures of hot springs, collected botanical and geological specimens, measured distances and made detailed maps of the areas he traversed, and described the antiquities he saw and the sites he visited. The survey lasted seven years, and Buchanan submitted his report in 1816. A heavily edited and abridged version of the report, which left out a good deal of the information Buchanan had collected on antiquities and sites, was published in three volumes many years later, in 1838, by one Montgomery Martin. The detailed maps that Buchanan had compiled were never published, and the late publication of his report meant that his notices of important sites were left to others to announce. In fact, while Montgomery Martin’s name was prominently displayed on the title page of the published version of the report, Francis Buchanan’s was conspicuous by its absence.
The material collected and presented by Mackenzie and Buchanan is significant from several perspectives. It is part of the colonial enterprise and tells us about strategies of control. Neither Mackenzie norBuchanan can be described as archaeologists; nevertheless, statistical surveys of this period generally contained a good deal of undigested historical and archaeological material, some of which was collected by surveyors at their own initiative (although they were given a very wide brief), and in Mackenzie’s case at his own expense. Of particular importance, in such work, is the description of sites as they existed at the time of the surveys, often long before they were visited and described by archaeologists by which time they often presented a very different appearances Buchanan’s reports are, in this respect, even more significant than Mackenzie’s. Buchanan was one of the first to recognize the Importance of detailed plans and measurements of monuments.