George Everest.

A series of letters : addressed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, as president of the Royal Society, remonstrating against the conduct of that learned body. online

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Online LibraryGeorge EverestA series of letters : addressed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, as president of the Royal Society, remonstrating against the conduct of that learned body. → online text (page 7 of 13)
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places where humbug and empiricism may have taken refuge :
if that should be the case, how without the de novo principle the
work is to be approached in accuracy to the systems pursued in
Great Britain and Ireland, or on the Continent, is to my humble
judgment quite an enigma.

I have my own theories on this point also ; but as I do not
thoroughly comprehend the position of the thirty-eight learned
Fellows, which it would be unfair to suppose is other than
fraught with meaning ; and as it would be waste of time to
combat an unreal form in the dark, I shall refrain from an
exposition of them until the time and occasion are more fitting :
meanwhile, as the Court have done me the honour to impose on
me the perilous office of their confidential adviser, I shall merely
cite to them the words of the great Juvenal :

" Evertere domes totas optantibus ipsis
Dii faciles."

which freely translated, for the benefit of the country gentlemen,
meaneth in plain English, " Many a house has tumbled down
about the ears of its occupants, because they did not know how
to shore it up with judgment."

We will pass on, please your Royal Highness, to the subject
of the Improvement of the Geography of India, and of the
countries stretching between its frontiers and the Caspian Sea,
which, amongst others, is characterised in the Address of the
thirty-eight learned Fellows, as being especially calculated to the
auspicious commencement of the reign of Her Majesty Queen
Victoria; in order to the right understanding of which, it is
advisable that I should know precisely what is intended to be

By coupling two subjects which are essentially distinct, in this
wise, the supposition naturally arises that the arguments which
are applicable to the one are equally applicable to the other ;
whence it would result that the same system of topography which


the tenor of the Address leads us to suppose is advocated by the
thirty-eight learned Fellows, as alone suitable to India within
the frontiers, namely, the uncompromising accuracy of the Great
Trigonometrical Survey of Ireland, is also recommended for
adoption in that without the frontiers, or in the countries stretch-
ing between its frontiers and the Caspian Sea.

There are several objections to this, however, the first of which
is, if I may be permitted the use of a law phrase, that it is not
tanti; that is, that it would cost a great deal, and bring in little,
if any, profit; the second, that persons would not be found both
competent to execute the task and willing to engage in it, because
with the former quality they might look for more favourable em-
ployment at less risk, and less trouble, nearer home ; and the
third, which perhaps the thirty-eight learned Fellows will allow
may countervail all the rest, is, that it is as impossible in the pre-
sent condition of things, as to make a Trigonometrical Survey of
the moon or the planet Jupiter.

The truth of this last position will, I persuade myself, break
out into open daylight as this discussion advances, without my
undertaking to prove it separately : wherefore I will suppose that
the thirty-eight learned Fellows do not intend to summons
the Court of Directors to run a series of principal triangles under
the auspices of Major Jervis, from Ludihana to Astrabad, and
make that the basis of a net-work to include Bokhara, Balkh,
Khyva, and the Hindu Rush, for the honour of Her Gracious
Majesty Queen Victoria.

The proposition however must, we may presume, mean some-
thing. It is not to be imagined that thirty-eight learned Fellows
would get up an Address absolutely devoid of meaning ; there-
fore, your Royal Highness will graciously pardon me, if, in at-
tempting to divine the cryptical motives of the proposers, I should
fall into error, and assign to the learned gentlemen notions, pro-
jects, and intentions, not their own.

The paragraph, if it do not bear the interpretation which I
have above investigated, can, to my humble judgment, mean


nothing more nor less than that route surveys, the oral tfaditions
of travellers, and in fact, information of any sort that can be
obtained, elucidatory of the tracts alluded to, would, in the pre-
sent state of our knowledge, be desirable ; all which is undeniable
as truism can be, or in the words of the comedian,

" An excellent remark, Mordecai, and very new."

But it must be allowed me to remark in this place, that all
things which are desirable are not attainable, and that there
never was a Government which less needed to be stimulated than
that of the E. I. Company, to undertake rude initial surveys of
the kind herein adverted to ; for when does an army of theirs
ever take the field which is not accompanied by surveyors and
equipped with instruments ? and by what unwearied exertions
did not the patient and judicious Rennell strive to reconcile the
jarring and discordant data on which the map that was accom-
panied by his Memoir is founded ?

If your Royal Highness will graciously condescend to cast
your eye through the Memoir of that accomplished and able
geographer, it will be immediately apparent how absolutely su-
perfluous, nay, worse than that, how affronting it is to dictate at
this hour to a body of men who have been perpetually alive to
this very necessity, and have steadily pursued the object before
them with a perseverance unparalleled, and which cannot be too
much applauded, during the long period when the profound
slumbers of the Royal Society seem never to have been invaded,
even by a suspicion of what was in progress.

Then, when the thirty-eight learned Fellows, starting as from
a dream or trance, begin not only to cavil, find fault with, and
treat as rejectaneous what has been done in this long interval of
their inglorious repose, but urge the Court to proceed in a course
precisely analogous to what they have been pursuing all along,
and that too in respect of countries not under their sway, with
which by law they have no concern, and to which their agents
cannot even gain admittance but in disguise; is it too much to


pray for a little consistency to mix up with this abundant out-
break of zeal in the cause of Geography, and of loyal outpourings
for the auspicious commencement of the reign of Her Majesty
Queen Victoria, as sudden as they are inopinate ?

But I perceive that I am falling insensibly into the same error
with the Address, by mixing up two subjects intrinsically dis-
tinct ; and as this can only tend to mystify what it is my object
to render clear, therefore I shall proceed to dispose of the ques-
tion of the Geography without the frontier, with the intention of
reverting to that within the frontier, in its order of detail.

Amongst the thirty-eight learned Fellows, there are perhaps
some who have read the travels of Burnes, of Conolly, of Woolfe,
of Forster, of Moorcroft, of Meyendorflf, of Jacquemont, of Mo-
ravier ; and to those I need hardly state that the condition of
society in the whole tract beyond the Panjab is as if the spirit of
the Khalif Omar, who burned the library of Alexandria, was still
dominant over the minds of the population.

Forster, who travelled there in the last century, met, as is well
known, with the most insolent and contumelious treatment whilst
wearing the Christian garb, which, from motives of prudence, he
at length resigned for the dress of Islam. We all remember the
story which he relates, of his being conveyed in a pannier on a
camel, as a counterpoise to a fat woman and her child, and how,
when the interesting baby gave vent to its fractiousness, the tide
of maternal wrath was let loose on the head of the vile, the im-
pure, the abominable Christian, who had bewitched her darling
merely by breathing the same air and riding on the same con-
veyance with the little angel who was otherwise so lively and

This, and many other anecdotes of a like nature, will serve to
illustrate the difficulty and danger of travelling in that country
in anywise ; but that is upwards of half a century ago, and, not to
give undue weight to facts of days so remote, let us turn to the
more recent pages of Burnes, Conolly, and Woolfe, of whom,
the two last were sold as slaves, and the first only made his pro-


gress clear, and escaped a like fate, by his adroitness and mother-
wit, and by assuming the disguise of a merchant, travelling with
a karawan or kafila.

Now in those countries the art of printing is utterly unknown :
they are torn by intestine wars, the troops of the state are
irregularly paid, vassals in open resistance to the dominant
power are perpetually prepared to pounce on the unwary, fa-
naticism is the order of the day, and the voice of truth, of
reason, or of toleration, seems never to have agitated the air.

The state of things seems then to be little different from that
in which our forefathers were immersed in the dark ages of Eu-
rope, when to eat meat yi Lent was a penal offence punished
by confinement and death ; when men of noble degree were
flogged at the cart's tail for breathing a doubt, even in jest, as to
the real presence ; when harmless women, old and young, nay,
sometimes beautiful, were burned at the stake for witchcraft and

Is it possible the thirty-eight learned Gentlemen can believe
that in such circumstances the Court of Directors can equip a
scientific expedition, with the avowed purpose of acquiring geo-
graphical information ? Need they to be informed that of all
classes of strangers and travellers the inquisitive are those who
would be most objects of suspicion in a country where to be
suspected, without friends, is equivalent to death or mutilation ;
and that the very existence of an instrument applicable to the
purposes of surveying, would subject the party on whom it
should be found to the most cruel tortures, even though he were
not detected in the act of employing it in that pursuit, and were
simply amenable to the imputation of dealing in the black art.

A scientific expedition is indeed apparently a hopeless specu-
lation, unless an armed force sufficient to awe the turbulent and
vindictive accompanied it, and that, under the unequivocal
assent, and direct patronage of the ruling power of the state ;
unless, in fact, as Lord Byron somewhere remarks, the population
should be drubbed into a civility very convenient for travellers.


But it is contrary to all precedent to imagine that the dominant
power of any one of those states would ever be sincerely con-
sentient to any measure of the sort ; for it is a fact, of which
every day's experience only brings further proof, that there is
nothing whatever which so much excites the jealousy of states
adjoining India, as the slightest display of a disposition to survey
and spy into the nakedness of the land, which they universally
believe, and with how sufficient reason gentlemen may judge, is
but a preliminary step to assuming possession ; so that, if the
attempt were made, it would in all probability end in the mas-
sacre or mutilation of the whole party, either overtly, or clan-
destinely^, by the Government or its agents ; and the headless
trunks, or the sacks filled with the noses ears and limbs of Eng-
lishmen, would be the sole trophy to grace the auspicious reign
of our honoured Queen Victoria.

How needless then it is for the thirty-eight learned Fellows to
intrude their summary dictates, and officiously intermeddle in an
affair which is in hands better able to manage it than theirs, will
be apparent from the fact, that when, but a few short months ago,
the obstacles were removed, and that Shah Suja, backed by a
contingent force, raised for his service, and officered by English-
men, and by a gallant body of all arms, fifteen thousand strong,
since denominated " The Army of the Indus," crossed that classic
river to take possession of the throne of his ancestors at Kabul,
the object ranking first in importance which the Governor-
General resolved to provide for was the full equipment with in-
struments of the gentlemen to whose care were committed the
geographical and other scientific details of the expedition. But
herein his Lordship has only acted in keeping with what all his
predecessors have done ; for I can call to mind no instance of any
considerable force taking the field, with the avowed purpose of
marching into lands imperfectly known or unexplored, wherein a
similar precaution was unobserved. Let us look back to the year
1834-5, when an expedition was sent to the Shekawati country,
to settle some disputes with the state of Jodpur : the main end


of that expedition, though really of war, seemed as if it were solely
the extension of geographical information, for to that object
everything else was made to give way, and treated as subordinate.
Nay, in fact, until a comparatively recent date, there was a general
order existing, that no corps should ever take the field, even for
the purpose of marching from one station to another, in the or-
dinary duty of relief, without being provided with a perambu-
lator and pocket compass, at least, if not a theodolite and sex-
tant, under charge of such Officer as might be pronounced best
qualified of those on the spot to employ those instruments in
route surveying.

Hence has arisen the inferiority of the materials at the disposal
of the Court of Directors, and the difficulty of the task that
Major Rennell had to deal with, in endeavouring to combine
data of such very various shades of character ; for though some
persons did, no doubt, in downright earnest make a field-book, in
which they registered solely what were, or what they thought
were facts, yet others, less burdened with that weighty thing
called conscience, seemed to think it much more simple to draw
a map and a field-book, as an indispensable prelude to drawing
the salary, and leaving to after-investigators the knotty difficulty
of discovering the amount of agreement between these two bant-
lings of their imagination.

This is the certain result in a greater or less degree of route
surveys, which, like the scaffolding of a building, or centering of
an arch, can only be looked on as preparatory to the erection of
the permanent edifice, and not as part of the edifice itself; for if
there be one affair in life to which Mr. Babbage's chapter on
cooking, fudging, and such like ingenious processes, is more ap-
plicable than another, this is that very one.

But with all this, I submit to your Royal Highness that the
E. I. Company's Atlas may fairly compete in point of accuracy
with the maps of Europe of fifty years ago, or even with that of
Great Britain and Ireland prior to the commencement of General
Roy's operations ; and if this be undeniable, as it seems to my


poor judgment, would it not be fairer to expect something more
like parity in the states of civilization of the two countries, before
the learned Fellows contend so clamorously for exact similarity
in matters of Geography ?

For example : instead of being in her existing condition of
semi-barbarism, ignorance, and superstition, let it be imagined
that India were at this instant on a par in respect to civilization
with what Great Britain was fifty years ago ; then the law of
parity would impose on her rulers the duty of being about to
commence an extended series of Trigonometrical operations. Or
to test the case by reversing the picture, let our glorious England
be conceived descending from her high rank amongst the nations
to occupy the place which India did in the same scale, at the
close of the last century, a metamorphosis which would bring
things down to the time of the Plantagenets or Tudors ; then the
same law of parity would require of England to do at least as
much as India did in the like state of civilization, and so it would
be as reasonable to clamour against the former, for not having
commenced a rigorous Topographical Survey in those days, as to
make the omission a matter of reproach to India in the present.

Then, I submit to your Royal Highness, the labours of the
Court of Directors are not so very contemptible after all; and,
considering the state of war, the struggles for bare existence,
the debt contracted, the falling-off in the revenues, and the
daring bold position which a handful of Englishmen hold
amongst multitudes numerically sufficient to devour them all
at one meal, and still ask for more, they are rather entitled to
the applause of their countrymen for what they have done, than
amenable to censure for what they have not accomplished ; and
this would be the case, as I opine, even if they had not to boast
of having been the principal champions of St. George in the
field of Geodesy, in connexion with the figure of the earth,
for the last forty years ; during which long period they have
never been greeted with one sympathizing cheer of approbation
from those of the bystanders who were most bound to encourage
them in their arduous contest.


Cast your eye, I pray your Royal Highness, over the vast
domains in the East which own to this anomaly of history, and
remark how much still comes under the head of terra incognita
even within the limits, nay, in the very heart of the E. I. Com-
pany's territories. Then turn to the side of the Birman empire,
and note how much the tracts but recently subdued are in need
of exploration, even on the score of watchfulness and precaution.
Observe the progress of a large army to the westward, over tracts
little known, if at all delineated, which yet the mere considera-
tion of safety from aggression calls on the Government to invade,
and then say, if the control of this mighty empire rested on
your responsibility, and your character was at stake on the issue,
which of the multifarious objects enumerated in the distracting
list of the thirty-eight learned Fellows you would think most
urgently needed your care. Your Royal Highness, I persuade
myself, could not fail to recur to the maxim, that ' self-preserva-
tion is the first law of nature :' and on the same principle which
induces each man to get wherewithal to maintain his existence
first, and seek the luxuries of life afterwards, you would postpone
considerations of extreme accuracy to the acquisition, even in a
crude state, of such information as was needed to enable you to
preserve your position. Am I right in this supposition, or have I
misconstrued your Royal Highness ?

It cannot, however, be imputed to the Court of Directors, that
they have shown any disposition to avail themselves of the
shelter afforded by the barrier which the strict law of parity
would establish : on the contrary, accurate topography has pro-
gressed through all their wars and all their troubles, with a
steady and uniform march ; and, notwithstanding what ignorance
may assert to the contrary, it will perhaps be found on calcula-
tion, that at least as much has been done in respect of area as in
any other country.

It was not until the war of 1817-18, in which the master
genius of the Marquis of Hastings broke the neck of the Mah-
ratta confederacy and dispersed the elements of the Pindari



hordes, that Central India was more accessible to Englishmen
than the states bordering on the Oxus and Jaxartes are at the
present day. Nay, even so late as 1819, in my first essays, I was
occasionally necessitated to carry on my operations in the terri-
tories of the Nizam at the point of the lance ; yet, prior to this,
not only the Great Arc, but the subordinate Series of Yerakonda
had been brought up to the parallel of 18, and stood ready to
advance the moment the favourable occasion presented itself.

If your Royal Highness will graciously recommend to the
thirty-eight learned Fellows, who are so eager to apply the spur
to the willing steed, to seek access to the records in the India
House, they will learn enough from the volume of the Report
transmitted by me in 1832, regarding the labours of myself and
my predecessor, to absolve me from the necessity of all detailed
description of what had been done as high as the parallel of
18-19; and if my printed work of 1830 has not entirely come
down to the trunk-makers, the dry grocers, or some still more
ignoble condition, they may learn on consulting it that the
Series of the Great Arc was conducted by me in 1824-5, to
Kalianpur near Sironj, in parallel 24 7'.

From this point we will take our start, and proceed to consider
what has since been accomplished.

First : A Longitudinal Series of Principal Triangles was carried
on during my absence in Europe by Mr. Olliver, of whom I
make mention in my book, emanating from the Sironj Base,
and terminating in Calcutta, a distance of near 680 miles, to
which the finishing hand was put by the measurement of a base
of verification by myself and my assistants in 1831-2.

Second : From each of the principal stations, Budhon, Ran-
ghir, Amua, Parisnath, and Karara, of this Longitudinal Series,
a Meridional Series has been made to emanate, of which, the
second and third, running northward, verge on completion, as
does also the fourth, running southward, whilst the first and last
are but partially complete.

Third: The Longitudinal Series commenced by me in 1822,


and suspended by the death of Lieut-Col. Lambton, (ride my
printed book, page 25,) with the object of connecting the Presi-
dency of Bombay with the Great Arc Series, was resumed by
Capt. Shortrede, of the Bombay Infantry, in 1828-9, and has
been completed by Lieut. Jacob, of the Bombay Engineers.
When circumstances allow, the principal stations of this will be
used as starting points for Meridional Series.

Fourth : For the last twenty-four years a Topographical Sur-
vey, under Capts. Garling, Morland, Hill, Du Vernet, and other
Officers, has been employed in filling up the details of the
principal triangles thrown by Col. Lambton and myself over
the territories lying between the Godavery and the Kistna. This
work is still in progress, and is in very able hands, namely, of
Officers of the army, who, though all of the Infantry, do not seem
to have ever stood in need of being instructed by Capt. Tate in
surveying and drawing, as the two Infantry Officers his assistants
(vide pp. 2, 3, of that gentleman's letter, dated 12th Septem-
ber, 1838) appear to have done : in fact, the late Col. Mackenzie
excepted, my office records show no instance that I am aware
of, of any but Infantry Officers having been employed in the
Survey Department under the Madras Government: and yet it
is universally undenied that the Topographical System of that
Presidency surpasses all others in India ; whence, as the instance
cited by Capt. Tate is unquestionably an exception, I must object
to its being advanced as a criterion of the general rule sought to
be established, as altogether illogical.

Fifth : Topographical Surveys of Nellore as well as the Salem
and Baramahl Districts are also now in progress under the
Madras Government, under Infantry Officers ; and, in fact, as
the relative inefficiency of any class of men would be best defined
by a fraction, of which the denominator is the whole number
employed, and the numerator the number of failures, perhaps
it would be more prudent to avoid going deeply into a disquisi-
tion which would be at the least very invidious, and might end
in the discomfiture of the aggressing party.


Major Jervis's Survey of South Koukan, for example, is in my
office, and at this instant lying on my desk, and it does not
contain much to boast of. If I hear any more of this, perhaps I
may feel myself bound, as the head of this department, to take
up the cause of my subordinates, and commence by contrasting
that gentleman's performances with those of the Infantry Officers
whom he holds so cheap ; for though not of that branch myself,
I will not sit quietly by whilst injustice is perpetrated towards
a gallant body of my fellow- soldiers whose natural protector I
am. Did the thirty-eight learned Fellows themselves examine
into Major Jervis's proficiency as a Surveyor before they pub-
licly proclaimed that he was entitled to their confidence and to
that of the Court of Directors ?

Sixth : Since my assuming charge of my present situation in
1830, the following Surveys on the Madras side of India have
been completed in the same style, so creditable to the Govern-
ment of that Presidency :

Of the Northern Circars or Ganjan Completed in March 1833 ;

Of Trichinopoli 1833-34;

Of Madura April 1832;

all by Infantry Officers, whose names I have on my desk at this
instant, and am prepared to furnish if required.

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Online LibraryGeorge EverestA series of letters : addressed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, as president of the Royal Society, remonstrating against the conduct of that learned body. → online text (page 7 of 13)