Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Madras Hunt Map 1911 & 1913 or How Green Was My Neck of the Woods

A few months ago I acquired, quite by chance, the Madras Hunt Map of 1911 & 1913. It is a big map, some three and a half by two feet and is drawn on a generous scale of two inches to the mile. The scale is thus better than most Ordnance Survey maps issued in the UK. Being a hunt map it is mounted on linen backing and dissected, i.e cut into rectangular strips to fit the folds of the linen backing. The folded map has an integral cloth case and is thus a pocket map for use in the field.

The Map

There are some other interesting features about this map. It was printed at the Govt Survey Office, Madras, the map having been drawn by a government surveyor and issued by the Survey. It must be very unusual for a hunt club map to be officially produced in this way and the explanation must be that many senior civil servants of the Madras Government were active members of the Madras Hunt Club. Still, it shows the privilege that goes with seniority, something that is not available to low men on the totem pole. I have a good idea who in the Government got the Survey to bring out the Hunt Map, as you will see below.

Next, the map was printed in only 50 copies in each of its two editions (mine being the latter one). This is not surprising as the hunt club was exclusive and limited in its membership.

The map is printed as a helio zincograph. That is to say, it is a sort of photogravure from which a print or a lithograph is made. A faithful trace of the original map is made and the traced outline is laid on a plate of zinc on which a bed of light sensitive gelatin has been applied. When exposed to light, the gelatin beneath the blank areas of the trace will harden while remaining soft under the outlines and the text of the map. In this way an etched outline of the map is transferred to the plate which can then be made ready for inking, printing and so on. The process is a zincograph because zinc plates were preferred for this purpose as touch-ups, corrections or highlights could be easily added to the zinc plate by hand in case the image transfer or light exposure was less than perfect. And helio, of course stands for light.

Zinc plates prepared in this way are printed off as lithographs. The interesting thing, again, is that the map is a tinted lithograph or, more properly, a colour lithograph. Multiple zinc plates were prepared, one for each colour and there are at least four colours in this map, so three or four plates must have been used. And the printing has perfect register, which means that there is no overlap of one colour into the domain of another even when printing from a series of separate plates. Nothing really special about all that since many helio zincographed maps from 1850 odd were printed thus. But this map was printed in the Madras of 1911 which is what makes me swell with pride!

Madras As It Was in 1911

The really singular thing that struck me about this map was its value as a record of landscape history - the open aspect of Madras in 1911, the number of water bodies, coconut, banana and casuarina gardens and paddy fields. There were bush and bramble, woody patches, hillocks and wide open fields and that is how it came to be an ideal terrain to hunt the jackal and the silver haired fox. The map, being doubtless based on a cadastral survey, has legends for all the landmarks, water bodies, gardens and cart tracks. Many landmarks are sign posted as also long forgotten monuments and houses of people prominent then. The extent and number of water bodies in the 12 x 20 mile area of the map is remarkable for a city that is now known for its shortage of potable water.

The number of Shrotrium gramams or villages is also remarkable. The Shrotrium was a type of privileged land grant made mostly between 800 to 1500 A.D by Hindu rulers to Brahmins. Shrotrium means learned in the scriptures and Shrotrium grants of entire villages were awarded in perpetuity to the Brahmins rent free. Thus Tiruvanmiyur, Tiruvottiyur and other well known suburbs of Madras were all Shrotriums. The Madras Estates Act of 1945 did away with Shrotrium rights and the Govt resumed the lands, thus bringing to an end a thousand years and more of privileged land holdings peaceably enjoyed. Be that as it may, the Madras of 1911, with its water bodies, paddy fields and Shrotriums detailed in the map, must have been a truly pastoral country.

The Madras Hunt

The Madras Hunt is the oldest of the British Hunts in India. Says Somerset Playne in his Southern India published 1914 : "Hunting in Madras is a sport of some antiquity. No detailed records of the Madras Hunt exist prior to 1868, but the hunting of the jackal has apparently been carried on from a very remote date, the earliest record available being a letter dated 1776 from a gentleman then resident in Madras to his relatives at home on behalf of the then so called "Madras Hunting Society", asking them to try and arrange for a yearly draft of twenty couples of hounds to keep up the local pack. It may be presumed that the Madras Hunt is entitled to the distinction of being the first hunt established in India. Hounds are out two days a week and the jackal is the quarry hunted. The small Indian silver fox is occasionally found, but it usually affords little sport, as he leaves very little scent. Jackals are plentiful, and there is seldom much difficulty in finding at once, a point of some importance, as hounds throw off at daylight, about six o'clock, and hunting men have to be at their offices some four hours later. This does not leave much time, so that a quick find is indispensable.

The country hunted is not an ideal one, as it lies to the south and west of the city of Madras, and is very soft and often very false at the commencement of the season when the north-east monsoon is prevalent. The paddy fields, which are flooded with water, are deep in mire, and treacherous ground causes a lot of unseating of riders. The ground gradually dries up, until about the end of the season, February or March, it is nearly as hard as the high road, and dust is flying. It, however, usually carries a good scent, but its greatest drawback is the prickly pear, which is found nearly everywhere, and is very sore on hounds and horses. There is practically no fencing beyond an occasional "double bund". The coverts are large and very strong; almost everything that grows has thorns on it; and it is a tribute to the dash of the foxhound that he will face it at all. The "wild jack", as hunted in Madras is, contrary to usual conviction, by no means an unworthy substitute for the fox, and he usually takes a lot of bringing to hand".

In fact H.H.Dodwell in his The Nabobs of Madras, published in 1926, traces the existence of the Madras Hunt in 1751, citing a case concerning a horse that Governor Pigot rode ina "fox chase" in that year.

What Do We Know of the Madras Hunt

I am sorry to have to say that little or no archival material relating to this premier hunt club in India survives today. All the records and proceedings of the Madras Hunt Club, including much visual material, were held by the Adyar Club which, in the 60's, merged with the Madras Club. And S.Muthiah, who has been digging deep into the local history of Madras for the last two decades, tells me that the worthies directing the affairs of the Madras Club decided to junk all, I mean all, of the hunt club records and that was the end of that. I guess they decided that there was not enough room in the club library to house all the pulp fiction they were buying up. Surely this is what is meant by "exchanging a priceless heritage for a mess of potage".

At the risk of a digression and worse, of swanking online, I am tempted to quote the following passage from the Tempest because it seems relevant in context :

Miranda :

Abhorred slave
Which any print of goodness wilt not take,
Being capable of all ill. I pitied thee,
Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
One thing or another. When thou didst not, savage,
Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like
A thing most brutish, I endowed thy purposes
With words that made them known. ....

Caliban :

You taught me language, and my profit on't
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!

So much for how well we learnt club traditions from the British!

So, what do we know of the Madras Hunt, besides the fact that it was the oldest British hunt in India, the only one to have a hunt map issued and the one whose papers are irretrievably lost?

The Hunt Club met twice a week in the season, which was about November to March. Whilst hounds were imported from England in the early years, they did not adjust well to the hot weather and so began a collaboration with the Ootacamund Hunt, established in 1844, and the beasts were sent off to the cooler climes of the Nilgiri hills for the summer. There were also attempts at cross breeding the English hounds with the native Poligar hounds, hardy beasts which were entirely at home in Madras conditions. I have also included above a picture of the Assembly Rooms at the Madras Race Course draawn by the Daniells in about 1790 odd. Hunt meetings of the Madras Hunt Clubinvariably started at this spot before gallivanting off in pursuit of its quarry.

Besides the jackal and the silver fox, the hunt sometimes also went after the wild boar, a more exciting and dangerous sport. I have two visuals of a Wild Boar Hunt here, the first being "Beating for A Boar" by Hnery Alken and the second, "Hog Hunting : the Find" by John Platt, neither of them being mine but filched from an online site :

We know the Madras Hunt was in existence as early as 1750 but when did it fold up? By about 1925 hunting activity was on a reduced scale, given the changing urban scape of Madras. Anyhow, of the twelve hunt clubs extant in India before partition, namely Delhi, Meerut, Nerbudda Vale, Jaora, Poona, Bombay, Bangalore, Ooty, Madras, Peshawar, Lahore and Quetta, only a few had survived by the early 1950's. These were the Bombay - Kirkee (an amalgamation of the Bombay and Poona clubs), Meerut and Ooty. So, the Madras Hunt was not one among the survivors.

So, who got the Govt of Madras to publish the hunt map? Top of my list of suspects is Sir Arthur Lawley (1860 - 1932), later 6th Baron Wenlock. He was Governor of Madras in 1906 - 11 but seems to have had a prior stint in Ootacamund as Captain Lawley of the Hussars. During this period in Ooty ( about 1891 - 95, which coincided with the Governorship of his elder brother, the 3rd Baron) he held the Mastership of the Ootacamund Hunt, which he did a lot to revive. In fact, the Wenlock Downs in Ooty, a 40 square mile area ideal for jackal hunting, is named after him. (It was said of the Wenlock Downs by Sir Frederick Price that the life of the jackal within this space is : "as that of the Grand Lama, except for the high privilege of dying in the course of nature or by the jaws of a pack of fox hounds").

I think we have established the motive and all that remains to be said is that he was Governor at the period of the crime : remember the first printing of the hunt map, it was 1911. I don't think a mere Chief Secretary to the Government, high placed though that office is in the civil service ranks, would have been able to pull it off but a Governor was quite a satrap within his province. It would have been an easy matter for Sir Arthur Lawley to have oredered the printng of the map. My case rests there.

I will be adding more visuals from my collection of field sport engravings in a post on this topic to be written by Swati. I am also hoping Swati will tell us exactly when women joined up in the meets of the Madras Hunt. It should have been post 1850 or even as late as the final decades of the 19th Century. Military men were certainly part of the hunt meets even though the civilians dominated the membership rolls. Being billeted from time to time in different parts of the country, the soldiers appear to have had membership rights to the Hunt Clubs wherever they went. Swati doesn't think so but I will let her explain why in her forthcoming post.

Enter Swati Shresth (not to Forget Nick Balmer)

Whatever I have said above was already known to me when I acquired the Madras Hunt Map. In ferreting around for more info, it was suggested to me by Theodore Baskaran, a keen wildlifer among other things and a longtime friend, that I contact Swati Shresth. When she met Baskaran a few years ago, Swati was a graduate student at Jawaharlal Nehru Univ in Delhi and working on hunting in British India. But the last five years and more she is enrolled at Duke Univ in the U.S working towards her Ph. D on Hunting in the Madras Presidency in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Just the person I needed, there could be none more qualified to report on the topic.

On e-mail contact, Swati was gracious enough to agree to do a post on the topic for me in this blog but went on to explain that she was, just then, on her way to London to look up archival material in the British Library. But so was I going to be in England at the same time and we lost no time in setting up a meeting at the library itself. I roped in Nick Balmer whose blog "Malabar Days" is one that I keenly follow. We spent an engrossing four hours on a Saturday morning at the British Library and here are a couple of pics I took of Swati and Nick :

Nick Balmer is keen as mustard about a number of things, the time his three ancestors spent in India, gunpowder, guns and hunting in British India. I always talk nineteen to the dozen on at least some of these topics, so young Swati and us fogeys had plenty to discuss. The upshot is that Nick will be providing Swati with tons of first hand, first person accounts by his ancestors on their own hunting experiences in India and Swati will be using all of that plus her own vast store of background info to write up an interesting guest post for this blog. And I will be taking the credit. Watch this space!


bitterscotch said...

wow, thats an incredible map! as someone with a special interest in maps id really like to take a closer look at the map to understand how the city has evolved.

If you are in chennai, id really like to meet you. you can mail me at


Mohan's Musings said...

an amazing map...I am an actor and am doing some research on the Film studios of madras .I would like to know some things from your map...can you mail me at and if you have time please visit my blog
mohanramanmuses on blogspot.
please send me a mail when convenient.

Anonymous said...

I have seen a similar 'annotated' map of the Peshawar Vale Hunt (by far the most famed and popular of the British-era hunts because of the great personalities associated with it and also the legendary terrain of the Frontier)

Andrew Prendergast said...

The Madras Hunt
I was recently in the Ooty Club searching the walls for any of my ancestors - our family 'arrived' in India in the 1780s joining up with the East India Company forces. The person I was looking for was Major H Prendergast VC who was in the Madras Sappers.
Ooty was renowned for its hunting and I have since learn that the Madras Hunt used to go there for the hot season. I was thrilled to have found a coloured picture/print of my great grandfather as part of the Madras Hunt in 1865. Do you have any records of the hunt membership etc.?
In time he became a full general who commanded the expedition that annexed Burma in 1885.

Much appreciate any info you may have. My email is

Best wishes

syed ali Hamid said...

Some years back i wrote a similar article on the Peshawar Vale Hunt and enjoyed reading yours on the Madras Hunt. i was amply rewarded for the article by a friend of my sister in UK who passed onto me his father's volume of the book on the Peshawar Vale Hunt. Along with the book was a military 1 inch map of the Vale of Peshawar marked in detail with all the places the Hunt met, fording sites, depth of water, etc etc. I will post my article on this blog soon for you and others to read