Domination of the British
Viewed from the lens of maps serving as visual rhetoric, one can attribute some political significance to the specific stylistic choices and decisions made in producing this map. The influence of the English as the dominant power governing Bombay is apparent from the choice to use English on this map, from labeling the different places to the title of the map, which is “Island of Bombay.” The choice of the word “Island” can also be interpreted as a conscious decision to highlight the independence and the special place of Bombay in the English people’s eyes because in reality, it is not an island but rather more of a peninsula that is attached to the mainland of India. The spelling of the word “Harbour” and the use of the name “Bombay” also indicate English rule because the extra “u” in “harbour” is characteristic of English spelling, and “Bombay” is a name given to Mumbai, a name that is used in the Indian official languages of Marathi, Konkani, and other languages (1). Furthermore, one prominent legend on the map is the label that states “English Miles,” informing the viewers the scale in which the map is constructed.
It is important to note influence of both this map and its creator because both of them have set forth more maps that draw inspiration from this style of map-making. For example, this map also appears in The Gazetteer of Bombay City and Island (Volume 1), which is a book that was published in English by the Bengal Secretariat Book Depot in Calcutta in 1909. This iteration of the map is exactly identical to the original one except it features brighter colors and does not have “Imperial Gazetteer of India” at the top left corner. It originated directly from the English, as opposed to a map that was produced by the native Indian people. Specifically, it was created by John George Bartholomew, who was a British cartographer and geographer who held a royal warrant and used the title “Cartographer to the King” (2, 3). Known as the “Prince of Cartography,” Bartholomew constructed maps that directly reflect the interests of the monarch in propagating certain messages to the world through the maps, such as the dominance of British power over Bombay (3). His name is also visible at the bottom right corner of the map, emphasizing his ownership over the contents of it. On the bottom left corner there are the words “The Edinburgh Geographical Institute,” which was the Bartholomew map-making firm; it was given this name by him since he hoped to brand his family firm as a “site for the promotion of national geographical knowledge” (4).
While Bartholomew does not employ layer contouring to represent landscape relief, a technique that his father pioneered and he then refined, to illustrate the geography of Bombay in this map, he does utilize colors to illustrate Bombay and to communicate its significance within the British Empire. Five dominant colors of the map are blue, red, green, white, and beige, with each color signifying something specific about the area. Beige is the color for the land, providing a neutral background for the various elements showcased on the map. While there is no explicit legend that specifies the meanings of the colors, one can surmise that the red parts of the map indicate British ownership by typical map-making convention of that period, whereas the green portions signify vegetation and green spaces, such as the Victoria Gardens (5). The blue shade is designated for the numerous bodies of water surrounding Bombay, such as the Bombay Harbour, Mahim Bay, Back Bay, and Arabian Sea, with the names of the larger bodies of water printed in all capital letters, highlighting the prominence of water in the geography of Bombay. One can explain the significance that the map attributes to water in terms of the role that water played in facilitating trade during the colonial times. While the first Indian National Congress—a pivotal development in India’s struggle for independence—that occurred in 1885 preceded this map by 23 years yet did not directly impact an aspect of the map, the Victoria Terminus, completed in 1888, that is written in all capital letters can perhaps be viewed as an indirect British response—the re-assertion of their power—to the initial Indian independence efforts. On the map, one can clearly see many roads delineated in white—such as Vincent Road, Sion Road, and Arthur Road—that formed a network of roads, suggesting that transportation and infrastructure were of the utmost priority for the British as they engaged in trade with India, involving goods such as cotton textiles, silk, and spices. There was even the Tansa Pipeline, shown in parallel dotted black lines, that connect to Vincent Road, perhaps reflecting the need for energy to support the booming city of Bombay. Another notable characteristic of this particular map is the labeling of forts, which were military establishments that exerted British power over the area. Furthermore, the presence of barracks signals the military power of the British and hints at the potential upheaveal that might be generated by the independence movement, which threatened British reign over India and created danger for the stability of the empire. Thus, the inclusion of these elements, a tactical consideration, was a subtle, not overtly explicit, way of demonstrating British military prowess and control over this region.
(1) Beam, Christopher. Why did Bombay become Mumbai? Slate Magazine, 1 Dec. 2008. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.
(2) “The digital south Asia Library.” n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.
(3) Gardiner, Leslie. Bartholomew 150 Years. N.p.: John Bartholomew & Son Ltd., 1976. Print.
(4) “Bartholomew family and firm - Bartholomew archive - national library of Scotland.” n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.
(5) “Online Exhibits: Maps and Map-making in India.” n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.