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Early Automotive Map / Madras Imprint: Map of the Madras Presidency. Showing the Roads & Distances.



Very Rare – an attractive, large format work that represents one of the earliest automotive maps of the Madras Presidency (today’s Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh), showing roads fit for cars and gas stations, created from the best sources at the Madras Survey Office under the supervision of the Tamil cartographer, Rao Bahadur M. Raman Avargal.


Heliozincograph in colour, dissected into 42 sections and mounted upon original linen, list of petrol stations and newspaper distributors printed to verso, with only orange paper back cover remaining (Very Good, overall bright and clean, missing paper front cover), 115 x 98 cm (45.5 x 38.5 inches).


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This attractively rendered map embraces the Madras Presidency, the British colonial jurisdiction that encompassed all Southern India, including all of most of today’s states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The map has the distinction of being one of the first maps of Southern India created specifically to aid the drivers of automobiles, as through the 1920s were gradually gaining a greater presence on the region’s roads. The map was published by the Madras Survey from the very best official information, drafted under the supervision of Rao Bahadur M. Raman Avargal, a Tamil cartographer, who served as the Assistant Director of the Survey.

The Automobile Era revolutionized travel in Southern India, allowing journeys into the interior (away from the railway lines) that previously took days by horse and cart to be accomplished in only a matter of hours. However, as the present map indicates, the new means of transport required a massive infrastructure boom, upgrading roads to make then suitable for cars, as well as the creation of a networks of petrol stations.

The ‘Reference’, below the title, lower right corner, explains the symbols used to describe the region’s travel network; showing Divisional Boundaries (orange lines); the locations of various levels of local government offices; Railways; Traveler’s Bungalows; Trunk Roads (in Bold Green Lines, being fit for motor traffic, while all others are not); regional roads fit for motor traffic (Bold Red Lines), while the others are not; and the locations of ‘B.O.C. Petrol Depots’ (Green Triangles); as well as places distributing the Madras Mail newspaper.

The inset in the lower left, ‘Enlargement of Nilgiris’, highlights the Nilgiri Hills, with the town of Ootacamund, a lovely mountain resort area much favoured by British colonial grandees.

This official map was primarily intended to aid travelling senior civil servants and military officers who had access to automobiles but would also have been available to the few very wealthy private citizens who could afford cars. Indeed, while through the 1920s automobiles became more common in India, only a tiny sliver of the population could ever hope to travel in, let alone own, a car. Thus, this map wass geared to very select, niche audience.

A Note on Editions and Rarity

The map was issued by the Madras Survey in 3 editions, in 1926, 1929 (being the present example) and 1936. All editions are extremely rare, as they would have had only a very small print run due to the small audience of people who had access to automobiles; moreover, the survival rate of such large maps made for use in the field in India is very low.

We can trace only a single institutional example of any of the editions, being an example of the 1936 held by the Royal Danish Library (Copenhagen). Beyond that, we are aware of an example of the 1926 edition as having once appeared on the market.

The archaic style of the title cartouche is due the fact that the present map was modified from. a pre-automobile era transport map of the Madras Presidency, published in Calcutta by the Survey of India, in 1896 (re-issued in 1909).

References: N/A – No examples of the present 1929 ed. recorded. Cf. (1936 ed.:) Royal Danish Library (Copenhagen): KBK 8-668 2009-190; OCLC: 788891776.

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