This lovely and very rare pair of charts on a single sheet features two important areas along India’s Coromandel Coast, in what is today Tamil Nadu, and is from the ‘Secret Atlas’ of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), issued by Johannes van Keulen II in Amsterdam in 1753.
The upper chart covers the Madras (Chennai) and Pulicat region, from a westward-orientated perspective. Features along the shore are expressed pictographically, while hydrographic information dots the seas. The position labeled ‘’t Engles Fort,’ surmounted by the English flag, refers to Madras (Chennai), and Fort St. George in particular, while further to the left, is St. Mary’s Church. Founded in 1744, Madras (Chennai) was the capital of the Three Presidencies of the British East India Company (EIC), and the most important European-ruled settlement in Southern India. Just seven years before this map was issued, Madras was taken by the French during the Siege of Madras (1746), Britain’s worst-ever defeat on the Indian Subcontinent, although the city would be retuned to the EIC in 1748.
Further to the north (right) is ‘Palleacatte’ (Pulicat), marked with a Dutch tricolour, as it was then an important VOC base. It was established by the Portuguese in 1502 and conquered by the Dutch in 1609. From that time until 1690, Pulicat served as the capital of the Dutch Coromandel (replaced that year by Negapatnam), although it remained an important Dutch post until 1825, when it was ceded to Britain. The prominent Pulicat sandbar, which juts far out into the Bay of Bengal is marked.
The fine chart that occupies the lower part of the sheet features the area just to the north of Cuddalore (Tamil Nadu). ‘Tengepatnam’ (not to be confused with the other Tengapatnam, Tamil Nadu, properly known as Thengapattanam, located the northwest of Cape Comorin) refers to a Dutch base built in 1647 to the north of Cuddalore, since abandoned.
To the left (south) is ‘’t Moorse Fort’ (the Moorish Fort) which inaccurately named what became Fort St. David. The fort was originally built by the Nayaks of Gingee in 1608, and was taken by the Marathas in 1677. In 1690, the EIC took over the fort, whereupon it became a major British base, stalking Pondicherry, the capital of French India, located a short distance to the north. The town of Cuddalore developed to the south of Fort St. David.
A Hindu temple in the interior, labeled as ‘de Pagood Tierepopeliere,’ is employed as a navigational aid.
The Secret Atlas of the VOC & the Charts of India
The present charts are part of the ‘Secret Atlas’ of the VOC, issued in Amsterdam by Johannes van Keulen II, which featured printed charts based on the manuscript charts that were privileged for the use of the Company’s sea captains. They lend a unique insight into the knowledge of coastal India possessed by the VOC, one of the key players in India during the 17th and 18th Centuries. Exquisitely engraved, the charts reflect the best practices of Dutch maritime cartography.
The VOC established a dedicated and highly organized hydrographic office that went to great efforts to obtain the best information on the navigation of the waters around South and Southeast Asia. The Company developed master charts of various regions that were continuously updated by intelligence supplied by ships’ captains returning to the Netherlands. For some generations, these charts generally remained in manuscript form so that their dissemination could be carefully controlled, so that their valuable intelligence would not fall into the hands of rival powers, such as the British East
India Company (EIC) and the French East India Company. While certain details were occasionally leaked to commercial map printers, much of the most valuable information remained under wraps.
However, by the mid-18th Century it became economically prohibitive and technically impractical to create sufficient manuscript copies of charts for use on VOC vessels. Moreover, the manuscript-making process was especially vulnerable to compounded human error. It was decided that the Company’s master charts would be printed by a trusted mapmaker in limited quantities, with their dissemination strictly controlled. Enter Johannes van Keulen II (1704-1755), the man who was entrusted to publish the “Secret Atlas” and the scion of what would become one of Europe’s longest-lived map publishing dynasties. The family firm was founded in Amsterdam in 1678 by Johannes’ grandfather, Johannes van Keulen I (1654-1715) and would operate until 1885. Johannes I gained great acclaim for his sea atlas entitled Nieuwe Lichtende Zee-Faakel (translates as the ‘New Shining Sea Torch’), the first volume of which appeared in 1681. Johannes
II took over the family enterprise in 1726, while only in his early twenties; however, he proved to be highly industrious and brought the firm to the apogee of its success. In 1743, Johannes II was appointed as the official hydrographer to the VOC.
By the time that Johannes II was authorized to print the VOC’s secret charts, five volumes of the Zee-Fakkel had been issued. In 1753 Van Keulen published the “Secret Atlas” as the sixth volume of the series, although few examples were ever issued. The atlas included 73 sheets of charts, of which 9 focused on parts of India.
References: Koeman, Atlantes Neerlandici, vol. IV, and Keu 135B, map nos. 36 & 37 (pp. 366).