Mapping the Gwillim Environment

Mapping can give us insight into the world in which the Gwillims lived

During the time of the Gwillim’s visit to Madras, mapping was being used as a stark political tool to gain control over Madras and to expand its land. As exampled by this 1798 map, we can see how politics and mapping were sewn together through the East India Company.

Limits of Madras (Circa the Recorder’s Court 1798), Madras Record Office, The Tamil Digital Library.

Madras, as demonstrated in this 1798 map, is quite large- much larger than what previous maps showed as the borders of Madras. The 1798 version of Madras was a direct creation by the East India Company and served to establish a powerful administrative centre, one that they could control. Prior to this, Madras was separated into many detached villages that had different administrative rules. Aesthetically, Madras kept this detached look, almost as if the town was a collection of sectors, industries, and villages. Elizabeth discusses this in one of her letters:

The Sea is a fine object on one side & on the others there are fine hills two ranges of hills, the first begins 7 miles from the Sea the houses are on the plain of this space & the Rice fields & towns intermixed – The roads are cut into so many directions & windings to the innumerable houses & villages that I have as yet not the least notion of the plan of it & the servants tell me ‘If my Mistress every day go out for one year she will every day see some new road’

Elizabeth Gwillim to her Mother, Esther Symonds, January 23, 1802

As the East India Company expanded the borders of Madras, most foreign visitors imagined Madras as a succinct and uniform city. To their surprise, they found Madras to be large and expanding, but very disjointed as Elizabeth mentions. An 1804 French traveller simply regarded Madras as a “collection” of houses, towns, and suburbs.

Independent wealthy individuals began to purchase lands on the outskirts of the region, prompting the East India Company to expand their borders of Madras to gain control of this territory which would now be known as agricultural and undeveloped land. In short, creating borders issued many administrative and legislative powers for the East and India Company, and the Gwillims would have seen the area of Madras expanding quickly. 

Identifying where the Gwillims visited

The following images are close-ups taken from the Plan of the town of Madras and its limits, as surveyed in 1822 for the use of Justices in Sessions by W. Ravenshaw- BNF unless cited otherwise.

W. Ravenshaw, “Plan of the town of Madras and its limits, as surveyed in 1822 for the use of the Justices in Sessions” (London: Kingsbury, Parbury & Allen, 1824). Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Black Town

The Black town is the most curious in a view, it presents such a variety of objects: streets full of palaces such as I have described – English Porteguese [sic] & Armenian Church Christian – Churches – Hindoo – Pagodas & Moorish Mosques, & tombs – & when you go through the streets the various business carried on & the lower buildings which from the extent of the town are equally curious – It is very large & the streets have at the corners names written up in Malabar & English & the houses numbered

Elizabeth Gwillim to her Mother, Esther Symonds, January 23, 1802
204: Roman Church; 205: Armenian Church; 206: Church Missionary Chapel.
Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France
191: Monygar’s Choultry; 194: Black Town Chapel; 195: Jail.
Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France
190: Roman Church.
Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France

Fort St. George

Our house is about near two miles from the Fort & the Fort is built close to the Sea The Walls &c are very handsome with barracks under them at low water you can walk under them. The beach is like Borth Sands or Barmouth, but the Horses here have not strength enough to draw you a Carriage along the sand, you must either get out & walk or go in a Palenquin [sic]. The ground on which the Fort is built stands out a little to the sea & the shore hollows in, in a slight curve from the Fort to St: Thome

Elizabeth Gwillim to her sister, Hester “Hetty” Symonds James, February 7, 1802

The beaches of Fort St. George extend to the south on a peninsula.

Elizabeth Gwillim often discusses the roads leading back to St. Thome from Fort St. George as covered in gardens and plantations.

Garden houses were numerous in Madras during the Gwillims’s stay. Demonstrating the Palladian-style, Georgian period of British colonial influence, these buildings were constructed to be lived in. The buildings were often flat-roofed, sported many columns, and had porticos sheltering guests from the sun. As the name suggests, many of these homes would be surrounded by or within gardens and flora, often planted by amateur botanists. Kitchen gardens could also grow both local and European vegetables. Elizabeth’s letters discuss one of their houses, likely their second home in Madras (as discussed below) as having a good garden.

Fort St. George
Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France
Gardens next to the road on the way to Fort St. George. “The Environs of Madras Surveyed in 1814” by William Faden (London: 1816): via the British Library.
The Gwillims would have had to cross through this island on their way to visit Fort St. George.
Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France

The Gwillim House

The Gwillims stayed at multiple residences during their time in Madras:

July 1801 – April 1802: House No. 1 in Madras was two miles from the Fort.

April 1802 onwards: House No. 2 in Madras was one mile further from the Fort, with a good garden close to the sea and views of the ships as they go in and out.

The ‘Gwilliam House’ may be one of the Gwillims’ residences but this is not certain. The name as marked on a 19th century map is unlike any Indian name. The map shows this ‘Gwilliam House’ in the approximate location discussed in Elizabeth’s letters.

The below maps show locations of one of the two houses, most likely House No. 2.

1822 map showing approximate location of the Gwillim house
Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France
1854 Pharaoh and Co. map showing the location of “Gwilliam House
‘Gwilliam House’ identified. Courtesy of Patrick Wheeler.
J. & C. Walker, and Pharaoh and Co., “Plan of Madras and its environs,” An atlas of the southern part of India : including plans of all the principal towns and cantonments, reduced from the Grand trigonometrical survey of India showing also the Tenasserim Province (Madras: Pharaoh and Co., 1854).

Madras Club

The Madras Club is a gentleman’s club that was founded in Madras.

Some paintings in the Madras and Environs Album (South Asia Collection) show the new Madras Club.

The club merged with the Adyar Club and the building dates back to the 1770s and was once Moubray House, after George Moubray, Government Accountant, who built it. The current Madras Club sits on this site.

One of the paintings shows this building with a domed roof, from the perspective across the Adyar River.

Madras Villa- Mr Falconer’s villa on the Adyar, Madras Album, The South Asia Collection, PIC106.47.
3: Mr Falconer’s Villa
Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France
Perhaps the domed building and Madras Club depicted in the painting, across from the villa.
Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France

St. Thome

I believe I have mention’d the Village town of St. Thome to you before – I frequently go there as I much admire it. It is very large one part is quite a Braminy town – The streets are very broad planted on each side with Cocoa palms & on the occasions of festivals they always hang festoons across the street from tree to tree at the distance of every fourth or fifth house.

Elizabeth Gwillim to her Mother, Esther Symonds, July 16, 1802

Depictions of palm trees aligning the streets of St. Thome next to residential and/or commercial buildings.
Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France
Trees aligning a main boulevard next to residential buildings in St. Thome.
Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France

The depictions of trees aligning the streets and houses are often shown in maps.

St Thome of Milapoor. “The Environs of Madras Surveyed in 1814” by William Faden (London: 1816): via the British Library.

The Gwillims also stayed in St. Thome during different periods of their visit. September, October 1802: Elizabeth calls this house ‘Madras gardens’ in some letters. It is near to a bridge. This bridge perhaps is the current Ambedkar Bridge in Mylapor.

Perhaps the Ambedkar Bridge in 1822.
Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France

St. Thomas’s Mount

We are at present in one of the sweetest houses that you can fancy for a quiet country habitation. It is a house lent us by an Armenian at the place called the Mount- properly, St.Thomas’s Mount- we live at St. Thomas, the village of that name being near our house this place is six miles from my home & nine from the Fort. The road from the fort to this place is said to be the most beautiful & interesting in India-

Elizabeth Gwillim to her sister, Hester “Hetty” Symonds James, February 7, 1803

St. Thomas’s Mount. Environs of Madras. J. Goldingham, 1827. Madras Observatory Papers, University of Cambridge.
Plan of the Cantonment of St Thomas Mount, 1843, Unknown, Wikipedia Commons.

By Myles Browne

Click the link below to see how some of the images in the Madras Album correspond to their locations on the map, created by Qianru Wang: