Some Survey Memoirs of South India

The East India Company (EIC) sponsored topographical and revenue surveys of many South Indian regions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Each project typically yielded large scale maps of its target region, as well as narrative ‘memoirs’ that describe the place, people, animals, and climate. These documents are of considerable research interest to the modern historian because they were based partly on direct observation and partly on pargana, district, taluk, and village records, including such diverse, and now quite rare, sources as khanasumari census returns, kaifiyats, kaditas, temple records, and local genealogies. Few of these invaluable surveys were ever published. Most reside as old manuscript drawings and narratives tucked away in Indian and British archives where few researchers, and even fewer modern residents of the surveyed regions, ever see them.

This post is a working list of of lesser known published memoirs. Please feel free to email me with bibliographical information about memoirs and journals not mentioned here, or add this information in a comment at the end of this post. Continue reading

San Felipe, Tabasco, Mexico – 1968

I spent the summer of 1968 in the Chontalpa, a low lying coastal region of Tabasco, southern Mexico. For a couple of weeks I was in a small village (18.153669°, -93.742321°) that sits in a bend of the Rio San Felipe some 13 km inland from the Laguna del Carmen. Today this village is called Ignacio Gutiérrez Gómez, a name that honors a native son who became an early 20th century revolutionary hero. In 1968 most villagers still called it by an older name, San Felipe, and so it remains for me.

I recently turned to Google Earth to see how this village fared over the half century since my visit. I’m impressed by what I found.  San Felipe today is a modern, prosperous looking town with a population of more than 2,000 people. However, the contrast between the village as it was in 1968 and the modern town is so dramatic that I decided to revisit the place in a blog post. Continue reading

Ishapore .303 Enfield

I cannot look at a .303 SMLE (Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield) without having the stereotypical image of an Indian constable pop to mind — overweight, disillusioned, possibly a trifle dishonest, but often brave when it counts the most. If he’s armed, there’s a good chance that he carries a .303 SMLE. You may have seen him on the street, at the airport, railway station, so many places. In my mind’s eye, he treats his rifle as though it is unloaded; I also suspect that it wouldn’t pass a thorough arms inspection.

The constable’s SMLE was one of the 20th century’s outstanding military rifles and surely the one with the longest service record. Continue reading

India Pattern Musket

Between 1771 and 1818, East India Company (EIC) infantry, along with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of soldiers around the world, carried the India Pattern musket into battle. Weighing around 10 lbs and firing a .76in caliber lead bullet that left the barrel at roughly 2,425 foot-pounds of energy, it had a maximum effective range of about 200 yards (Harding 1999b: xiv, 380-381). For all this, it wasn’t the perfect flintlock musket. A knowledgeable critic probably wouldn’t call it aesthetically pleasing or of high quality.  Nevertheless, like all widely adopted smallarms, it was good enough. And just being good enough turns out to be pretty impressive when one considers the war records of EIC and British armies armed with this weapon. Continue reading

A Note on Smallarms of the Indian Army

My background research for the Mysore hill forts article (see Lewis 2012) required that I learn about the early 19th century arms and equipment of the East India Company’s (EIC) army. This work soon broadened to include several of the more common smallarms of the Indian Army, which is the direct descendant of the EIC army (Menezes 1999).

As I studied what the Indian infantryman carried into battle over the past few centuries, two weapons stood out, the India Pattern musket and the .303 Lee-Enfield. Both were in service for a half century or more; both were important British Army weapons and were used by armies elsewhere in the British Empire; and hundreds of thousands of both weapons were issued to Indian soldiers. In short, the India Pattern musket and the .303 Lee-Enfield, more than any other smallarms, played significant roles in recent Indian military history. Continue reading

The old Hotel Metropole in Mysore

I have fond memories of Mysore’s Hotel Metropole as it used to be. The new incarnation of the hotel is pleasant enough, but the soul of the Metropole is gone. No longer is it a charming place of deep verandahs, outdated furnishings, an antiquated restaurant, and an often equally antiquated staff.

The building was constructed by the Maharaja of Mysore to house his European guests in the early 1920s. It eventually came into the hands of the state government, which leased it to a private corporation to operate as a hotel. The State of Karnataka grew dissatisfied with the corporation’s performance and successfully sued to regain control of the hotel, which it soon closed. Following extensive renovation, it reopened in 2004 as part of the Royal Orchid chain of hotels. Continue reading