Asian and African studies blog

13 posts categorized "Maps"

12 June 2014

A rare map from Mindanao

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Thomas Forrest (1729-1802) was a British sea captain who spent half a century plying the waters of the Malay archipelago, mostly in the service of the East India Company.  In 1775 Forrest undertook a voyage from his base at Bengkulu in west Sumatra to survey the north coast of New Guinea, sailing via the East India Company settlement on the island of Balambangan off the north coast of Borneo, which had been granted by the Sultan of Sulu following negotations with Alexander Dalrymple in the early 1760s.  

On the return journey Forrest spent eight months, from 5 May 1775 to 8 January 1776, in the sultanate of Maguindanao on the west coast of the island of Mindanao in the present-day southern Philippines, where he was courteously hosted by the Rajah Moodo (Raja Muda or Viceroy) and his father Fakymolano (Fakih Maulana).  By his own account Forrest spent nearly every evening with the Raja Muda and Fakih Maulana, discoursing in Malay on a wide range of subjects, and his resulting book, A voyage to New Guinea and the Moluccas 1774-1776 (first published in London in 1779), includes a valuable description of the social, cultural, political and economic life of Maguindanao in the late 18th century.

Thomas Forrest, fronstispiece in Voyage from Calcutta to the Mergui archipelago (London, 1792).  noc

While in Maguindanao, Forrest received news that the Company base at Balambangan had been sacked by the Sulus, and he therefore made good use of his time in Maguindanao to survey the coast and the land, looking out for another suitable site for a trading post.  The second, improved, edition of his book, issued in London in 1780, includes numerous maps and charts of Mindanao and other places surveyed on his voyage.

Plate 18 in Forrest’s book is a map entitled ‘Part of Magindano, from Tetyan Harbour to the Island Serangani', which includes not only coastal features surveyed by Forrest himself, but also a detailed trajectory of the great Pulangi river up to its source, with a note of settlements along its banks, extending far beyond the limit of Forrest’s own explorations.  Forrest's source of information is elucidated in the opening of Chaper II of Book II of his work, ‘Geographical Sketch of Places on the Banks of the Rivers Pelangy and Tamontakka, by Tuan Fakymolano’, in which Forrest notes that  ‘the chart of these countries and rivers, drawn by Fakymolano, is deposited in the British Museum’ (Forrest 1780: 186).  This map of the main rivers and riverine settlements of Maguindanao is now held in the British Library as Add. 4924, and is an exceptionally rare example of a map produced within the Malay world. The rivers, with tributaries and channels, were drawn in black ink and captioned in Arabic script with the names of settlements by Fakih Maulana himself, with transliterations and some comments in English in a lighter brown ink by Forrest.  The map, which must have been produced in 1775, has just been fully digitised and can be studied in high resolution here.  

Map of Maguindanao, drawn by Fakih Maulana for Thomas Forrest, 1775. British Library, Add. 4924.  noc


Detail from Thomas Forrest's map of 'Part of Magindano' ( Forrest 1780: Plate 18), showing the river Pulangi, based on Fakih Maulana's map.  noc


Fakih Maulana's account of riverine settlements in Maguindanao (Forrest 1780: 185, detail).  noc

When Forrest left Maguindanao in January 1776 to sail on to Sulu and Balambangan, he carried with him two royal letters in Malay from the Raja Muda and Fakih Maulana, to the king (then George III) and the East India Company.  These letters will be discussed in my next post.

Further reading:

Thomas Forrest, A voyage to New Guinea and the Moluccas 1774-1776. Dublin, 1779.

Thomas Forrest, A voyage to New Guinea and the Moluccas 1774-1776. 2nd ed. with plates. London, 1780.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia


07 August 2013

Japan400 – Hirado and the British in Japan

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This year marks the 400th anniversary of the beginning of diplomatic and trade relations between Britain and Japan. Throughout 2013 a series of events is being organised around the UK under the banner Japan400.

Or 14755 Brothers for blog
The English ship Brothers and members of its crew depicted by a Japanese artist in 1818 (Or.14755)
 noc Images online

To commemorate the anniversary the British Library is mounting a display of material from its collections relating to Anglo-Japanese relations from the establishment of the English East India Company (EIC) trading post at Hirado in 1613 to the opening of Japan in the mid-19th century. The small exhibition includes a letter from King James I to the 'emperor' of Japan, the EIC’s official translation of the charter granted by the retired-Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and a letter of 1611 from William Adams, the first Englishman to set foot in Japan, describing his eventful life.

There are also historic maps which reflect the central role played by the island of Hirado in Japan’s external relations in those early years, as well as an illustrated manuscript made by Japanese officials showing a British ship which visited Japan in 1818 and a book published in 1853 with bizarrely antiquated depictions of foreigners.

IOR_B-2_f149 K James letter for blog
Letter from King James I of England to the ‘Emperor’ of Japan, 1611 (IOR/B/2 f.149)


In January 1611 the East India Company dispatched the Clove under the command of Captain John Saris to establish trading links with Japan. After an eventful voyage of over two years the Clove reached the island of Hirado in south-west Japan in June 1613.  Captain Saris brought letters and gifts from King James I for the Shogun including the first telescope to have left Europe. With the aid of fellow Englishman William Adams, who had lived in Japan since 1600, Saris was able to obtain audiences with the Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada and the retired Shogun Ieyasu and successfully negotiated permission to trade. He also received two suits of armour and painted screens as official gifts for King James and this exchange marks the beginning of formal relations between the two countries.

The East India Company set up a trading post or ‘factory’ in Hirado but the venture proved a failure. Advice from Adams over its location and the most profitable goods was ignored and the factory was abandoned in 1623 after only a decade.

Or 70 bbb 9 Hirado map for blog
Portion of a scroll map of the sea route from Nagasaki to Osaka. showing Firando [Hirado]
c.1680-90 (Or.70.bbb.9)

In response to the perceived threat of foreign influence, from the 1630s the Japanese government strictly limited contact with the outside world and the only Westerners permitted to trade were a small group of Dutch merchants confined to the island of Deshima in Nagasaki harbour. Nevertheless, over the next two centuries British ships occasionally visited Japan - for example the Brothers which arrived in 1818 – seeking to be allowed to trade. All such attempts were rebuffed and it was not until the ‘opening’ of Japan in 1853 that trade and diplomatic relations were re-established.

The display can be seen in the Treasures Gallery at the British Library from 1 August to 26 September. For information about Japan400 and its events see its official website.

Hamish Todd, Lead Curator, Japanese & Korean

Follow us on Twitter: @BLAsia_Africa


01 May 2013

A 16th century Ottoman polymath: Matrakçı Nasuh

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Matrakçı Nasuh’s Ümdet ül-Ḥisāb (Or. 7988) and Cāmi‘ üt-Tevārīh (Add. 23586)

New information about manuscripts in our collections is often made known through the work of dedicated experts who study specific items in the course of their research.  One such case was brought to light through the work of Dr. Hüseyin Gazi Yurdaydın, who successfully identified the author of one of the British Library’s Turkish manuscripts which had previously been described as anonymous (Yurdaydın, 144).  The manuscript in question is Add. 23586, a work written in Ottoman Turkish.  In the British Museum’s late 19th-century catalogue, Charles Rieu describes this work in a fair amount of detail, even identifying it as a ‘portion of the history of the dynasty,’ referring to the Ottomans (Rieu, 46).  However, the work was not definitively identified as part of the historical chronicle written by Matrakçı Nasuh, the famous 16th-century Ottoman polymath, until Dr. Yurdaydın’s work on the manuscript.  Add. 23586 contains the section of Nasuh’s Cāmi‘ üt-Tevārīh dealing with the reigns of Beyazid II (1447-1512) and Selim I (1512-1520).

Add23586_f156r_720The section on Selim I, in which the Ottoman sultan sends an emissary with a letter of warning to the last Mamluk ruler of Egypt, Tumanbay (Add. 23586, f 156r)   noc

The author of this manuscript, Matrakçı Nasuh, was an Ottoman Renaissance man. He excelled in martial arts, mathematics, science, painting and literature, among other fields. Matrakçı Nasuh’s name, in fact, comes from the word for ‘cudgel’ or ‘mace’ in Ottoman Turkish, matrāḳ, as he was famous for his virtuosity in employing this weapon and creating games and military training involving the mace, as well as other weapons, even writing a work on the art of swordsmanship, Tuḥfat ül-Ghuzāt (Yurdaydın, 143-144). In addition to the art of chivalry, Matrakçı Nasuh’s contributions to Ottoman court life are numerous. His talents first came to attention of Sultan Süleyman (ruled 1520-1566) as a young officer in the Janissary corps. In 1530, Nasuh translated Ṭabarī’s renowned historical chronicle, Tarīkh al-Rusūl wa al-Mulūk (History of the Prophets and Kings, better known in English as the Annals) from Arabic into Ottoman Turkish and adapted it to include information from Ptolemy and al-Bīrūnī (Ebel, 4). 

This translation/adaptation, which Nasuh called the Cāmi‘ üt-Tevārīh, came to the attention of the new sultan in 1534 (Yurdaydın, 144). Perhaps in an effort to establish his status as a patron of the arts, as well as a universal monarch drawing his legitimacy from previous Islamic and pre-Islamic rulers, Süleyman commissioned Nasuh to continue his historical chronicle to include the Ottoman dynasty.  It is a copy of this work that is contained in part in the BL’s Turkish manuscript collection in MS. Add. 23586. Our copy of this work is dated AH 960 or AD 1553, making it contemporary with the life of Matrakçı Nasuh, who died in AD 1564.

Add23586_720The colophon of Cami’ üt-Tevarih recording the scribe as Ṣāliḥ ibn-i Ḥasan el-Ḳonyavī (Add. 23586)    noc

In addition to his contribution to the writing of history and the creation of games with cudgels, Matrakçı Nasuh was also famous as a technician. The most well-known episode of his engineering talent occurred during the circumcision ceremonies of Süleyman’s sons, Mehmed and Selim, when he famously constructed two moving citadels out of paper from which soldiers emerged and staged a battle, as part of the public spectacle and celebration in the Istanbul hippodrome (Yurdaydın, 144). He was also a talented painter and created a new form of art that depicted the topography of cities of the Ottoman Empire with great precision and detail (Ebel, 2-3). 

Matrakçı_Nasuh_Soltaniyeh_Map_720Beyan-i Menazil-i Sefer-i Irakeyn-i Sultan Suleyman, written circa 1537. (Istanbul University Library 5967)  noc  Wikimedia Commons

In addition to Matrakçı Nasuh’s work on historiography, the British Library also holds one of his manuscripts on mathematics, his famous treatise, Ümdet ül-Ḥisāb Or. 7988. 

Or7988_f16r_720Ümdet ül-Ḥisāb. From the chapter on fractions, in which the division of inheritance is explained (Or. 7988 f. 16r)  noc

However, the canonical work on the history of Ottoman mathematical literature, aptly titled Osmanlı Matematik Literatürü Tarihi, lists thirteen extant copies of Matrakçı’s mathematical treatises in manuscript libraries in Turkey and one manuscript in the University Library of Cambridge but does not mention the BL copy (İhsanoğlu, 72-73), meaning that this manuscript will have escaped the attention of many researchers.  It is hoped that by drawing attention to the existence of these manuscripts through our blog that we can create connections between scholars abroad and here in the UK in order to facilitate research on our manuscript collections and to make our collections more accessible.


Nur Sobers-Khan,  Asian and African Studies

Follow us on Twitter: @BLAsia_Africa


Further reading

Kathryn A. Ebel. ‘Representations of the Frontier in Ottoman Town Views of the Sixteenth Century,’ Imago Mundi 60/1 (2008): 1-22.

Sencer Çorlu, et al. ‘The Ottoman Palace School Enderun and the Man with Multiple Talents, Matrakçı Nasuh,’ Journal of the Korea Society of Mathematical Education Series D: Research in Mathematical Education 14/1 (2010): 19–31

Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, (ed). ‘Nāṣūḥ al-Maṭrākī,’ Osmanlı Matematik Literatürü Tarihi, Vol. 1.  Istanbul, 1999.

Charles Rieu.  Catalogue of Turkish Manuscripts in the British Museum.  London, 1888: 45-46.

Nasuhü’s-Silahi Matrakçı. Tarih-i feth-i Şikloş  ve Estergon ve Estolnibelgrad, tarih-i Sultan Bayezid: History of the conquest of Sıklös and Esztérgom and Székesfehérvar, the history of Sultan Bayezid. Ankara, 2001.

Dominique Halbout du Tanney. Istanbul vu par Matrakçı et les miniaturistes du XVIe siècle. İstanbul, 1993.

Hüseyin Gazi Yurdaydın. ‘Matrakçı Nasuh,’ İslam Ansiklopedisi, Vol. 28, Ankara, 2003: 143-145

02 April 2013

Rare portrait of Ikhlas Khan, the African Prime Minister of Bijapur, acquired by the British Library

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Among the most precious and sought after paintings from early modern India are those from the kingdoms of the Deccan.  The Deccan, primarily the upland plateau of peninsular India, was by the time of the Mughals divided into three principal kingdoms, Ahmadnagar, Bijapur and Golconda or Hyderabad (corresponding roughly to the modern states of western Maharashtra, northern Karnataka and northern Andhra Pradesh). The Mughals from the north, in their unremitting ambition to conquer the whole of India, assaulted these independent kingdoms throughout the 17th century. Ahmadnagar was largely incorporated into the Mughal empire by Akbar in 1600, and the remaining two were made to accept Mughal suzerainty by Shah Jahan in 1636. All three were ruled by Shia dynasties and looked to their co-religionists in Iran rather than to the Mughals who were Sunnis. They naturally attracted the ambitions of the strict Sunni Aurangzeb who finally incorporated them directly into the Mughal empire in 1686-87. Much of their distinctive paintings and manuscripts tradition was destroyed in these assaults, rendering what survives even more precious..

Deccani painting is distinguished by glowing and sumptuous colours and a sense of fantasy that remained largely aloof from the Mughal obsession with naturalism in the 17th century. Some of these paintings and manuscripts came into the British Library’s collections very early, including a group of important portraits and a magnificent Prince Hawking from Golconda bought with the Richard Johnson collection by the East India Company for its Library in 1807 that epitomises the sense of romantic fantasy found in Deccani painting.

British Library, A Prince Hawking, Golconda, 1610-20, Johnson Album 67, no. 3
British Library, A Prince Hawking, Golconda, 1610-20, Johnson Album 67, no. 3 noc

Since it is so distinct, it was not possible to exhibit this material in the Mughal India: Art Culture and Empire exhibition. A rare opportunity has just arisen to acquire an important painting that really enhances the collection.This is an equestrian portrait depicting Ikhlas Khan done in Golconda, 1670-80.

British Library, Ikhlas Khan on horseback, Golconda, 1670-80, Add.Or.5723
British Library, Ikhlas Khan on horseback, Golconda, 1670-80, Add.Or.5723 noc

Like all Indian miniatures, it is painted in opaque watercolours heightened with gold on paper; and its somewhat damaged condition has led to its earlier being pasted down on card. It has been in a UK private collection since 1931. Both subject and horse are distinctively Deccani, the costume of the former relating to 17th century royal portraits. The rider, clearly of African descent, wears a long white jama (gown), embroidered with flowering sprigs, and a small tight turban of gold brocade. Also of gold brocade are his long patka (waist sash) and dupatta (shawl) wound round his upper body in the Deccani manner. A black belt with gold studs holds the patka in place.  A curved sword or tulvar and a shield are hanging on his left side and a bow with a quiver of arrows on his right. He carries another straight sword (a khandan) slung over his shoulder. The stallions’s wide glinting eye, flaring nostrils, open mouth with lolling tongue, braided mane, tasselled trappings and powerful presence are all captured with great skill. The horse is rearing in the haste and excitement of a typical Indian procession, preceded and followed by attendants carrying standards, royal parasols, and swords as well, as one waving the royal scarf, a sign of royalty. In keeping with the Deccani reluctance to paint naturalistically, the horse and the attendants have no ground to stand on but float around in front of the plain background. Only the row of flowers across the bottom of the page indicates that this procession is happening in some kind of space.

All these accoutrements and the splendour of the gold trappings would appear to reinforce a royal identity for the subject. In spite of this, however, the subject bears no resemblance to any of the Deccani Sultans but a considerable one to the powerful minister Ikhlas Khan of Bijapur. Malik Raihan Habshi, a Habshi or African noble of Abyssinian descent in the service of the Bijapur sultans, was given the title Ikhlas Khan after he contrived the murder of the pro-Mughal minister Khawas Khan in 1635 at the time of Shah Jahan’s advance on the Deccan. He rose to the position of chief minister under Muhammad ‘Adil Shah (reg. 1627-56), so that he held all the reins of power in the Bijapur sultanate. He is known to us from several other paintings, in particular Sultan Muhammad ‘Adil Shah and Ikhlas Khan riding an Elephant, c. 1650. in the collection of Sir Howard Hodgkin, where Ikhlas Khan wears the same belt as here, and The Durbar of Sultan Muhammad ‘Adil Shah in the City Palace Museum, Jaipur, dated 1651. Another rather damaged half-length portrait is also in the Johnson Collection in the British Library showing Ikhlas Khan holding a gold and jewelled staff of office..


British Library, Ikhlas Khan, Bijapur, c. 1650, Johnson Album 26, no. 19
British Library, Ikhlas Khan, Bijapur, c. 1650, Johnson Album 26, no. 19 noc

Ikhlas Khan’s depiction in this new painting with the paraphernalia of a ruler would seem to be a reflection of his real power at court. Despite having to submit to Shah Jahan in 1636, Bijapur under his leadership was then free to expand further to the south into Hindu territory in southern Karnataka. His death date does not seem to be recorded.  This portrait does not, however, come from Bijapur but from its neighbour and rival to the east, Golconda or Hyderabad. The last Sultan of Golconda, Abu’l Hasan, had spent much of his life in Bijapur territory before being raised to the Golconda throne in 1672. Thereafter Bijapuri influence can be detected in Golconda painting, which had hitherto largely been under Iranian influence in its painting style. Perhaps the idea of Deccani resistance to Mughal aggression and to the encroaching power of Aurangzeb was the catalyst for the production of this posthumous portrait of a heroic Deccani leader.

Ironically the type of a portrait on a rearing horse had been borrowed from the Mughals, as in the magnificent Aurangzeb on a Rearing Horse currently in the Mughal India exhibition.

British Library, Aurangzeb on a Rearing Horse, Mughal c. 1660-70, Johnson Album 3, no. 4

British Library, Aurangzeb on a Rearing Horse, Mughal c. 1660-70, Johnson Album 3, no. 4 noc

Africans (Abyssinians or Habshis) from the east coast were known at the various Indian courts since at least the 13th century and several reached high positions as ministers at Delhi and in Bengal. In the 16th century they began to become much more prevalent in the Deccani kingdoms and to assume real power on a regular basis either as generals or ministers. They type is best represented by Malik ‘Ambar, the heroic defender of Ahmadnagar against the aggression of the Mughals in the early 17th century.

J.P. Losty, Curator of Visual Arts (retired) ccownwork


Further Reading:
Alderman, J.R., “Paintings of Africans in the Deccan” in Robbins and McLeod 2006. 
Robbins, K.X. & McLeod, J., African Elites in India, Mapin, Ahmedabad, 2006
Zebrowski, M., Deccani Painting, Sotheby Publications, University of California Press, London and Los Angeles, 1983

05 March 2013

18th century route map from Delhi to Kandahar

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In addition to single drawings and maps contained in larger works, the Mughals almost certainly used route maps which had obvious practical applications. Some 18th century examples exist in the form of schematic lists, while others are diagrammatic representations. Maps in this format may well have been produced centuries earlier, but are not to be found among the few surviving examples of which the British Library is fortunate in having two. These are almost identical copies of the route from Delhi to Kandahar in Afghanistan. One (IO Islamic 4725) is a scroll measuring 20 metres, and the smaller (IO Islamic 4380), on display in the exhibition ‘Mughal India’, is 12 metres long. No indication of orientation or scale is given.

Neither of the maps is dated, but a note in English on the back of the larger scroll mentions a “Moulvee Ghulaam Kadur”. This is possibly Mawlavi ʻAbd al-Qadir Khan ("Abould Kadir Khan" in the published report) who in 1806 worked for John Lumsden, a civil servant of the East India Company at the Nawab Vizier’s Court in Lucknow. As a result of a threatened invasion by the ruler of Afghanistan, Zaman Shah Durrani (ruled 1793-1800), Lumsden, in 1797, sent an agent, Shaykh Rahim ʻAli to Kabul to collect data and report back. From Rahim ʻAli's notes, ʻAbd al-Qadir extracted an account of the 75 stages of the journey from Delhi to Kabul and published it in The Asiatic Annual Register for 1806 (for details see below). It is possible, however, that the British Library maps were based on an earlier model since their details complement rather than duplicate the printed account. They include references to the residence of Maharaja Amar Singh who ruled Patiala from 1748 to 1782,  and "the late Burhan al-Mulk", the first Nawab of Oudh, who died in 1739, besides frequent mention of ruined serais (‘travel-lodges’) which were probably destroyed in the disturbances from the mid to late 18th century. Unlike the memoir, both maps extend the route as far as Kandahar.

IO Isl 4725_3_720The Fort of Delhi and the area to the north (IO Islamic 4725) 

The map begins at Delhi with the area around the Red Fort, north of the River Jumna. On the lower right is Salimgarh Gate and on the left is Buland Bagh. To the left of the Delhi Gate is Saʻd Allah Khan's Chowk. North of the Fort are vineyards on the right and a rose garden on the left. Between the Fort and Chandi Chowk (in the centre going north) are the garden pavilion of Shaista Khan and the Urdu Bazar. At the top of this section are the Faiz Canal on the right and the Khass Bazar on the left.

IO Isl 4380_Sirhind_700The route between Patiala and Ludhiana (IO Islamic 4380)

The section illustrated above shows, from the bottom on the left, Patiala the residence of Raja Amar Singh, 14 kroh (1 kroh is about 1.5 miles) from Sirhind, and on the right, Banur. The Sirhind Bridge takes the road to Sirhind Fort “destroyed by the Sikhs”.  Beyond that, on the bank of the river Sutlej on the right is the Maikhor garden built by Fidai Khan and Qasba Ropar. After passing an old serai, the road reaches Lashkar Khan’s Sarai and beyond that the Serai of Ludhiana with Ghat Manchiwara on the right and Qasba Payak on the left.

The corresponding stages, 14-17, in the printed account describe the roads of Sirhind as excellent, “with many wells, fountains, and shady mango trees on each side, and the lands in the highest state of cultivation”. The next stage is “quite deserted, and only fit for an army to halt at”. At Ludhiana the Zamindars (landowners) are recently converted Muslims, formerly Rajputs. The roads are shaded with a number of wells, mango orchards and tanks. The local chiefs are Tara Singh and Ghaiba Singh.

IO Isl 4380_49_Qandahar_700
The city of Kandahar  (IO Islamic 4380)

The final destination is the city of Kandahar situated 118 kroh from Kabul, 409 from Lahore and 667 from the capital Shahjahanabad. The road continues westwards with the mountains on the north leading to the Darya-i Shur, while the southern mountains face Mecca, leading to Tur and Jabal.


Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies



Further reading

Susan Gole, Indian Maps and Plans: From Earliest Times to the Advent of European Surveys. New Delhi, India: Manohar Publications, 1989. Includes a reduced facsimile copy of IO Islamic 4725, together with a complete translation of the Persian text

Abdul Rehman, Historic towns of Punjab: ancient & medieval period, Lahore: Ferozsons, 1997, pp.157-60. Includes a reduced facsimile copy of IO Islamic 4380, of the section from Serai Khan Khanan to Khairabad

Mawlavi ʻAbd al-Qadir Khan, “Miscellaneous Tracts for the year 1806”, The Asiatic Annual Register: or, A View of the History of Hindustan, and of the Politics, Commerce, and Literature of Asia, 8. 2 (1806 [1809]), pp.46-57