Colonial travelogues and ethnography

Colonial travelogues and ethnography

Dr Francis Buchanan, later Francis Buchanan-Hamilton, was an East India Company (EIC) surgeon, surveyor and botanist. He published works on the geography, and flora and fauna of India. He has chronicled his experiences in the book A Journey From Madras Through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar. It runs in three volumes and was first published in 1807 in London. The book was reprinted by the Karnataka Gazetteer Department in 2010. Thereby, contributing to historical research in the State.

Buchanan was born on February 15, 1762. In 1794, he was appointed as a surgeon in the EIC in Bengal. He also trained himself as a botanist under Dr William Roxburgh, a renowned botanist who was also the superintendent of Botanical Gardens in Calcutta. In 1800, Lord Wellesley, the Governor General of India, commissioned Buchanan to travel and report his findings and investigations.

The investigation was conducted for the purpose of understanding the state of agriculture, ecology, arts, commerce, religion, manners, customs, history and politics of the region. Buchanan’s travel was sponsored by the EIC and his works were published under its patronage. These volumes are a rich source of information. They can also be viewed as travelogues. The volumes comprise maps, engravings, tables, sketches, statistics, budget estimates and appendices as evidence for the text. In the collection, Buchanan’s accounts commence on April 23, 1800 and end on July 6, 1801. The first volume has six chapters followed by seven chapters in the next volume. The last volume has seven chapters with an appendix.

In the first volume, the travel from Madras to Srirangapatam (Srirangapatna), and from Srirangapatam to Sira via Bangalore and Doda-Balapura are explained. In the next volume, Buchanan is more specific, with his journey from Sira to Srirangapatam and through the parts of South Karnataka are explained in detail.

In the last volume, the journey from Heriyuru to Srirangapatam through the Western and middle parts of the Mysore region, and from Srirangapatam back to Madras is narrated.

In order to compile information for the collection, Buchanan met several people from various echelons of society. He met Krishnacharya Purniah, the Dewan of Mysore, and others. Here, he talks about the revenue system, the rent fixed on the land depending on the fertility of the soil, and the crops grown in the locations he visited. Furthermore, he narrates the experience of meeting people from various castes and communities. His observations of the cultural practices, mores, occupations and festivals of various communities are recorded in the books. He attempts to analyse the traditions behind the various rituals and traditional practices of various communities,  

In his collection, he records various crops, cultivation practices and the use of animals in farming. As a botanist and owing to the influence of Roxburgh, Buchanan always made a note of the types of plants in the forest or the trees commonly found in the areas he visited.

This apart, Buchanan also describes the people living in the locations he surveyed and their occupations. He focuses on weaving as an occupation that transcended communities.

He also elaborates on the small industries of the region that engaged in the smelting of glass and iron, making carts, producing sugar and jaggery, etc. Furthermore, he touches upon the concept of trade and prices in the locations. Elaborating on the imports and exports of the region, he describes the flourishing markets of the 18th Century. In 1814, he succeeded William Roxburgh and was appointed as the Superintendent of the Calcutta Botanical Gardens.
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