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The First Atlas Printed In India.

Rare early school atlas, lithographically printed in Calcutta by pioneer mapmaker Jean-Baptiste Tassin.  

The School Atlas was likely created in part due to the demand for educational material created by the General Committee of Public Instruction.  According to clause 43 of the Charter Act of 1813, the British East India Company had partly undertaken the responsibility of education in India and a sum of one lakh of rupees had been earmarked for the purpose.  In 1823, an official agency (the GCPI) was created to deal with educational matters.  A state system of edu­cation was begun almost simultaneously in all the three Presidencies by about 1823 and continued to expand until 1833. The educational grant of India was also increased from one lakh to ten lakhs of rupees per annum.

By 1841, a set of recommendations was made for a comprehensive curriculum for Bengali Vernacular Education,  which included a geography text titled Bhogole Sutra, and elementary work on astronomy "a complete copy of School Atlas," and "a pair of Globes."  By 1836, the Calcutta School Book Society (founded in 1817) was supplying and published a school atlas, beginning with JB Tassin's atlas published in Calcutta and beginning in 1843, the "Cabinet Family Atlas, published in the United States" (likely a confusion of the title of the Family Cabinet Atlas, first published by Carey & Lea in 1834).

In addition to being the first atlas published in India, it seems that the atlas was well circulated in Britain's Asian colonies.  As noted below, by 1837, Tassin's School Atlas was being used in Singapore.  While there are very few printed references to the School Atlas, they tend to be interesting ones.  For example, in the Singapore Institution Free School Fourth Annual Report, 1837-38, on page 25, there is a note:

Donations of Books and Other Articles.  1837-38

Committee of Public Instruction, Calcutta

 . . . 9 copies Tassin's School Atlas

The present example appears to have a title printed on Fabric pasted to the outside of the front board, with a price of 3 Rupees noted at the bottom right corner.  

A rare survival, this seems to have been a well-distributed educational tool in the easternmost parts of the British Empire.


OCLC locates 3 copies, all in German Libraries, curiously all in the Eastern part of Germany (Berlin, Jena, and Halle).

Provenance:  Forum Auctions:  Lot 120, October 8, 2020 (2,740 GBP).

Condition Description
12 double-page lithographed maps with original hand-coloring. Each map approximately 8 1/2 x 9 3/4 inches, mounted on stubs with recent conservation to stubs, some surface dirt, browning and surface dirt, original cloth boards with title to upper cover, spine crudely restored, worn, 8vo. The title appears to have been printed on fabric.
Sumathi Ramaswamy: Terrestrial Lessons, The Conquest of the World as Globe (2017), Chapter 5.
Jean-Baptiste Tassin Biography

Jean-Baptiste Athanase Tassin (1800-1868) was a renowned lithographer, cartographer, government geographer, and publisher. He worked in his native France, but also in Calcutta and San Francisco during his wide-ranging career. His maps today are rare on the market today; they show his skill and his ability to form partnerships with surveyors, businessmen, and government officials.

Tassin was born in Aix and he trained in France. He joined a voyage to East Asia as a naturalist, but his ship was wrecked in the Malay Archipelago, leaving Tassin impoverished in Singapore. He traveled widely in Southeast Asia before arriving in Calcutta by 1828. There, Henry Thoby Prinsep—brother of Thomas Prinsep, with whom Tassin would work on several maps—gave Tassin a loan to set up his lithography business. Tassin called the venture the Oriental Lithographic Press, which he ran until 1842.

One of the earliest lithographic presses in the city, the Oriental Lithographic Press secured contract work from George Everest, the Surveyor General’s Office, and the Calcutta administration. Tassin also prepared maps for the Journal of the Asiatic Society and Gleanings in Science. His press came to dominate domestic map production in Calcutta in the 1830s, earning Tassin a considerable sum. When he returned to France, he carried with him £16,000.

Tassin stayed in France for most of the 1840s, working as the head of mapping for the French Army. However, the upheaval of the 1848 Revolution drove him abroad once again. By 1851 at the latest, Tassin was in San Francisco, authoring views and maps of the area. According to the Sacramento Daily Union, a man named Tassin owned the Adelphi Theater, which burned in 1858. It is possible this was the same as the mapmaker Tassin, who was back in Paris by 1860.

Ernest de Massey, a fellow Frenchman in San Francisco, left an account of Tassin in San Francisco:

Another silhouette ... This one is of Sieur Tassin, Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur, ex-engineer of geography of the French government, commissioned in the Orient. He seemed to do his work with honesty. He was in haste to leave his business which must have been repugnant to him. Very ingratiating, pleasant and polite, he would have been better suited to a drawing room than a gambling house. He made a fortune and went away. In 1860 I met him on the street of Paris. He was then a “big” Monsieur Tassin. If I had met him in a drawing-room his face would have shown much more embarrassment, as I do not believe he advertised his ability at the green-covered table where the nuggets were easier to gather than they were in the mines.

Tassin died in France in 1868.

Maps he is known to have drawn, lithographed and/or published include:

  • Thomas Princeps, Map of the suburbs of Calcutta east of the circular road from Barnagore to Balligunge (1830) [lithographed]
  • Thomas Prinseps for the Government Lithographic Press, Map of the Soondurbuns from the actual survey (1830) [lithographed]
  • W. Garden, Simla (1831) [lithographed]
  • Map of the city and environs of Calcutta ... with the latest improvements and topographical details (1832) [drew and lithographed]
  • T. I. Taylor, Map of the Post Office Stations and Post and Bangy Routes throughout British India. Constructed by I.B. Tassin under orders of the Supreme Government of India for the use of the Post Office. Department of the Three Presidencies from materials collected and arranged by Captain T.I. Taylor (1832) [lithographed]
  • To his Excellency the right honourable lord William Cavendish Bentinck,... this new and improved Map of various routes between Europe and India, comprehending western and northern Asia (1834) [drew and lithographed]
  • School Atlas
  • A geological map and section of the eastern frontier of the province of Kumaon (1835) [drew and lithographed]
  • Atlas of the Ganges (1835) [compiled and lithographed]
  • A new Map of the Country fifty miles round Calcutta (1836) [drew and lithographed]
  • large folding plan of Singapore, four other maps and a chart for John Henry Moor (ed.), Notices of the Indian archipelago, and adjacent countries; being a collection of papers relating to Borneo, Celebes, Bali, Java, Sumatra, Nias, the Philippine Islands, Sulus, Siam, Cochin China, Malayan Peninsula (Singapore: Mission Press, 1837) [drew and lithographed]
  • Anglo-Persian Map of India (1837) [drew and lithographed]
  • Hind ba Hindusthán ká Nakshá (1837) [drew and lithographed]
  • Robert Charles Boileau Pemberton, Map Of The Eastern Frontier Of British India, With The Adjacent Countries, Comprising Bengal, Bootan, Silhet, Assam, Muneepore, Arrakan, Burma, The Tenasserim Provinces, With Parts Of Siam And Of Ynan In China (1838) [lithographed]
  • Map of the North Western Frontier of British India including the protected Sikh States, Lahore, Cashmeer, Cabul, Herat, Candahar, Shikarpore & Bhawulpore (1838) [drew and lithographed]
  • R. Lloyd, Chart of the Aracan Coast and inland navigation comprised between the Aracan and Sandoway Rivers (1839) [lithographed]
  • Map of upper Assam, comprising the districts of Joorhat, Luckimpore and Sudiya, shewing the tea tracts (1839) [drew and lithographed]
  • Map of eastern Asia, comprising China, parts of Tibet and Mongolia, Bootan, Assam, Burma and Eastern Bengal with Anam, Cambodia, Siam, Laos, the Malay Peninsula and the Indian archipelago (1840) [drew and lithographed]
  • Atlas of the Delta (1840) [compiled and lithographed]
  • Map of Assam and Muneepore and the adjoining countries on the north-east frontier of Bengal (1840) [drew and lithographed]
  • Chart delineating the river navigation to Assam from the presidency by the Soundurbun passage as well as by the Jellinghee and Matabhanga rivers (1840) [drew and lithographed]
  • Map of Eastern Asia (1840) [drew and lithographed]
  • Chart Of The Coasts Of China Drawn And Lithographed From Horsburg's Charts Of The Eastern Coast Of China And Of The Eastern Passages To China (1840) [drew and lithographed]
  • Robert Charles Boileau Pemberton, Map of the territory of Muneepoor, with part of the Kubo valley and Burmese frontier, by Captn R. Boileau Pemberton (1840 ca.) [lithographed]
  • 'The New Bengal Atlas Including Lower And Central Assam, With Benares And Adjoining Territories Exhibiting The District Divisions, The Civil And Military Stations, And Police Thanas ; And Likewise The Indigo, Silk, And Sugar Works (1841) [compiled and lithographed]
  • A new and improved map of the provinces of Bengal and Behar with Benares and adjoining territories exhibiting the district divisions, the civil and military stations and police thanas and likewise the principal indigo, silk and sugar works (1841) [drew and lithographed]
  • Map of Northern Bengal Comprising the Districts of Purnea, Dinajepore, Rungpore, Goalpara & Coosh Behar with Darjeling and Parts Of Sikhim and Bootan (1841) [drew and lithographed]
  • Map of Central Bengal and the Delta of the Ganges Comprising the Districts of Malda, Rajeshaye, Bogra, Mymensing, Pubna, Moorshedabad, Jelalpore, Dacca, Jessore, Nuddea, Barasut, Backergunje, the Soondurbuns and the 24 Pergunnahs (1841) [drew and lithographed]
  • Map Of Western Bengal With Part Of Behar : Comprising The Districts Of Midnapore, Hoogly, Burdwan, Bancoora, Beerbhoom, Ramgurh, Pachete, Palamow, Chota Nagpore, And Singbhoom (1841) [drew and lithographed]
  • A newly constructed and improved map of the state of California ... with a corrected and improved delineation of the gold region (1851) [drew, lithographed by Pollard and Peregoy]

 Thanks to Ashley Baynton-Williams for his help with this biography and census of Tassin’s work. If you know of any other maps by Tassin, please do let us know, as this census of his work is an ongoing research project.