"The Peninsula of India without ye Ganges," an expertly engraved map by John Seller from 1679, offers a detailed representation of the Indian Subcontinent and "Clylon" (modern-day Sri Lanka). As a part of the esteemed Atlas Minimus, this map serves as a testament to Seller's proficiency in mapmaking and the understanding of geography during the late 17th century.
This map situates itself at a time when the Indian Subcontinent was a hub of global trade, with significant maritime routes that brought together diverse cultures and civilizations. The depiction of "Clylon" or Sri Lanka, known for its strategic position along these trade routes, underscores the importance of this region in global interactions of the era.
Accompanying the map, an engraved table titled "The Peninsula of India without the Ganges Hath these IX Great Realms or Estates" enumerates the major political divisions of the region. This list provides valuable context, revealing the administrative structure and the interconnected nature of the various realms during this period.
John Seller's "The Peninsula of India without ye Ganges" stands as an intricate historical document. It offers insights into the geographical and political landscape of the Indian Subcontinent and Sri Lanka in the late 17th century. The map, combined with the table of names, constitutes a comprehensive snapshot of the time, reflecting Seller's skill and the cartographic knowledge of the era.
John Seller was one of the most notable map and instrument makers in England in the late-seventeenth century. He was especially known for the sea charts, many of which featured in his influential English Pilot and Atlas Maritimus. Seller was born in London in 1632. His father was a cordwainer and John was apprenticed to Edward Lowe, of the Merchant Taylors’ Company. He was made free of that company in 1654. Later, he also was made a brother of the Clockmakers’ Company, which housed several instrument makers. He started business as a compass maker but expanded his offering to include navigational instruments and charts.
Seller’s career was halted temporarily, and fantastically, when he was tried for high treason in 1662. He was accused of involvement in a plot led by Thomas Tonge. While Seller likely only unwisely repeated rumors, he was convicted. The other conspirators, who did admit some degree of guilt, were executed, but Seller maintained his innocence and, via insistent petitions, he eventually secured his release from Newgate Prison.
This episode did not seem to slow Seller’s rise too much, however. Seller was granted a royal license to publish English-language maritime atlases. This gave him a near-monopoly and led to his being named hydrographer to the King in 1671. Although the point of the project was to produce English charts of Dutch dominance and bias, Seller ended up using many Dutch plates as his base material. The first volume of The English Pilot was published in 1671, followed by more volumes as well as The Coating Pilot (1672) and the Atlas Maritimus (1675). Seller was commercially successful, but some of his projects required further support. The English Pilot was eventually taken over by John Thornton and William Fisher, for example, and his proposed English atlas only produced maps of six counties.
Seller’s sons, John and Jeremiah, followed in their father’s profession. Seller also apprenticed several promising young men, including Charles Price, with whom his sons partnered. Through Price, Seller can be seen as the founding figure of an important group of London mapmakers that included Price, John Senex, Emanuel Bowen, Thomas Kitchin, and Thomas Jefferys.