Col Colin Mackenzie -The English Surveyor who illustrated South India’s unpublished manuscript’s.

Colonel Colin Mackenzie who is a first Surveyor general of British East India company who extensively studies historical manuscripts, numismatics, Kaifiyath[s] of South India especially the Mysore kingdom and Madras state.

Colonel Colin Mackenzie with his assistants at Karkala , Karnataka

We Kannadigas always delight to these English men’s who extensively worked to illustrated India’s rich history,  language, manuscripts, inscriptions , literature and more.

  •       Benjamin  Lewis Rice   (Archaeologist, Compiled Mysore Gazetteer)
  •       Col Colin Mackenzie
  •         Ferdinand kittel      (Indologist,Kannada literature)

Col Colin Mackenzie was a Scottish army officer in East India Company and became the Surveyor General of India and he produced the first authentic geographical map of South India¹

(Source: Historical survey of India Vol 2 1800-1815)

He was born in Stornoway, on the island of Lewis in northern Scotland (UK) in 1754 after his education he joined to East India Company as a Military engineer and even camped against Tippu sultan during Third Anglo-Mysore war.

Seringapatam (Present Srirangapatna,Mysore) (Source: Historical survey of India Vol 2 1800-1815)

After Tippu’s defeat in 1799, Mackenzie’s was asked to survey Mysore territories in the year 1800. This permitted him to have large interpreters, draftsmen, illustrators through whom he collected a heap of information on natural history through the kaifiyat[s]  geography, History, social customs, and folk tales in Mysore and Rayalaseema region.

Unclear Kaifiyat[s] Specimen just for illustration

From the Colin Mackenzie’s collected kaifiyat[s] traced back to my ancestor’s root to 15th Century AD and my forefathers are Guru’s(Pandit) to the local chieftains,  they granted a  15 acres of land as mentioned in one of kaifiyat[s]   note and still the land owned by one of my relative².

As Col Colin Mackenzie is a Scottish officer and he searched for interpreters who can read the manuscripts, land grants, genealogical narratives who experts in south Indian languages with Sanskrit, Persian language from the local sources by the help of Mark Wilks, a friend of Colin Mackenzie by providing assistants  Kavali brothers a Pandiths  (Kavali Venkata  Boriah and Kavali Lakshmiah) they are versatile interpreters who knew Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Sanskritᶟ.

Kavali brothers(Pandith’s) -Interpreters

And another renowned assistant was Melur Dharmiah, an expert in reading the Old Kannada (Halegannada). There were also other interpreters who he liberally patronized.

The collections’s of Col Colin Mackenzie’s from his unpublished English document:

A ruined Hindu temple Hampi, 1800AD
Oil canvas painting of Chitteldroog(Present Chitradurga) North view ,1804 AD 
Uchappayya matha, Anegondhi  (Source: Historical survey of India Vol 2 ,1800 to 1815)

Pen-and-ink and water-colour drawing date January 1801, of a guru surrounded by devotees painted on the ceiling of the Uchappaya Matha at Anegondi in Karnataka, from an album of 56 sheets of drawings (60 folios) mainly of miscellaneous architecture and sculpture in the Deccan and S. India. ff.31-38 depict ceiling paintings at Anegundi, dated 1793-1806. Some drawings are by MacKenzie himself, others by his draftsmen, including C. Ignatio.

A specimen of images of Jain statute of Shravanabelagola ,1801 (Now at British Museum,London)
Watercolor of Nandidroog hill (Present Nandi hills) painted during October 1791 siege by Colin Mackenzie

Mackenzie died in Calcutta (Present Kolkatta) on 8th May 1821 without returning to his birthplace even once and still lies in  South park street cemetery. The Government purchased his entire collections of Coins, Inscriptions , Kaifiyat[s],Oriental history from his widow, Petronella offered the collections to the Bengal Government at a tentative price of Rs 1 lakh reasonable price⁴.

A passage grant by Colin to his assistants(Kavali brother’s)
A passage from Colin Mackenzie’s will saying that kavali lakshmiah and his younger brother Kavali Ramaswami should receive a tenth of his estate⁵

Much of his collection of documents, Palm leaf manuscriptsartifacts, and artworks are now in the British Museum and the Oriental and India Office Collections of the British Library, though part of it remains in the Government Museum in Madras. Keen interested to visit his birthplace, museum to access more information on him.

His widow remarried to a company officer, Robert Fulcher in 1823 and settled in England. Colin Mackenzie had a sister Mary Mackenzie and she built a mausoleum in Stornoway, mary herself also buried and memorialized here⁶.

Colin Mackenzie’s birth place with mausoleum of his family members at  Stornoway , Scotland (Source: Dr Sushma Jansari,Tabor Foundation Curator, South Asia )

Mary was proud of her brother Colin’s achievements in India, and highlighted his ‘eminently distinguished’ career, ‘high professional talents’ and especially emphasized his ‘indefatigable researches into the ancient history, literature and antiquities of that interesting part of the globe by which he has furnished to the world a mass of valuable information far surpassing the ordinary efforts of human industry and in which arduous pursuit his useful life terminated at Calcutta⁷

Inscription at his birth place, Stornoway Scotland (Source: Dr Sushma Jansari,Tabor Foundation Curator, South Asia )

Inscription details:

On this site stood the house

in which was born in 1754


Colin Mackenzie C.B. F.R.S.

who became the first

Surveyor General of India

He had a long and highly

distinguished career

as soldier and surveyor in the

service of the East India Company

and in the cultural field his

collections of Indian antiquities

inscriptions and manuscripts

became famous

He died near Calcutta in 1821

greatly esteemed

by his contemporaries

alike for his character

and his achievements

It’s necessary to recall the achievement of this extraordinary person who fetched the un-detailed manuscripts, Kaifiyat[s], data from the old inscription to a document that we are made a baseline for the history.

He was not like other officers to join the East India Company, make easy money by means fair or foul, and return home to live in comfort or participate in politics on the security of the fortune made in India. That a few of the Company’s servants did not tread this golden path to fortune, but chose on their own, prompted by the love of learning, ‘to discover the east’ for the benefit of…the east itself was a lucky accident of great historical value

– Shiva Kumar Mutt


1.        Howes, Jennifer (2010). Illustrating India: The Early Colonial Investigations of Colin Mackenzie (1784–1821). New Delhi: Oxford University Press

2.       Mackenzie unpublished English document (1801)

3.       Howes, Jennifer (2010). Illustrating India: The Early Colonial Investigations of Colin Mackenzie (1784–1821). New Delhi: Oxford University Press

4.       Howes, Jennifer (2010). Illustrating India: The Early Colonial Investigations of Colin Mackenzie (1784–1821). New Delhi: Oxford University Press

5.      ((IOR/L/AG/34/29/33, folio 249))

6.    by Ms Sushma Jansari

7.    by Ms Sushma Jansari

Further reading:

·         Mackenzie, W. C. (1952) Colonel Colin Mackenzie, first Surveyor-General of India. Edinburgh: W&R Chambers.

·         Wolffhardt, Tobias (2010) Wissensproduktion als Staatsaufgabe Colin Mackenzie (ca. 1753-1821) und das Projekt eines umfassenden Survey in Indien. Ph. D. Dissertation. Ludwig-Maximillian’s-Universität, München. (in German)

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