IT might have been considered unthinkable to install a statue in honour of a British soldier of the much-reviled East India company in a prominent location of Madras after India gained its independence. But yet, there was one such instance when a statue for Lieutenant-Colonel William Lambton (circa 1753-1823) was erected at St Thomas Mount in 2003. Lambton was the Lieutenant Colonel, who embarked upon a large-scale trigonometrical survey across the width of the peninsula of India between Madras and Mangalore, and then continued his survey northwards for over 20 years, on a mission to map the entirety of British India.
Lambton’s story can be traced back to that point of time in India’s history when the East India Company transitioned from having merely commercial interests in the subcontinent to actually establishing a foothold for the British empire here. As they decided to run the country like a corporation, they were keen on knowing how much territory of India they really controlled and wanted to scientifically and precisely measure the expanse of their footprint. For this purpose, they commissioned three surveys simultaneously. One of them was an agricultural survey, a topographical survey and of course, the scientific endeavour that came to be known as the Great Trigonometrical Survey (GTS) of India of 1802, that was spearheaded by Lambton.