In 1869, Lord Mayo, the Governor General of India, placed W.W. Hunter on special duty to submit a scheme for the consolidation into one work the vast statistical material already available about India and to prescribe the principles according to which a set of gazetteers was to be prepared. In 1871, with the acceptance by the Government of India of his comprehensive plan for the preparation of gazetteers under central authority, Hunter began an undertaking for India which in course of time resulted in a huge statistical survey, numbering over a hundred volumes, of the general, geographic, military, social and economic conditions in India. The success of the gigantic undertaking has been unparalleled : few countries, if any, are more thoroughly gazetteered than India. The end-product of a brilliant effort of organised research, these masterpieces of administrative details fulfilled the hope expressed by Hunter in 1876 that they would constitute “a monument of the administration under which it may be composed, more profitable than the conquest of a new province”. A new revised edition of the gazetteer was issued in 1901-1906. One new feature of this edition was that in addition to the India volumes, a provincial series with provinces as units and a district series with districts as units were also issued. The present work in 2 volumes which is part of the celebrated provincial series covers the erstwhile Madras Presidency. Historically the most important of the presidencies, being the theatre of the great Anglo-French conflicts which finally decided the question as to which of the European nations should be supreme in India, it occupied the whole of the southern portion of the peninsula including the five native States subordinate to it and the State of Mysore and the tiny British territory of Coorg. In the amplitude of its scope and in the richness of its contents no work has surpassed it ever since its first publication almost eight decades ago. The work opens with a detailed discussion of the physical aspects and history of the Presidency. This is followed by a study of the population, agriculture, rents, wages and prices, forests, mines and minerals, arts, fisheries, commerce and trade, means of communication, government, administrative divisions, civil and criminal justice, land and miscellaneous revenues, local self-government, public works, police medical services and education. To these are appended several maps and a large number of charts containing important statistical data. Vital information relating to all districts, presented in a uniform format covers more than 750 pages of the text. An exhaustive, analytical index facilitates easy referencing. The ultimate in reference works on peninsular India, Gazetteer of South India is an invaluable book which should find a place on the shelves of all libraries, academic, public and private as also of scholars, researchers and administrators.
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