Great Trigonometrical Survey

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A map showing the triangles and transects used in the survey, produced in 1870

The Great Trigonometrical Survey was a project carried out by the Survey of India throughout most of the 19th century. It was piloted in its initial stages by William Lambton, and later by George Everest. Among the many accomplishments of the Survey were the demarcation of the British territories in India and the measurement of the height of the Himalayan giants: Everest, K2, and Kanchenjunga. The Survey had an enormous scientific impact as well, being responsible for one of the first accurate measurements of a section of an arc of longitude, and for measurements of the geodesic anomaly.


Colonel Thomas Tupper Carter-Campbell of Possil, a surveyor in the Great Trigonometrical Survey of the 3rd Grade.

The Great Trigonometrical Survey of India started on 10 April 1802 with the measurement of a baseline near Madras. Major Lambton selected the flat plains with St. Thomas Mount at the north end and Perumbauk hill at the southern end. The baseline was 7.5 miles (12.1 km) long. Lieutenant Kater was despatched to find high vantage points on the hills of the west so that the coastal points of Tellicherry and Cannanore could be connected. The high hills chosen were Mount Delly and Tadiandamol. The distance from coast to coast was 360 miles (580 km) and this survey line was completed in 1806.[1] The East India Company thought that this project would take about 5 years but eventually it took more than 60 years, lasting past the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and the end of company rule in India in 1858.[citation needed] Because of the extent of the land to be surveyed, the surveyors did not triangulate the whole of India but instead created triangulation chains running from North to South and East to West. At times the survey party numbered 700 people.[2]

Baseline measurement[edit]

The initial baseline was measured with great accuracy, since the accuracy of the subsequent survey was critically dependent upon it. Various corrections were applied, principally temperature. An especially accurate folding chain was used, laid on horizontal tables, all shaded from the sun and with a constant tension.


To achieve the highest accuracy a number of corrections were applied to all distances calculated from simple trigonometry:


Land purchases by surveyors[edit]

Many surveyors became very rich. Prominent among them was Andrew Chamrette, his son Peter Chamrette, and his grandson Charles Chamrette, who worked for the GTS of India from 1802 to 1876. This family acquired in excess than 1,800 acres (7.3 km2) of land in the Kapsi, Yavatmal and Maharashtra (formerly CP Berar) districts. George Everest bought 600 acres (2.4 km2) of land near Dehra Doon.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Markham, Clements (1878). A Memoir On The Indian Surveys (2 ed.). London. W H Allen And Co. p. 67. Retrieved 2009-03-01. 
  2. ^ Bluesci: Cambridge university science magazine, 29 January 2011,"History: The Great Trigonometrical Survey", Cambridge.
  3. ^ Pratt, John Henry (1855). "On the Attraction of the Himalaya Mountains, and of the Elevated Regions beyond Them, upon the Plumb-Line in India". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 145: 53–100. JSTOR 108510. 

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