The first comprehensive topographical and revenue survey of the Bombay Island city was undertaken by Lieutenant Thomas Dickinson starting in the year 1812. Dickinson was the revenue surveyor and was assisted by Lieutenant Gordon and Ramon. Dickinson took over the work of the revenue survey in 1811 after the failure of earlier efforts due to rioting by Bhandaris against increases in the toddy tax (abkaree). The work of the Survey involved defining property boundaries and settling contentious claim s over individual properties.The main objective of the Survey was to establish clear titles in land for the colonial state and notional rights were to be made realisable and the opposition of the local inhabitants to be put down firmly.
It took 16 years to complete the Survey. The Fort, the New and Old Towns were surveyed in considerable detail and the work was plotted on a scale of 40 feet to an inch. The remainder of the Bombay division including Colaba, Malabar bill, Cumballa hill and Mazagon were also surveyed in detail, the boundaries of the properties were determined and the work was plotted on various scales chiefly on that of 100 feet to one inch. The remainder of the island was only topographically surveyed and only the outlines of the different tenures were shown. This was plotted on a scale of 300 feet to the inch. The nature of the of the property was also marked, it being a building, a garden, trees or fields. According to the Gazetteer the cost of the survey was Rs. 1,63,000. Registers of private property of such parts of the island as were surveyed were made in detail and the operations of this Revenue Survey brought to light numerous encroachments and instances of the enjoyment of lands by individuals without payment of rent.
According to Marriam Dossal, Dickinson's "scientific" mapping of Bombay's lands, topography and properties had an avowed political objective - to "assert the State's rights to all lands in Bombay" and recover lost rents and rights, and establish titles by conversion of multiple tenures into freehold or "fee simple" private property. Completed over sixteen years, and containing registers, cadastral maps, rent rolls and reports on localities, Dickinson's survey created the first accurate "base map" of British Bombay, permanently altering the the terms of tenancy and occupation in the city.
The sixteen-year survey of the eighteen square miles of Bombay town and island produced voluminous correspondence in the form of inward and outward registers, a census for the Fort district, maps drawn on the scale o f 40': 1“ for the densely built up parts of the town and 100': 1" for the rest of the island, along with rent rolls and detailed survey reports after a particular locality had been surveyed. The prepared plans delineated the boundaries of properties and indicated whether they were residential buildings, outhouses, warehouses, gardens, or agricultural lands.
The survey was to be accurate and maximize revenue as well as provide the authorities with detailed information on land use and land tides. It also served an important political purpose, for Dickinson claimed all Bombay lands as lands owned by the East India Company.
Dickinson was transferred from out of Bombay in the year 1825 and the Bombay Revenue Survey was carried on by his assistant Captain Tate and came to an end in 1827.
For Further Reading:
Gazetter of Bombay, 1909 Volume II
Theatre of Conflict, City of Hope by Marriam Dossal