Michael Topping

Michael Topping (1747–1796) was the Chief Marine Surveyor of Fort St. George in Chennai (then Madras) responsible for founding the oldest modern technical school outside Europe. The Survey School was completed on 17 May 1794, with an initial intake of eight students. In 1858 it became the Civil Engineering School and the College of Engineering in 1861.

Michael Topping

Topping was also the first full-time modern professional surveyor of India having surveyed the seas off the Coromandel Coast, India's south-east coast. Topping came to Madras in 1785 as a marine surveyor aboard the East India Ship Walpole. On the suggestion of Alexander Dalrymple, he conducted a triangulation survey of the Coromandel Coast from Madras to Masulipatnam in 1788, making us of a sextant.[1] Topping suggested that this triangulation could be done across India, however this approach was only taken up much later by William Lambton. Topping was appointed from 1794 to survey water reservoirs and in order to conduct his "tank surveys" he sought to train (in his survey school) youths of mixed, that is, of European-Indian parentage from the Madras orphanage, and deploy them across southern India at a sixth of the allowances needed for military surveyors and without the need for interpreters.[2] Topping persuaded astronomer William Petrie to transfer his private observatory to the government and set up the first modern astronomical observatory,[3] the Madras Observatory, in Nungambakkam. Topping succeeded Petrie as the director of the observatory from 1789 to 1796 when he died.[4][5] Topping was succeeded by John Goldingham.[2][6]


  1. ^ Topping, Michael (1792). "VI. Part of a letter from Mr. Michael Topping, to Mr. Tiberius Cavallo, F. R. S". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. 82: 99–114. doi:10.1098/rstl.1792.0009. ISSN 0261-0523.
  2. ^ a b Edney, Matthew H. (1997). Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765-1843, Volume 10. University of Chicago Press. pp. 172–173.
  3. ^ Ansari, S. M. Razaullah (1975). "On Indian observatories in the 19th century". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 36: 523–530. ISSN 2249-1937. JSTOR 44138874.
  4. ^ Vagiswari, A; Kameswara Rao, N; Birdie, C; Thakur, Priya (2009). "Michael Topping and the origin of the Madras Observatory". IIA Newsletter. 14 (1): 16.
  5. ^ Kochhar, R.K. (1991). "The growth of modern astronomy in India, 1651–1960". Vistas in Astronomy. 34: 69–105. doi:10.1016/0083-6656(91)90021-J.
  6. ^ Government of India (1926). Report on the Administration of the Meteorological Department of the Government of India in 1925-26, and a Note on the Long-Established Observatories of Madras and Bombay (PDF). pp. 1–4.

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