Travels in India


Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605‒89) was one of the most renowned travelers of 17th century Europe. The son of a French Protestant who had fled Antwerp to escape religious persecution, Tavernier was a jewel merchant who between 1632 and 1668 made six voyages to the East. The countries he visited (most more than once) included present-day Cyprus, Malta, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. In 1676 he published his two-volume Les six voyages de Jean Baptiste Tavernier (The six voyages of Jean Baptiste Tavernier). An abridged and very imperfect English translation of the book appeared in 1677. The first modern scholarly edition in English was published in 1889, with translation, notes, and a biographical sketch of Tavernier by Dr. Valentine Ball (1843‒95), a British civil servant with the Indian Geological Service. Presented here is the second edition, which was published in 1925 and edited by William Crooke, based on Ball’s original translations with corrections drawing on knowledge developed in the field of Indian studies after 1889. Among the most memorable chapters in the book are those that recount Tavernier’s visits to the diamond mines of India and his inspection of the jewels of the Great Mogul. Tavernier was not a scholar or an educated linguist, and after his initial popularity in the 17th century his authority waned, as historians and others questioned the accuracy of his observations. In the 20th century, however, Tavernier’s reputation rose, as such important historians as Lucien Febvre and Fernand Braudel used the detailed information he recorded about the prices and qualities of goods and about business and commercial practices in their pioneering studies of economic and social history. The book contains several appendices by Ball about famous diamonds (including the historic Koh-i-Noor Diamond now belonging to the British royal family), diamond mines in India and Borneo, ruby mines in Burma, and sapphire washings in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). A fold-out map shows Tavernier’s voyages in India and the mines he visited.

Last updated: August 17, 2016