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India Office Records

India Office Records

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The India Office Records are a very large collection of documents relating to the administration of India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 from 1600 to 1947, the period spanning British rule in India. The archive is held by the British Library
British Library
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom, and is the world's largest library in terms of total number of items. The library is a major research library, holding over 150 million items from every country in the world, in virtually all known languages and in many formats,...

 and is publicly accessible.

The records come from four main sources: the East India Company
East India Company
The East India Company was an early English joint-stock company that was formed initially for pursuing trade with the East Indies, but that ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent and China...

 (1600–1858), the Board of Control (1784–1858), the India Office
India Office
The India Office was a British government department created in 1858 to oversee the colonial administration of India, i.e. the modern-day nations of Bangladesh, Burma, India, and Pakistan, as well as territories in South-east and Central Asia, the Middle East, and parts of the east coast of Africa...

 (1858–1947), and the Burma Office (1937–1948). The collection also includes records from many smaller related institutions. Overall, the collection is made up of approximately 175,000 items, including official publications and records, manuscripts, photographs, printed maps and private papers. These items take up approximately nine miles of shelving units.

Historical background

The historical scope of the records begins in 1600, when the East India Company was granted exclusive rights to trade in much of Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

, including the entire Indian subcontinent
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

. During its first 100 years, much of the East India Company's energy was involved in maintaining its trade privileges, as it faced competition from domestic and international companies.

Although the East India Company was established as a trading company, it became more and more involved in local affairs in India during the early 18th century, and eventually came to hold large swaths of land in the subcontinent. In the mid-18th century, the Company began to undertake a governmental role in large parts of India, in order to organize the nascent colony to better facilitate trade.

In an effort to increase its own involvement in the administration of India, the British Government passed Pitt's India Act
Pitt's India Act
The East India Company Act 1784, also known as Pitt's India Act, was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain intended to address the shortcomings of the Regulating Act of 1773 by bringing the East India Company's rule in India under the control of the British Government...

 in 1784, which established the Board of Control to direct the East India Company in its governing role.

In 1858, in the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion of 1857
Indian Rebellion of 1857
The Indian Rebellion of 1857 began as a mutiny of sepoys of the British East India Company's army on 10 May 1857, in the town of Meerut, and soon escalated into other mutinies and civilian rebellions largely in the upper Gangetic plain and central India, with the major hostilities confined to...

, the British government abolished the East India Company's right to govern India, and brought the subcontinent directly under the control of the British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

. The India Office, under the direction of the Secretary of State for India
Secretary of State for India
The Secretary of State for India, or India Secretary, was the British Cabinet minister responsible for the government of India and the political head of the India Office...

, was established to maintain administrative control over the increasingly important colony. In 1937, a separate Burma Office was established to alleviate some of the India Office's administrative burden.

History of the Records

The India Office Records themselves have a very interesting history. There were different levels of care for the records over the years, but interest in preserving them was established very early. A “Keeper” of East India Company records was appointed in 1771, with a mission to arrange current records and to preserve historical records.

Toward the end of the East India Company's governance in India, an increasing number of documents were sent to London and incorporated into the records. In fact, it was one of the most documented administrations ever. However, when the control of India was transferred to the India Office, they set up a committee to review the records provided by the East India Company. On the committee's recommendation, more than 300 tons of records were sold as wastepaper. Although this was certainly a great loss to the collection, there is evidence that many of these records were duplications, or contained very little relevant information.

The first attempt to arrange and describe the records occurred in 1879, when George Birdwood
George Christopher Molesworth Birdwood
Sir George Christopher Molesworth Birdwood KCIE MD , Anglo-Indian official, naturalist, and writer, son of General Christopher Birdwood, was born at Belgaum, in the Bombay presidency, on the 8th of December 1832....

 published his Report on the old records of the India Office.

In 1947, the year of Indian independence, ownership of the records transferred to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, commonly called the Foreign Office or the FCO is a British government department responsible for promoting the interests of the United Kingdom overseas, created in 1968 by merging the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Office.The head of the FCO is the...

 of the British government. In 1967, the Office decided to move the records to a new facility on Blackfriars Road
Blackfriars Road
Blackfriars Road is a road in Southwark, SE1. It runs between St George's Circus at the southern end and Blackfriars Bridge over the River Thames at the northern end, leading to the City of London. Halfway up on the west side is Southwark tube station, on the corner with The Cut...

, where they were merged with the India Office Library. It was during this transition that the records were transformed into a modern archival collection. A classification system
Library classification
A library classification is a system of coding and organizing documents or library materials according to their subject and allocating a call number to that information resource...

 for the records was determined, most of which is still being used.

In 1982, the entire collection was moved to the British Library
British Library
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom, and is the world's largest library in terms of total number of items. The library is a major research library, holding over 150 million items from every country in the world, in virtually all known languages and in many formats,...

. They are currently a part of the British Library Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections, and they are administered as Public Records, which means that they are available for public consultation in the British Library Reading Rooms.

Arrangement of the Records

The classification system for the records was created with two goals: to preserve the original order of the records as much as was possible, and to clarify the administrative history of the records. Each series of records was assigned a letter, from A to Z, and certain series also have descriptive subclasses. The classes are as follows:

Genealogical research in the collection

The collection is useful for genealogical
Genealogy is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history. Genealogists use oral traditions, historical records, genetic analysis, and other records to obtain information about a family and to demonstrate kinship and pedigrees of its members...

 and family history
Family history
Family history is the systematic narrative and research of past events relating to a specific family, or specific families.- Introduction :...

 research, particularly for those who have ancestors who were Anglo-Indian
Anglo-Indians are people who have mixed Indian and British ancestry, or people of British descent born or living in India, now mainly historical in the latter sense. British residents in India used the term "Eurasians" for people of mixed European and Indian descent...

 or who were born or lived in British India. Recognising this, the British Library has developed resources to facilitate this process, including biographical indexes, professional research services and close links with the Families in British India Society
The Families British India Society is a genealogical organisation who assist people in researching their family history and the background against which their ancestors led their lives in British India.-Scope:...


The East India Company, the Board of Control and the India Office kept extensive ecclesiastical
Today, ecclesiology usually refers to the theological study of the Christian church. However when the word was coined in the late 1830s, it was defined as the science of the building and decoration of churches and it is still, though rarely, used in this sense.In its theological sense, ecclesiology...

 records concerning British people in India. These records, including documentation of births, baptism
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

s, marriages, and burials are all contained in the “N” series of the collection. For those who know the occupation of their ancestor in India, the British Library provides a guide to records produced by various positions, facilitating the discovery of material that an ancestor created in the course of his work for the British administration in India. Most of these records can be found in the “L” series.

Materials relating to Gandhi

The collection can be used to bolster research on almost any topic involving the history of India from 1600-1947 by providing unique information relating to the British administration's understanding of events. Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the collection is the set of records pertaining to Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi , pronounced . 2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948) was the pre-eminent political and ideological leader of India during the Indian independence movement...

. Much is known about Gandhi's life and ideas through many sources, but these records provide interesting insight into the development of his ideas, as well as his personal life. Information on the Indian administration's feelings and frustrations concerning Gandhi is also in the records.

The material relating to Gandhi can be found in folders R/3/1/289-334. There are two particularly interesting sets of documents in this series. The first of these are administrative records containing reactions to Gandhi and plans concerning his activities. Most of these were originally classified as “Most Secret,” “Very Secret,” or “Top Secret.” (This detail in itself gives insight into the administration's increasing concern with secrecy, as well as their fear of Gandhi and the threat he posed to British authority.) Many of these records are proposals for responses to Gandhi's actions, including plans to prepare for riots in the event of his death during one of his fasts.

The second set of documents consists of correspondence to and from Gandhi. Gandhi wrote extensively to various British government officials, and there are 93 letters from Gandhi, as well as 48 letters to Gandhi from the administration personnel. Many of the letters currently held in the collection are copies from originals, but as the records have been so well-kept in the 20th century, their authenticity is not in question. The time period of the correspondence is 1922 to 1945.

Many of the letters from Gandhi express criticism of British policies in India and reveal Gandhi's sophisticated analysis of world politics, as well as his commitment to peace. In many, he appeals to the British to work with him to end the oppression of the Indian people.

Perhaps the most unusual of Gandhi's letters in the collection is a copy of a letter sent to Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

, in which Gandhi expresses admiration for Hitler's passion for his nation, but urges him to seek non-violent means to address Germany's concerns. He also refers to some of Hitler's writings as “monstrous,” and makes it clear that he has no interest in seeking German aid for the end of British rule in India.

The most personal of letters from Gandhi in the collection relate to the illness and death of his wife in 1944. In these letters, one can see Gandhi's frustration at watching Kasturba Gandhi
Kasturba Gandhi
Kastürbā Gāndhi was the wife of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, marrying him in an arranged marriage in 1883.-Early life and background:...

's condition worsen as he was powerless to help her. He repeatedly appealed to the British to send medical aid, including an Ayurvedic physician, and when it became clear that she would not survive, he lashed out at them, complaining that her treatment was inadequate.

Most of the letters written to Gandhi contained in the collection are accusatory, complaining that Gandhi did not live up to his rhetoric about non-violence. The letters reflect a belief that Gandhi's fasts and other dramatic forms of protest stirred up violence among the Indian population. Many of the letters also deny Gandhi's accusations that the British government was involved in systematic repression of the Indian people and failed to live up to its role as a steward of India and the Indian people.

There is also one letter in the collection from Franklin Roosevelt, who was the President of the United States at the time. In the letter, he acknowledges Gandhi's concerns about India, but suggests that World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 and the defeat of the Axis powers
Axis Powers
The Axis powers , also known as the Axis alliance, Axis nations, Axis countries, or just the Axis, was an alignment of great powers during the mid-20th century that fought World War II against the Allies. It began in 1936 with treaties of friendship between Germany and Italy and between Germany and...

 should take precedence. He asks Gandhi to support the British regime so that they will not be forced to divide their attention.

See also

    The Families British India Society is a genealogical organisation who assist people in researching their family history and the background against which their ancestors led their lives in British India.-Scope:...

     the Families in British India Society.
  • Historiography of the British Empire
    Historiography of the British Empire
    The historiography of the British Empire refers to the studies, sources, critical methods and interpretations used by scholars to study the history of the British Empire. Scholars have long studied the Empire, looking at the causes for its formation, its relations to the French and other empires,...

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