Click here to skip to content

Minutes of the 73rd Conference

Minutes of the South Asia Archive and Library Group. Held at the National Library of Scotland 24 June 2005.


Mr Richard Axelby - SOAS
Dr Patricia Barton (speaker) - University of Strathclyde
Mr Ian Baxter - London
Mrs Penny Brook - British Library
Ms Marina Chellini - SOAS
Dr Kevin Halliwell (Speaker) - National Library of Scotland
Ms Jessica Haynes - British Library
Ms Jana Igunma - British Library
Mr Craig Jamieson - University of Cambridge Library
Mr Nicholas Martland - SOAS
Mrs Emma Mathieson - Bodleian Library, Oxford
Ms San San May - British Library
Ms Diane Milligan - National Library of Scotland
Dr Jim Mills (Speaker) - University of Strathclyde
Ms Leena Mitford - British Library
Ms Antonia Moon - British Library
Dr Henry Noltie (Speaker) - Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh
Dr Avril Powell - SOAS
Ms Rachel Rowe - Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge
Ms Catherine Pickett - British Library
Mrs Rosemary Seton - SOAS
Mr Graham Shaw - British Library
Ms Jan Usher (Speaker) - National Library of Scotland
The Director of Customer Services at the National Library of Scotland, Gordon Hunt, welcomed the delegates.

Dr Kevin Halliwell gave an introductory talk on the National Library, concentrating on its holdings of South Asian interest. The Library had begun as the Advocates' Library in 1689 and the early acquisitions strongly reflect the advocates' interests; they include books on the Indian legal system, on colonial administration, on travel and on topographical description. The manuscript collections are particularly rich in material relating to Scots in the East India Company and, more generally, to Scottish experiences in South Asia in the fields of trade, the army, medicine and mission work. In the twentieth century, collecting has focused on colonial and postcolonial literature in English; Dr Halliwell drew attention to the complementary collections in indigenous languages at Edinburgh University and at the Edinburgh Public Library. Gifts were also a source of acquisition; the Library had recently received a rare collection of books on Sri Lanka from the widow of a tea-planter, Alexander Mackie. Dr Halliwell highlighted some less obvious sources for South Asian history, such as the correspondence of the publisher, William Blackwood.

Jan Usher then gave a talk on the India Papers in the Official Publications Unit of the National Library. Dating mainly from 1858 to 1947, the papers comprise over 4000 publications spanning a great range of social and political history: Indian Nationalism, medicine, science, industry and education are particularly well-represented. Many of them are Government of India publications; they were deposited under a scheme administered by the India Office. Some had also been acquired as part of the Minto papers (the first and fourth Earls had served in India). As part of the Library's commitment to widening access, the India Papers are now being catalogued to be made available online; some rarer items, such as the papers of the Indian Hemp Drug Commission, are also being digitised. Ms Usher explained that the cataloguing project had provided the impetus to track down and to list related items in the Library's holdings. Among the papers were a number of political pamphlets; these would feature in the Library's forthcoming exhibition on Indian Independence, planned for 2007.

Delegates were then given the opportunity to see these pamphlets as part of a fascinating display that included maps, photographs and manuscripts in South Asian languages.

The afternoon began with an illustrated talk by Dr Henry Noltie of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on a collection of botanical drawings in the RBGE's collection. These had been commissioned by Alexander Gibson, a surgeon in the East India Company who had directed the botanic garden at Dapuri, in Bombay, in the mid-nineteenth century. Dr Noltie explained that such gardens were run by medical men whose interests lay in the plants' therapeutic qualities; the East India Company, on the other hand, were concerned with the plants' commercial potential. The drawings, made between 1847 and 1850, were the work of an unknown Portuguese-Indian artist. Dr Noltie pointed out signs which showed that the artist, although a draftsman, was not trained in botanical drawing. Researching in archives in India, London and Kew, Dr Noltie had been able to identify some of the plants depicted for the first time. The drawings had indeed taken on a life of their own; he had recently found a waste-paper basket for sale decorated with an image copied from his book!

Dr Jim Mills of the University of Strathclyde then spoke on his research into cannabis in colonial India, for which he had used the Library's copy of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission report. Uniquely, this copy still contains its original photographs. The largest survey of a cannibis-using society ever compiled, the Commission was set up in 1893 to find out where hemp was grown, which drugs were made from it and who the drug-users were. The report set out the Commission's findings in painstaking detail, with many illustrations. Dr Mills showed slides of 'cannabis-finger', for example (users in lunatic asylums had developed corns from rubbing the hemp between finger and thumb). The report had concluded that moderate use did no harm but Dr Mills explained that the Commission had rejected too readily the evidence uncovered of a link between cannabis and insanity. Cannabis was a profitable source of taxation and it appeared that the administrators' reluctance to condemn the drug's use was motivated, to some extent, by their desire to protect revenue.

Dr Patricia Barton of the University of Strathclyde then spoke on her research into the role of the Chemical Examiner in South Asia in the colonial period. She drew attention to her work's major source, the Library's series of chemical examiners' reports from the various provincial governments, filed annually from about 1870 to 1940. A small group within the Indian Medical Service, the examiners were specialists whose role and influence had gradually increased. Among other duties, they tested all manufactured drugs for adulteration and tested ghee, water and flour; later they became involved in legal work, giving evidence in poison cases, for example, and in education, taking up posts in the newly-established universities. Dr Barton explained that these powerful niche roles had led the examiners to consider themselves, in relation to the rest of the medical service, an elite group.The examiners can justly be considered pioneers of scientific medicine in South Asia but their contribution has not been appreciated; the dry, statistical reports, however, provide all the evidence needed.

The day closed with the business meeting (minutes attached).

Minutes of SAALG business meeting 24th June 2005

1. Apologies for absence: apologies were received from Anati Banerjee, Lionel Carter, Paul Carter, Gillian Evison, Margaret Makepeace, Richard Morel, Sarah Norman, Val Pearman, Derek Sawyer, Francoise Simmons and Judith Tranmer.

2. Minutes of the meeting of 26 November 2004 the minutes were approved.

3. Matters arising from the minutes: having appointed the cataloguer recommended by SAALG, HUMBUL had asked whether SAALG would pay the accommodation costs incurred through attending a training course. Members agreed that these could be funded out of the £1000 allocated to HUMBUL. They also agreed that SAALG's name should appear on any publicity relating to the South Asian strand.

4. Treasurer's report: this had been circulated earlier and there was nothing to add.

5. SAALG Newsletter: Leena Mitford encouraged members' contributions for the next edition.

6. Reports on projects: Reports from the NCOLR and South Asia Through Official Eyes/SAALG Union List of Periodicals had been circulated earlier and there was nothing to add.

7. Next SAALG conference: This would be in November, at a venue yet to be decided.

8. AOB: Dr Avril Powell reported that the forthcoming move of the Royal Asiatic Society meant that they had spare copies of publications to give away. She circulated a list.