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Afghanistan 1747-1809: Sources in the India Office Records

Chronology 1747-1809 

Shah Shuja

Shah Shuja, 5th King of Saddozai dynasty (1803-09). By J.Rattray. 1847. ©The British Library Board [PandD: P2079]



1747Accession of Ahmad Shah Durrani at Kandahar. Conquest of Kabul and Peshawar.
1748Lahore occupied
1756Ahmad Shah occupies Delhi but does not remain there
1757The East India Company gains control of Bengal at the Battle of Plessey
1761Ahmad Shah, at the head of an alliance of Muslim powers of Northern India, defeats the Hindu Mahratta confederacy at the Battle of Panipat
1767Lahore lost to Sikhs
1772Ahmad Shah dies; succeeded peacefully by his son Timur Mirza
1775Capital transferred from Kandahar to Kabul
1783George Forster, of the Madras Civil Service of the East India Company, travels overland from Bengal to England via Afghanistan
1793Timur Shah dies leaving 23 sons and no designated heir. Zeman Mirza succeeds with the backing of Payendah Khan, influential head of the Muhammadzai clan of the' Barakzai tribe
1793-95Ghulam Serwar, a native agent of the East India Company, visits Afghanistan
1795, 1797-98Expeditions of Zeman Shah in the Punjab (advances no further than Lahore)
1798Mehdi Au Khan, a Persian agent of the East India Company, sent on mission to Persia, partly to counteract the Afghan threat
1799Zeman Shah executes Payendah Khan for conspiring against him; his son, Fath Khan, joins Zeman Shah's rebel brother, Mahmud, in Persia
1800Zeman Shah overthrown by his brother, Mahmud; Mahmud succeeds to insurrections, discord, intrigue
1803Mahmud overthrown by Shuja-ul-Mulk, full brother of Zeman Shah
1806Treaty of Lahore between the British and the Sikhs
1808Publication of Forster's account of his journey of 1783
1809Shah Shuja receives mission from the Government of India under Mountstuart Elphinstone and signs a treaty with him


Sources in the India Office Records for this period tend to be sparse, scattered and somewhat unreliable up to the period of the Elphinstone mission and usually consist of second or third-hand accounts received from agents via the Residents. At the beginning of this period even the mode of referring to the Afghans varies: 'Ophgoons', 'Patans', 'Doorannees and Abdalees'. In a report of the Battle of Panipat Ahmad Shah is simply referred to as the 'King of Kings'; his successors, however, normally appear under their own names.


Forster, George. A journey from Bengal to England through the northern part of India, Kashmire, Afghanistan and Persia, and into Russia by the Caspian Sea, 2 vols. London, 1808

Elphinstone, Mountstuart. An account of the Kingdom of Caubul and its dependencies in Persia, Tartary and India.
London, 1815

India Office Records sources

[IOR:E] General correspondence

E/4 Correspondence with India, 1703-1858

[IOR:F] Board of Control Records

F/4 Board's Collections, 1796-1858

[IOR:G] Factory Records

G/29 Persia and Persian Gulf, c 1620-1822

[IOR:H] Home miscellaneous

H/456b, 474-76, 511, 521, 685 (various references)
H/512,657-59 (papers on the Elphinstone mission)

[IOR:L/PS] Political and Secret Department Records

L/PS/3 Home Correspondence, 1807-1911
L/PS/4-6 Correspondence with India, 1756-1874
L/PS/9 Correspondence relating to areas outside India, 1781-1911. There are occasional references in letters from Persia and Baghdad

[IOR:P] Proceedings

Probably the major source at this period. Some volumes contain indexes, which are not always helpful: see under 'Country (or Native) Powers', and under 'Residents' (e.g. especially 'with Scindia'). The Cabul mission (1809) has separate index entries.

Bombay Political, Secret and Select, 1755-93
Political and Secret, 1794-1809
Bengal Select Committee, 1756-64
Secret, 1768-85
Secret Political and Separate, 1786-1834
Political, 1789-1858


[MSS EUR] Private Papers

Mss Eur D1070

`Thoughts on the external defence of India from the projected Invasion of the French and Russians': paper, dated 28 Jan 1808, by John Crokatt, clerk on staff of Board of Control c1803-37.
1 volume, 1808 - 1808

Mss Eur E401

Printed broadside published by the Army Press, Lahore (c1940), describing the gun `Zamzamah' manufactured in 1757 at Lahore for Ahmad Shah, Amir of Afghanistan, and used by him at the battle of Panipat 1761.
1 folio, nd

Mss Eur F89

ELPHINSTONE (William Fullerton)
Elphinstone Collection (3): papers of William Fullerton Elphinstone (1740-1834), East India Company Director 1786-1825, Chairman 1804, 1806 and 1814; and of other members of his family including his son Maj-Gen William George Keith Elphinstone (1782-1842), British Army 1804-42; also Elphinstone estate papers.
189 items, 1788 - 1841

Mss Eur F204

LE-POER TRENCH (Richard), 2nd Earl of Clancarty
Miscellaneous papers of Richard le-Poer Trench, 2nd Earl of Clancarty (1767-1847), Member of the Board of Control 1804-06, relating to the administration of India c1793-1811, including material on Oudh, military affairs, finance and trade.
331 folios, 1793 - 1811

Mss Eur F228

KIRKPATRICK (William), Maj-Gen
Kirkpatrick Collection: papers and correspondence of Maj-Gen William Kirkpatrick (1754-1812), Bengal Army 1773, and Lt-Col James Achilles Kirkpatrick (1764-1805), Madras Army 1780, chiefly as successive Residents at Hyderabad 1793-97 and 1797-1805, but also including papers relating to Mysore, the Marathas, and Nepal; also some papers of Maj-Gen Sir John Malcolm including material on Afghanistan, c1800.
96 items, 1782 - 1811

Mss Eur K115

FORSTER (George)
`Mr Forster's Rout[e] from Jumboo, in the Northern Mountains of Hindustan, to Astracan, in Russia': fair copy of a journal closely related to the published work `A Journey from Bengal to England, through the Northern part of India, Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Persia, and into Russia by the Caspian Sea'(London 1798), by George Forster (d 1792), East India Company servant, Madras 1770-92. See printed catalogue for full description; requisition as Mss Eur> B 14.
1 volume, 1783 - 1784

Mss Eur K139

Translation from the Persian, made c1850, of reports made by Mughal Beg to his employer Lt (later Lt-Col) Francis Wilford (c1761-1822) in 1790 on a series of journeys made in the preceding years in the Punjab, north west India, Afghanistan and Central Asia. (Cf Wilford's references to Mughal Beg in `Asiatic Researches', vol xiv). See printed catalogue for full description; requisition as Mss Eur F 22.
1 volume, 1780 - 1790

Mss Eur K247-50

ELPHINSTONE (Mountstuart)
Memoirs on Afghanistan, Iran, and neighbouring countries by Mountstuart Elphinstone (qv), and Lt (later Capt) Francis Irvine (1786-1855), Bengal Army 1805-22, mostly incorporated into Elphinstone's `Account of the Kingdom of Caubul' (London 1815); also list of nine memoirs by various hands on Afghanistan, Persia, etc, relating to Elphinstone's Embassy to Kabul 1808 and Sir John Malcolm's mission to Persia 1810. Before ordering see printed catalogue for full description and shelfmarks.
4 volumes, 1808 - 1810

Mss Eur K290-304; J 814-19

ERSKINE (William)
Erskine Collection: papers collected by William (1773-1852), legal office holder, Bombay from 1804, Master in Equity, Recorder's Court 1820-23; Secretary and later Vice-President of the Bombay Literary Society 1805-23; oriental scholar; chiefly relating to the history, geography, customs and antiquities of the peoples of India and Central Asia. Before ordering see printed catalogue for full description and shelfmarks. Before ordering see printed catalogue for full description and shelfmarks.
21 volumes, 1804 - 1841

Mss Eur Orme

ORME (Robert)
Orme Collection: papers of Robert Orme (1728-1801), East India Company servant, Bengal and Madras 1743-58, historiographer to the Company 1769-1801, chiefly collected for his `History of the Military Transactions of the British Nation in Indostan from the year 1745' (London 1763, 1778).
356 volumes, 1745 - 1780