Chronologically the main strength of the India Office Private Papers lies in the period 1750 to 1947, but a few go back to the 17th century, and one or two collections relate to India and Pakistan in the immediate post-colonial period. Their geographical scope concentrates mainly on the sub-continent of India and Burma, but also reflects British contacts with many other countries ranging from Egypt to Japan and from Tibet to Sri Lanka.
A2A - Access to Archives
The papers include letters, diaries, memoirs, and documents of every type , as well as a collection of tape-recorded interviews with people who knew British India during the last decades of the Raj.
The Secretary of State for India and the Viceroy quarrel: letter from Mr St John Brodrick to Lord Curzon, 30 June 1905. [MSS Eur F111/157]. Copyright ©The British Library Board.
The papers of members of the Indian Civil Service and the Indian Army outnumber those of any other group and provide many insights into political, administrative and military history. The Indian Political Service and the Indian Police are also represented along with the specialist Ecclesiastical, Educational, Engineering, Forest and Medical Services. There are also papers of Europeans from outside the official world: scholars, missionaries, teachers, businessmen, railway engineers, planters, travellers, explorers. Women are well represented among all groups. They wrote many letters, diaries and memoirs, and were active in the fields of educational and missionary activity.
Not surprisingly in a collection of British private papers, one of the topics best illustrated by them is the social life of the British in India.
There are a few collections formed by Indians, and Indians sometimes appear as correspondents of the British. But the indigenous peoples themselves are seen largely through the writings of the strangers within their midst. Those writings display a variety of attitudes. We see both British admiration for the ancient civilisation which they discovered in India, and their effort to convert that civilisation to western ways. We see both arrogance and respect between the races, both conflict and co-operation between the rulers and the ruled. The Private Papers offer no simple picture of the relationship between Europeans and Indians, but a rich source for the study of that theme.
Click here to see the Online Catalogue of the India Office Private Papers. There is also a printed Catalogue of European Manuscripts in the Oriental and India Office Collections of the British Library by David M Blake (London, British Library, 1998) giving brief details of almost all deposits of private papers received up to the end of 1996.
A card index of photographs among the Private Papers is available in the Reading Room, and details of many of these photographs are included in the online catalogue of photographs.