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Civil Service

These pages provide guidance to family historians on how to use sources from the India Office Records such as occupational descriptions or types of documents (wills, pensions or ecclesiastical records for example).

Covenanted Civil Service

Honourable East India Company's Civil Service (HEICCS) was the name given to the top general administrative cadre of civil servants in India until 1858. From 1858, it was superseded by the Indian Civil Service. The last UK appointments to the ICS were made in 1942.

Bentinck's Buildings at Madras

Bentinck's Buildings at Madras, by John Gantz, 1822. WD1362 © The British Library Board.

Uncovenanted Civil Service

The name given to the lower echelon of the general civil service in India under both the East India Company and the Crown. The Uncovenanted Civil Service was recruited almost entirely from persons born in India, whether European, Eurasian or Asian. In 1892 it was divided into an Upper (Provincial) Service and a Lower (Subordinate) Service.

Special Civil Services

Special departments of the Indian administration, e.g. the Indian Forest Service, Indian Police, Indian Political Service, etc. The top echelons of the special services were recruited in a variety of ways - the Indian Political Service was recruited partly from the HEICCS/ICS, partly from officers of the EIC/Indian Army - the Indian Police in its earlier days included many officers of the Indian Army but from 1893 onwards recruited its upper division mainly by an annual competitive examination held in the UK.


Covenanted Civil Servants

  • Pre-1749 records of appointment can be traced in Court Minutes: B series.
  • Writers' petitions 1749-1856: J /1/1-90 series; appointment papers for East India Company civil servants with baptismal certificates and educational testimonials. This series is not complete. For index, see A.J. Farrington, The Records of the East India College, Haileybury, & other institutions (London, 1976).
  • Bonds and Agreements, Overseas Servants, 1771-1946, see Biographical Series, O/1/1-196 index Z/O/1/1-5. For sources on recruitment to the Indian Civil Service 1855-1946, see I.A. Baxter, India Office Library and Records: A Brief Guide to Biographical Sources.
  • Brief service records for higher ranking civil servants appear in the India Office List 1886-1947 in the Reading Room.
  • Histories of Service (V /12 series) for higher-ranking officers from 1879 give promotions and postings, sometimes dates of birth.
  • Civil Lists (V /13 series) for lower-rank officials from 1840 do not give a continuous career record, and searchers consequently need to consult a sequence of annual volumes to establish an individual's career.

Uncovenanted Civil Service and Special Civil Service

  • A few early appointments can be traced in Court Minutes: B series.
  • Bonds and agreements for such staff, e.g. engineers may be found in the Biographical series 1834-1865, (O/1/367-392 index Z/O/1/11-12).
  • Personnel employed in government railways, police, public works, post office, etc. 1818-1900, 1922-1928: L/F /10 series - name, occupation, salary and period of residence in India.
  • Civil Lists 1840-1957:
    Assistant Engineer

    Assistant Engineer © The British Library Board.

    V/13 series. © The British Library Board. - annual or twice yearly published lists of civil establishments arranged by province or department, details on the posts of all grades from the ICS down to quite low-level staff.
  • Deaths in the Uncovenanted Civil Service 1870-1949: L/AG /34/14A series. Name of deceased, date and place of death, rank, probably age, native town and country, next of kin, custody of property if any. Separate card index in Reading Room.

Note: From 1892 the Uncovenanted civil service and Special Civil Services were subdivided into a Provincial (Upper) Branch and a Subordinate (Lower) Branch.