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Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal: Sources in the India Office Records

This page outlines archival sources in the India Office Records covering the period from the earliest British contact with Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim and Nepal in the 18th century to the mid-20th century. The main sources are to be found in the records of the Political and Secret Department.  A substantial amount of information documenting the experiences of the British officials or individual travellers in Tibet can also be found in the India Office Private Papers.

Related material:

Prints, Drawings and Photographs online catalogue
map of Tibet and neighbouring countries

Map of Tibet and neighbouring countries


Sources in the India Office Records

Sources in the India Office Private Papers

India Office Records


British contact with Tibet, Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal can be traced back to the 18th century, but it was not until the 19th century that the documentation of Tibet and its neighbouring countries proliferated as a result of its involvement in the "Great Game" between Russia and Britain. 

From the 18th century to early 19th century, several attempts were made by the Company to open up trade relations with Tibet, without much success. The most notable exploration of Tibet in the earlier period was made by William Moorcroft, Superintendent of Stud for the Bengal Army of the East India Company, travelling to Tibet in search of fine breeding horses in 1812.  

As the Anglo-Russian rivalry in Central Asia intensified from the mid-19th century, the British recognised the strategic position of Tibet and tried to make it into a buffer state against Russian influence. 

Under the instruction of Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India between 1898 and 1905, a British expedition led by Colonel Francis Younghusband was sent to Lhasa in 1904 to secure a trading agreement and to prevent Tibetans from establishing a relationship with the Russians. While negotiating with the Russians on one side, the British also actively encouraged a de facto semi-independence of Tibet, to break away from the 'suzerainty' of China.

After the Lhasa expedition of 1904 more regular relations were established with Tibet through the Political Officer in Sikkim, Trade Agents at Gyantse and Yatong, and various British Indian missions to Lhasa. 

The records listed (in approximate chronological order) below, received from the Government of India Foreign Department and other sources in India, and from the Foreign Office in London, together with private papers from official or semi-official individuals, offer interesting details of British activities in Tibet during the period of British rule in India. 

Portrait of infant Dalai Lama, c.1937

Discovery of the 14th Dalai Lama. Portrait of infant Dalai Lama, c.1937 [IOR: L/PS/12/4179] © The British Library Board.


  • E/4: East India Company General Correspondence with India, 1703-1858. The particular series of direct relevance to Tibet and its neighbours are to be found in E/4/20-147: Letters from Bengal, 1709-1834.  Most files of later period overlap those in the F/4 series (see below).
  • F/4: Board's Collections, 1796-1858.  Consist of copies of correspondence, minutes and resolutions cited in or enclosed with letters from Bengal and India.  Records of British activities in Tibet and its surrounding area in the early period may be found in this series, e.g. Moorcroft's journey to Tibet. 
  • H: Home Miscellaneous Series, 1600-1900.  Collection of records from various sources on various subjects.  Include some records of early British attempts to establish relations with Tibet and its neighbouring countries, e.g. George Bogle's mission to Tibet in 1774, Samuel Turner's expedition to Tibet in 1783, among others.
  • L/MIL: Military Department Records.  Special reference material on Tibet can be found in the Military Department Library: L/MIL/17/14. On Bhutan and Sikkim: L/MIL/17/12.  On Burma: L/MIL/17/19
  • L/PS/7: Political and Secret Correspondence with India, 1875-1911.  An important series on affairs in Tibetan region.  This group of records consists of long series of letters received and sent by political agents and residents posted in Central Asia and Middle East, including diaries and reports covering all subjects of the period, e.g. trade relations, conflicts and treaties with Britain, Russia, and China, Tibet-Sikkim border problems, rise of Dalai Lama, Younghusband's military intervention of 1904, among many others.
  • L/PS/11: Political and Secret Annual Files, 1912-30. Covers the internal affairs and the position of Tibet and surrounding areas in the wake of the Chinese revolution of 1911, as well as British trade in Tibet, and a long series of newsletters (1903-1921) from Charles Bell, Political Officer in Sikkim (reference: L/PS/11/195).
  • L/PS/10: Political and Secret Subject Files, 1902-31. In addition to political and economic reports, a particular group of files in this series describes the British attempt to educate young Tibetans in England in 1912.
  • L/PS/12: Political External Collections, c.1931-50. Include detailed reports on the return of the 13th Dalai Lama from China to Tibet in 1933, and the discovery of the 14th Dalai Lama in 1937-39. Collection 8: Bhutan.  Collection 21: Nepal.  Collection 36: Tibet.
  • L/PS/13: Political Internal Indian States Files and Collections, 1931-50. Collection 28: Sikkim affairs.
  • L/PS/18/B: Memoranda series c.1840-1947. Include also documentation of the Simla Conference and the Tripartite Convention between Britain, China and Tibet in 1914.
  • L/PS/20/FO84 and L/PS/18/B: Foreign Office Confidential Prints and Memoranda series contain the description of Sir Francis Younghusband's military intervention in Tibet in 1904.
  • R/5: Kathmandu Residency Records, c.1792-1872.  The correspondence between the British Political Resident in Nepal and the Government of India contains also information about surrounding areas.

Finding aid published by IDC:

British Intelligence Files on Asia and Middle East, 1880-1950

India Office Private Papers

The Private Papers include letters, diaries, memoirs, copies of official correspondence and papers, photographs, scrapbooks, in fact documents of every type originating from private sources rather than the official archives. They relate primarily to the British experience in India and areas adjacent to India in the period 1600-1947.  Notable collections relating to Tibet are listed (roughly in chronological order) below:

Mss Eur Photo Eur 426
Photocopy of letter, dated 10 May 1775, from Warren Hastings (1732-1818), Governor of Bengal 1772-74 and Governor-General 1774-85 to George Bogle (1746-81), East India Company servant 1769-81, referring to Hastings's political difficulties in Bengal and Bogle's mission to Tibet 1774-75.
2 folios     1775 – 1775

Mss Eur E226
Bogle Collection: papers of George Bogle (1746-81), East India Company servant 1769-81, mainly concerned with his visit to the Tashi Lama of Tibet 1774-75.
118 items     1774 - 1780  

Mss Eur D532
Later manuscript copies of (i) narrative by George Bogle (1746- 81), East India Company servant, Bengal 1769-81, of his visit to Tibet to the Tashi Lama (1774); (ii) an account of Tibet, apparently based on Bogle's letters and papers, published in `Philosophical Transactions', lxvii, pt.2 (1777); (iii) other miscellanies, chiefly part II (without the preamble) of John Peter Wade's account of Assam.
1 volume     1774 - 1800

Mss Eur K307-64; J 823-24
Moorcroft Collection: journals, correspondence and notes of William Moorcroft (1765?-1825), veterinary surgeon in the Bengal Army and superintendent of the Company's stud in Bengal 1808-25, apparently employed as a secret agent, chiefly relating to his journey to Bokhara 1820-25 and describing the Himalayan regions through which he passed.
51 volumes     1812 - 1825

Mss Eur K474
Hodgson Collection: papers compiled by Brian Houghton Hodgson (1800-94), Assistant Resident, and later Resident, in Nepal 1820-44, lived privately at Darjeeling c1845-58, oriental scholar, comprising manuscripts in English, Sanskrit, Nepali, Hindi, Tibetan, Lepcha, Limbu, Persian, Hindustani, and other oriental languages, relating to Nepal, Tibet and the Himalaya.
90 volumes; 15 rolls     1820 – 1858

Mss Eur E236
Miscellaneous papers, dated 1865-68, of John William Shaw Wyllie (1835-70), Bombay Civil Service 1856-68, Foreign Dept, Government of India 1862-67, including letter, dated 22 Aug 1867, from Capt (later Col) Thomas George Montgomerie (1830-78), geographer, on rebellions in China, intelligence on Tibet gathered by his Indian explorer, and Nepalese-Tibetan relations; also a few issues of the `Kandahar News' (1879-80).
1 portfolio     1865 – 1880

Mss Eur F80
Bell Collection: papers and photographs of Sir Charles Alfred Bell (1870-1945), Indian Civil Service 1891-1919, on political duty in Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim 1904-21, adviser to British Plenipotentiary (Sir Henry McMahon) at Simla Conference on Tibet 1913-14; in retirement devoted himself to scholarly study, publishing several books in which he sought to interpret Tibet to the outside world. (see also L/PS/11 above)
304 items     1901 – 1944

Mss Eur C535
Memorandum, dated 6 Nov 1903, signed by King Edward VII, supporting the occupation of Gyantse by the Tibet Frontier Commission, provided it was sufficiently strong to do so, and arguing that appointment of a representative in Lhasa should be considered only after Gyantse was occupied.
4 folios     1903 – 1903

Mss Eur F111-112
Curzon Collection: correspondence and papers of George Nathaniel Curzon, Marquess Curzon of Kedleston (1859-1925), Parliamentary Under-Secretary, India Office 1891-92 and Foreign Office 1895-98; Viceroy of India 1899-1905; Lord Privy Seal 1915-16; Lord President of the Council and member of War Cabinet 1916-19; Foreign Secretary 1919-24; and papers of his family c1842-1968.
1464 items     1866 - 1925  

Mss Eur F197
Younghusband Collection: papers of Lt-Col Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942), British Army 1882, Indian Foreign Dept 1889-1909, British Commissioner to Tibet 1903-04, religious thinker; his wife Helen Augusta (nee Magniac) (1861-1945); his daughter Dame Eileen Louise Younghusband (1902-81); and other members of their families.
694 items     1836 – 1981

Mss Eur F157
Bailey Collection: correspondence, papers, diaries, photographs and maps of Lt-Col Frederick Marshman Bailey (1882-1967), Indian Army 1900, Indian Political Service 1905-3, member of the Younghusband expedition of 1904, British Trade Agent at Gyantse 1905-09, and Assistant Political Officer, Chumbi (now Yatung).
597 items; plus unsorted photographs     1827 - 1976

Mss Eur F101
Miscellaneous letters and official reports of Col Sir (Arthur) Henry McMahon (1862-1949), Indian Army 1885, Indian Political Dept 1890-1914; photograph of McMahon with Chinese and Tibetan delegates to Simla Conference, 1913-14; letter from Dalai Lama, 1915.
72 folios     1900 - 1915  

Mss Eur D722
Shuttleworth Collection: papers and photographs on Tibet and `Indian Tibet' of Henry Lee Hadwen Shuttleworth (1882-1960), Indian Civil Service, Punjab 1906-24. Include translations of Tibetan letters and manuscripts from the Tibetan authorities, 1921-24.
30 items     1909 – 1946

Mss Eur F203
Caroe Collection: papers of Sir Olaf Kirkpatrick Caroe (1892-1981), Indian Civil Service 1920, Indian Political Service 1923-47, including a few papers relating to his Governorship of the North-West Frontier Province 1946-47, and to the period of his retirement when he was involved in Tibetan affairs.
119 items     1946 – 1981

Mss Eur D998
Hopkinson Collection: letters, papers and photographs of Arthur John Hopkinson (1894-1953), Indian Civil Service, United Provinces 1920-24, Indian Political Service 1924-47, Political Officer in Sikkim, 1944-48, including letters to his family and papers relating to his service in Kathiawar, North-West Frontier Province, and Tibet.
58 items     1921 - 1951

Mss Eur G97
Miscellaneous papers chiefly on Tibet, compiled by Hugh Edward Richardson (b 1905), Indian Civil Service 1930-50, Indian Political Service 1934-50, Trade Agent, Gyantse 1936-40 and 1946-50; including letters, dated 1920-21, from the Dalai Lama and others to Sir Charles Alfred Bell (1870-1945); and copies of Tibetan inscriptions.
1 portfolio     1913 – 1943

Mss Eur D979
Diaries of Frank Ludlow(1885-1972), botanist, Indian Educational Service 1908-26, member of British Mission to Lhasa 1942-43, with report, dated 1927, on the school at Gyantse, Tibet, which he set up and taught in until its closure 1923-26.
16 volumes; 80 folios     1914 – 1949


Report on the discovery of the 14th Dalai Lama

Report on the discovery of the 14th Dalai Lama [IOR: L/PS/12/4179] © The British Library Board.