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Iran: Sources in the India Office Records

The archives relating to Anglo-Iranian relations in the India Office Records span at least three hundred years dating from the inception of the East India Company in 1600 to the end of World War II. The records represent rich resources for the exploration of the complex commercial and political relations between the two nations.

Reference material

Shahs of Iran

British diplomatic representatives in Iran


Apart from records in the India Office, the Library also holds literature in Persian Collections.

For other related archival sources see Access to Archives.

court of Ali Shah with British envoys

The Court of Fath Ali Shah with British Envoys Sir John Malcolm, Sir Harford Jones Brydges, and Sir Gore Ouseley. Partial image of the Nigaristan Palace Mural, 1816-20 [Add.Or.1241] © The British Library Board

The name Persia until 1935 was the official name of Iran in the West, but Persian people have called it Iran since the Sassanid Period (226-651 A.D.). In 1935 Mohammad Reza Shah asked foreign countries to use Iran in other languages as well.

Archival sources for the following historical events are described below:

East India Company and Persia, 1600-1800
Russo-Perso-Franco-British relations, 1800-1900
British Envoys: Malcolm and Jones, 1799-1811
Russian advancement and Herat Wars, 1800-48
Nasirud-Din Shah and Economic concessions, 1848-98
D’Arcy Concession and Anglo-Persian Oil Company, 1901-51
Curzon and Anglo-Persian Agreement 1919
Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 1905-21
Reza Khan, 1921-44

 East India Company and Persia, 1600-1858

The early commercial activities of the East India Company in Persia were in the Persian Gulf rather than on the Persian mainland.

The archives of the East India Company's activities in Persia of this period are to be found mainly in the Factory Records (Reference: G/29), and in the Marine Department Records (Ref: L/MAR).

There is a series of Bushire Political Residency Records (Ref: IOR/R/15/1) documenting British activities in the Persian Gulf region from 1763 to 1948.

 Russo-Perso-Franco-British relations, 1800-1900

On the political landscape, Persia was regarded by Britain as a buffer state against possible aggression towards India by other European powers. Two most obvious rivals of Britain in the late 18th century were Russia and France. In 1799, the Governor-General of India, Lord Wellesley, sent John Malcolm, a distinguished Scotsman, soldier and scholar of Persian language, on a diplomatic mission to Persia, where he concluded two treaties in January 1801, one political and the other commercial.

Much of the information pertinent to the Anglo-Russian and Anglo-French rivalry in Persia can be found in the Political and Secret Department Records, particularly the series of Correspondence relating to areas outside India (Ref: L/PS/9), 1781-1890, and the Home Miscellaneous series, c.1600-1900 (Ref: H)

 British Envoys: Malcolm and Jones, 1799-1811

The Franco-Persian Treaty of Finkenstein and the Franco-Russian Treaty of Tilsit were a cause of great concern to the British authorities in India. Various British envoys were sent to Persia to negotiate with the Shah. With John Malcolm representing the Government of India and Sir Harford Jones representing the Foreign Office in London, each with a different agenda, confusion resulted and the Shah's suspicion of the British deepened.  Russia continued to retain the upper hand in this game.

The correspondence between the British envoys to Persia of that period and the Secret Committee of the East India Company is to be found in the Political and Secret Department Records, Secret letters and enclosures from British representatives in Persia, Iraq, Syria etc. c.1781-1836, (Ref: L/PS/9/67-78).

 Russian advancement and Herat Wars, 1800-48

From around 1812, Russia and Persia engaged in war against each other and Britain did not help Persia as promised in the 1809 treaty.The war ended with a Russo-Persian Treaty of Gulistan (1813) in which Persia officially ceded Georgia, Baku and several other provinces to Russia. In 1825, Russia again took military possession of Persian territory of Gokcha. Persia suffered further loss under the terms of the Treaty of Turkomanchai concluded in 1828, which declared that Persia had to cede to Russia the Armenian districts. By ignoring the pleas of the Persian government, Britain made grave mistake of leaving Persia to Russia. At the death of Fath Ali Shah in 1834, a pro-Russian minister Mohammed Meerza succeeded to the throne.  By that time, the Persian Court was firmly under Russian influence.  Russia subsequently encouraged Muhammad Shah to occupy Herat, an Afghan province under strong British influence. This led to the first Anglo-Persian Herat War in 1838.

Primary sources for the first Herat War (1838-41) are to be found mainly in the Foreign Office Records in the National Archives. However, Bushire Political Residency Records (Ref: R/15/1), 1763-1948, contain supplementary information on the event.

For the second military campaign in Persia (1856-57), see the series of Compilations and Miscellaneous in the Military Department Records (Ref: L/MIL/5

Some of the records are reproduced in Archive Editions: A.L.P.Burdett (ed.), Iran in the Persian Gulf 1843-1966 (Archive Editions, 2000)

 Nasirud-Din Shah and Economic concessions, 1848-98

The second half of the 19th century saw the effect of the Industrial Revolution extending to Iran where several Western powers fought for gaining economic concessions from the Shah. The ascendance of pro-West Nasir-ud-Din Shah (reign: 1848-1896) offered western powers an excellent opportunity to exploit the country. Nasir-ud-Din Shah was the first modern Persian monarch to visit Europe in 1873. During his visit to England, he was appointed by Queen Victoria a Knight of the Order of the Garter, the highest English order of chivalry. He revisited Europe in 1878 and 1889 and was reportedly impressed by the technology he saw in the west. He welcomed western investors and introduced a number of western innovations to Persia, including a modern postal system, train transport, a banking system and newspapers.

Files relating to Persia of this period exist mainly in the Political and Secret Department Records, particularly in the following series:

  • Political and Secret Correspondence with India (Ref: L/PS/7), 1875-1911.
  • Political and Secret Memoranda (Ref: L/PS/18), c.1840-1947.
  • Political and Secret Library (Ref: L/PS/20/C)
  • Copies of memoranda on Seistan, Persia, Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Somali coast. (Ref: L/PS/20/MEMO39-43) (Some are duplicates of files in the Memoranda series, L/PS/18)
  • Indo-European Telegraph Records, c.1865-c.1930.(Ref: L/PWD/7)

 D’Arcy Concession and Anglo-Persian Oil Company, 1901-51

One of the most significant landmarks in the history of Anglo-Iranian relations is undoubtedly the birth of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in 1909, which evolved into one of the largest oil companies in the world today, British Petroleum (BP). It signified the beginning of a new era of international power struggle driven by the western desire for oil - black gold.

Sources for the studies of this period are mainly located in the following series:

  • Bushire Political Residency Records, 1763-1948 (R/15/1)
  • Political and Secret subject files, 1902-31 (L/PS/10)
  • Political and Secret annual files, 1912-30 (L/PS/11)
  • Political External files and collections 1931-50: 
  • Persia (L/PS/12/3390-3550)
  • Persia and Persian Gulf; British representation and representatives in Persia and the Gulf (L/PS/12/3551-3708)
  • Persian Gulf (L/PS/12/3709-3976)

Note: The historical records of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company are held in the BP archives.

Oil concessions of the Persian Gulf region are reproduced by Archive Editions: Arabian Gulf oil concessions, 1911-1953 (Archive Editions, 1989)

 Curzon and Anglo-Persian Agreement 1919

George Nathaniel Curzon, Viceroy of India (1899-1905), and Foreign Secretary of Britain (1919-24), was interested in Persia from his youth. He was the chief motivator behind the Anglo-Persian 1919 Agreement, which was one of the main causes of a Coup d'Etat of Iran in 1921.

Main sources are in the Political and Secret Department Records (Ref: L/PS/10, L/PS/11, L/PS/12, and L/PS/18), and India Office Private Papers, Curzon Collections (Ref: MSS EUR F/111 and F/112)

 Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 1905-21

Iranian revolutionaries

Iranian revolutionaries, c.1905-09. © The British Library Board

1905 Constitutional Revolution transformed Iran into a republican state with a constitutional monarchy, where the Shah coexisted with a Majlis (Parliament). The last Shah was overturned by Reza Khan in a Coup d'Etat in 1921. A new monarchy, Pahlavi Dynasty, began in 1925.

Main documents for this period can be found in following series:

  • L/PS/10 Political and Secret subject files, 1902-31. 
  • L/PS/20/CA Confidential abstracts of letters received from India and
    from the Middle East.
  • L/PS/20/MM Government of India Foreign Department memoranda regarding
    affairs in areas outside India, 1891-1912
  • L/PS/20/FO14-21 Persia and Arabia, 1899-1904
  • L/PS/20/FO22-30 Copies of Foreign Office prints on Persia, 1905-1913
  • L/MIL/5/729 Committee of Imperial Defence papers on Persia 1903-1904
  • L/MIL/17/15/1-40 Military Department Library - published information on Iran: gazetteers, military reports, routes, intelligence reports, and other references on Persia, c.1885 - 1946

For reproduction of primary sources, see: R.M.Burrell and R.L.Jarman, Iran political diaries, 1881-1965 (Archive Editions, 1997)

 Reza Khan, 1921-44

Reza Khan (1878-1944), the founder of the Pahlavi Dynasty, played an important role in the modification of the D'Arcy Oil Concession, antagonizing the British in the 1930s. His friendship with Nazi Germany in the early 1940s caused his downfall.

Main sources of information for this period are in the following series:

  • L/MIL/17/15/1-40 Military Department Library - published information on Iran: gazetteers, military reports, routes, intelligence reports, and other references on Persia, c.1885 - 1946
  • L/MIL/17/15/24, 60 Anglo-Iranian (Persian) Oil Company's oil field in Persia, 1925, 1940
  • L/WS  War Staff papers: miscellaneous papers on operations in Iran in World War II
  • L/PS/10 Political and Secret subject files, 1902-31.
  • L/PS/11 Political and Secret annual files, 1912-30
  • L/PS/12 (Political) External Files and Collections, c.1931-50
  • L/PS/12/3390-3550 Persia
  • L/PS/18/C Memoranda on Central Asia and Persia, c.1840-1947
  • L/PS/20 Political and Secret Library, c.1800-1947

For detailed list of consular diaries, see India Office Political and Secret files and Confidential Print relating to Iran, edited by A.J.Farrington (IDC Publishers, 2004)

Further Information

The India Office Records may be consulted in Asian African Studies Reading Room where the services and facilities of the Reading Room are available to researchers.


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