India Office Records: Central Asia Resources

Detail from map of Turkestan illustrating the travels of Arminius Vambery in 1863 (Mss Eur F126/104)
Detail from map of Turkestan illustrating the travels of Arminius Vambery in 1863 (Mss Eur F126/104)

The India Office Records and Private papers contain archival sources created as a result of British trading contacts and political relations with Central Asia through the East India Company and India Office from the 17th to 20th centuries.

About the collection

The records of the East India Company, Board of Control, and India Office relating to Central Asia span from the early 17th to the mid 20th centuries. They cover the East India Company’s first contacts in the area in the early 1600s through to the India Office’s administration of legations, missions and agencies and maintenance of diplomatic relations throughout the region. The records are complemented by a large number of private paper collections of individuals who held postings in, or travelled throughout, Central Asia.

The principal places covered by the records include:

  • China (17th - mid 20th centuries)
  • Chinese Turkestan, modern Xinjiang, including the records of the Political Residency at Kashgar (early 19th – early 20th centuries)
  • Russian Turkestan, now comprising Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan ( (early 19th-mid 20th centuries)
  • Tibet, Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal (18th – mid 20th centuries)

Separate collection guides are available for sources relating to Afghanistan and Iran (Persia) and for general information about East India Company and India Office Records.

What is available online?

Some material relating to Central Asia, in particular Afghanistan and Iran may be found on the Qatar Digital Library

A detailed Central Asia Guide has been produced to assist researchers in navigating the collections, along with a Who’s Who of British Officials connected with Central Asia.

These records can be accessed by searching for keywords, subjects, individuals, and institutions in the Library’s Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

The Asian and African Studies and the Untold Lives blogs contain many fascinating stories on a wide range of subjects covered by the collections.


What is available in our Reading Rooms?

The sources for Central Asia appear across a wide range of East India Company and India Office series, including East India Company General Correspondence; the Collections of the Board of Control; Factory Records; Departmental Records; Proceedings; official publications; and Private Papers collections. These can be viewed in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room, and the catalogues are searchable online using Explore Archives and Manuscripts. There are also printed catalogues, guides to the collections and open access reference books in the A&AS Reading Room. The reading room PCs give free access to a number of useful sites, such as Find My Past and Nineteenth Century Collections Online.

What is available in other organisations?

Diplomatic responsibility for many of these areas moved between the Government of India and the Foreign Office throughout the period and records of the work of both the Foreign Office and Colonial Office in the region can be found at the National Archives. These records can be searched online using the National Archives Discovery catalogue.

Further information

For further reference works on this collection, see:

  • Lesley Hall, A brief guide to sources for the study of Afghanistan in the India Office Records, (London, 1981)
  • A K J Singh, A guide to source materials in the India Office Library and Records for the history of Tibet, Sikkim and Bhutan 1765-1950, (London, 1988)
  • F C Danvers, Report on the India Office Records relating to Persia and the Persian Gulf, (London, 1889)
  • Penelope Tuson, The Records of the British Residency and Agencies in the Persian Gulf, (London, 1979)
  • Anthony Farrington, The English Factory in Taiwan, 1670-1685, (Taipei, 1995)