India Office medical archive collections

Illustration of a Man on a stretcher

The records of the East India Company and India Office contain a wealth of information relating to medicine and health in India, particularly for the period 1780-1920.

About the collection

Disease was a major challenge to the imperial project in India. The records document the efforts to maintain the military and civil administration in good health, and later attempts to improve the public health of the Indian populations.

Statistical returns, correspondence, reports on experiments and drug trials, patient case studies and educational materials all present a full picture of developing medical knowledge and its translation into policy.

Subjects covered in the records:

•    Medical topography
•    Diseases, including smallpox, cholera, malaria, plague, leprosy and others
•    Vaccination
•    Hospitals, asylums and sanatoriums
•    Drugs and treatments
•    Laboratory research
•    Medical education
•    Diet and nutrition
•    Public health and sanitation
•    Military health and sanitation

Please note: as these are records created by the colonial administration in India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they contain terms which are unacceptable today. They also contain depictions of peoples and events which may be offensive or upsetting.

What is available online?

Digitised material relating to cinchona and other plants used in the drug trade may be found within our Botany in British India pages.

India Office Medical Archives Online Material comprises a complete list of all shelfmarks included in the project, along with links to the digitised material where appropriate.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Medical history resources appear across a range of India Office and East India Company series, including Official Publications, Proceedings, the Collections of the Board of Control, and Political and Judicial records. These are available in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room.

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

A good introductory guide: Richard Axelby and Savithri Preetha Nair, Science and the Changing Environment in India 1780-1920. A guide to sources in the India Office Records (London: British Library, 2010).

What is available in other organisations?

A number of official India Office publications relating to medicine and health have been digitised as part of the National Library of Scotland Medical History of British India project, and are free to access online.

Several publications relating to health and medicine in British India are free to access online as part of the Medical Heritage Library.

The India Office Medical Archives Project was funded by a Wellcome Trust Research Resources award.