India Office Records: the Administrative History

Photograph of Mr Kennedy, Paper Office Keeper for the India Office, in the shelves 1959
Mr Kennedy, Paper Office Keeper 1959. Photo 126(24)

The Provenance and Administrative History of the India Office Records

About the collection

In 1858 control of British India passed from the East India Company to the Crown and a new department of state, the India Office, was created. The department inherited a great quantity of archives. These were the records of the East India Company (1600-1858) and of the government body set up to control the Company’s civil and military administration, the Board of Control (1784-1858). Together, the collections documented the administration of India in remarkable detail.

Staff at the India Office quickly undertook a review of the records and threw a number of them away, particularly those relating to the Company’s commercial activities. The records which remained were moved in 1867 into the new India Office building in Whitehall.

From the 1880s to the 1920s, record keepers at the India Office made a sustained effort to organise and to list their historical collections. Many guides, catalogues, and transcripts were published during this period. The most important guide, still of value to researchers today, was William Foster, A Guide to the India Office Records 1600-1858 (London, 1919).

Following Indian Independence in 1947, the India Office was dissolved and its records passed under the control of the Commonwealth Relations Office, later to become the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Over the 1960s, archivists worked to open up the collections for researchers. The current alpha-numerical classification scheme dates from this time. The 1960s also saw additional deposits of records from various overseas agencies which had once been connected to the India Office.

In 1982 the management of the India Office Records was transferred from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the British Library. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office remains ultimately responsible for the collections; the records also form part of the public records of the United Kingdom.

What is available online?

There are a number of online resources for the India Office Records and Private Papers:

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

The East India Company’s records can be viewed in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room, and the catalogues are searchable online using Explore Archives and Manuscripts

Further information

Martin Moir, A General Guide to the India Office Records (British Library, 1988), pp x-xiv.