Finding Aid: Political (External) Department Records

Author

Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library
An overview of records on the Qatar Digital Library originating from the Political (External) Department (IOR/L/PS/12), including a description of the records and the subjects they cover.

What was the Political (External) Department?

When the India Office The department of the British Government to which the Government of India reported between 1858 and 1947. The successor to the Court of Directors. was formed in 1858, the Political and Secret Department was responsible for supervising the Government of India’s relationships both with neighbouring countries, and with the Indian Princely States.

In 1930, following a number of reorganisations, the Department was split in two: the Political (Internal) Department dealt with the Indian Princely States, and the Political (External) Department dealt with the foreign policy of the Government of India. In 1941 the Political (External) Department was renamed as the External Department. In the India Office The department of the British Government to which the Government of India reported between 1858 and 1947. The successor to the Court of Directors. Records, the files of the Political (External) Department are arranged within the L/PS/12 series. This series consists of two classes of records:

  • Annual files (1931-1950), usually small files on a single topic.
  • Collection files (1903-1950), material of long-term relevance, often dealing with detailed topics over a number of files. These are grouped by subject: for example, Collection 1 relates to Aden.

The L/PS/12 files on the Qatar Digital Library are mainly concerned with these Collection files that relate to governments in the Gulf and Middle East. However, a number of relevant Annual Files are also being catalogued and digitised.

What types of records will you find?

You will mostly find correspondence – sent telegraphically or physically – from India and other British dependencies, as well as reports, minutes, legal documents, and maps.

As the Department dealt with foreign policy, the L/PS/12 files contain records and correspondence received from the Foreign Office, Colonial Office, Admiralty, War Office, Government of India, British Residencies and diplomatic posts all over the world, and of course communication from foreign governments.

Telegram reports sent by the Political Residencies and Consuls in the Gulf Region and the Middle East often forwarded copies of communications received from the shaikhdoms and other local governments.

Copy telegram from the Sultan of Muscat and Oman, regarding the purchase of ammunition. IOR/L/PS/12/2195, f. 12r
Copy telegram from the Sultan of Muscat and Oman, regarding the purchase of ammunition. IOR/L/PS/12/2195, f. 12r

A lot of the paperwork sent to the Department did not require decisions to be made by the India Office The department of the British Government to which the Government of India reported between 1858 and 1947. The successor to the Court of Directors. . Rather, copies of records were sent because the topics covered were of interest to the Government of India, or of relevance to British imperial policy in the Gulf and Middle East, as shown in the following minute:

Typical example of decision-making process following different lines of reporting between the Government of India and the Middle East- IOR/L/PS/12/2848, f. 135r
Typical example of decision-making process following different lines of reporting between the Government of India and the Middle East- IOR/L/PS/12/2848, f. 135r

What do the records look like?

The files are typically loose leaf, and collected into folders. Larger files were often bound into volumes.

Front cover and spine of a bound file (IOR/L/PS/12/3403), and front cover of an unbound file (IOR/L/PS/12/3396)
Front cover and spine of a bound file (IOR/L/PS/12/3403), and front cover of an unbound file (IOR/L/PS/12/3396)

Correspondence headers regularly appear throughout the files, and can help you to navigate your way through the complex paperwork. They provide details of the subjects covered, record the register number, and also contain information on the passage of the records through the departmental decision-making process. Further information on the decision-making process can be found in Martin Moir’s A Study of the History and Organization of the Political and Secret Departments of the East India Company, the Board of Control Board of Commissioners for the Affairs of India, appointed by an Act of Parliament to supervise the East India Company. and the India Office The department of the British Government to which the Government of India reported between 1858 and 1947. The successor to the Court of Directors. 1784-1919.

Detail of a sheet indicating the receipt of enclosed papers by the Under Secretary of State for India, and the Departmental Committee. IOR/L/PS/12/3403, f. 7r
Detail of a sheet indicating the receipt of enclosed papers by the Under Secretary of State for India, and the Departmental Committee. IOR/L/PS/12/3403, f. 7r

The register numbers of all the correspondence contained in each file can be found on a cover sheet at the front of the file or volume. As a result of the filing process, materials are often arranged in chronological order proceeding from the rear to the front of a file or volume. Consulting the cover sheet can help you to navigate through a file.

Cover sheet giving the heading, references to related files, and lists of register numbers for the correspondence contained in the file. IOR/L/PS/12/1443, f. 1
Cover sheet giving the heading, references to related files, and lists of register numbers for the correspondence contained in the file. IOR/L/PS/12/1443, f. 1

Which subjects are covered in the records?

The records cover a range of topics that would have been of interest to the Department, in light of its role and responsibilities. Diplomacy, security in the Gulf and Middle East, British imperial policy, arms traffic, commercial activities, and infrastructural projects (including telegraph, roads, rail construction, shipping) are all covered in the records.

Below is a list of some of the collections from the L/PS/12 series that can be found on the Qatar Digital Library, with links to the first available file in each collection:

 

FURTHER READING

 

Moir, Martin, A Study of the History and Organization of the Political and Secret Departments of the East India Company, the Board of Control Board of Commissioners for the Affairs of India, appointed by an Act of Parliament to supervise the East India Company. and the India Office The department of the British Government to which the Government of India reported between 1858 and 1947. The successor to the Court of Directors. 1784-1919 (London: 1966)

Tuson, Penelope, India Office The department of the British Government to which the Government of India reported between 1858 and 1947. The successor to the Court of Directors. Records (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980)