An office of the East India Company and, later, of the British Raj, headed by an agent. The rank and purpose of agents changed over time, but from the early nineteenth century they were subordinate to residents, whom they assisted in managing relations with provinces and regions considered part of, or under the influence of, British India, including the Gulf.


One of the two major tribal confederations of Oman, the other is al-Hanā'ī. The election of the Imam of Oman was the main reason behind inflaming the conflict between the two in the early eighteenth century and that continued till the mid twentieth century.


One of the two major tribal confederations of Oman, the other is al-Ghāfirī. The election of the Imam of Oman was the main reason behind inflaming the conflict between the two in the early eighteenth century and that continued till the mid twentieth century.

Variants: al-Hanā'ī


An Islamist military force that emerged in the Arabian Peninsula at the beginning of the twentieth century. They became allied with Ibn Saud ['Abd al-'Azīz Āl Sa'ūd] and played a decisive role in his rise to power. The gradual disintegration of this alliance lead to the Ikhwan Revolt in 1927, which ended with Ibn Saud's decisive victory at the Battle of Sabilla in 1929. The remnants of the Ikhwan were then absorbed into the new Saudi Arabian National Guard.


The name of the family that rules the present-day emirates of Ras al Khaima and Sharjah. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the influence of the Qawāsim (singular Qāsimī) extended along the western coast of the Musandam Peninsula as well as to parts of the opposite Persian coast and nearby islands. Though the inhabitants of these areas were mostly not members of the Qāsimī tribe, they are often referred to as such in the India Office Records. In addition, during their quest to eradicate Arab ‘piracy’, the British came to view the Qawāsim as being the chief perpetrators, and frequently used their name (anglicised as ‘Joasmee’) to refer to any seafaring Arabs they suspected of being pirates.

Variants: al-Qawāsim Qawāsim Qāsimī Qawasim


A method of printing photographs on a paper base from a negative by coating the paper with an emulsion of salt and albumen (egg white). Invented in 1850, the albumen print was one of the first commercially viable methods of printing photographs.


A large peninsula between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean that makes up the majority of modern-day Turkey.


An ancient instrument that allows users to make astronomical observations and calculate from them such information as their precise location on earth, the date and precise time. 



Large vessels used for trading between the western coast of India and the Gulf. They were on average 30m long, with a crew of over 30. They had two or three masts with lateen sails, and a similar hull to East Indiamen. They also had a curved bow, carved square stern, and quarter-galleries, which had five windows and were usually highly-decorated. Smaller variations were used on the lower parts of the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. They were built in Cochin, the Malabar Coast, and Kuwait, and although primarily used for trade, some were also armed for defence. Early mentions of the baghlah sometimes refer to a double-ended type of vessel used as a warship.

Variants: Baggalah Bugla Buggalow


A merchant, trader, shopkeeper, or financier, usually of Indian extraction or from Indian diaspora communities settled in the Gulf and wider region. Occasionally, the term denotes an educated Indian secretary or accountant. The term was frequently used derogatorily by East India Company officials to refer to individuals of the mercantile profession thought to be either: Hindu (without much discrimination between Hindu or Jain religious identities) in contrast to Christian or Muslim merchants; or identified by their dark complexion as distinguished from merchants of African origin.

Variants: Banian Banyan

Banī ʿUtbah

Banī ʿUtbah is a federation of Arab tribes thought to have been formed when a group of tribes migrated from Najd to the Gulf.

Variants: ‘Utūb


(Per.) The Persian custom of bast allowed an individual to seek asylum at a designated location, often a place of worship or diplomatic compound. Once an individual had taken shelter, it was considered to be the duty of that site’s owner to defend them from harm. Taking bast at diplomatic buildings was a strategy used throughout the Constitutional Revolution, both to avoid crackdowns by the Shah and in the hopes of bringing international pressure to bear in support of reforms.


(Per.) An individual who has used the Persian custom of bast to claim asylum at a designated safe place.

Variants: bastis


An extra allowance of pay granted to soldiers involved in special field service or to public servants on special duty.

Variants: Bhatta


(Indo-Persian) Courteous title for (usually Muslim) women of elite status or formal title for (usually Muslim) women of Turko-Mongol lineage, equivalent to 'Lady' in Britain. The term originates as the feminine form of the Turko-Mongol title 'Bayg' or 'Bay', meaning 'Lord'.

Variants: Begom

Bill of lading

A document issued by a person undertaking to transport a cargo, often a ship's master, to the person consigning the cargo. This document acts as a receipt and confirms that the goods have been handed over and will be delivered.


Refers here to water clock, though historically the same word has been used to refer to sand clocks.

Board of Control

Also known as the Board of Commissioners for the Affairs of India (formal title) or the India Board. It was established by an Act of Parliament in 1784 to ‘superintend, direct and control’ the East India Company's civil and military government and the business connected with its Indian revenues. By the Government of India Act of 1858, the powers of the Board and the Company were transferred to the Secretary of State for India in Council.


An officer responsible for the equipment on a ship and overseeing the work of the ship's crew.

Bombay Marine

The navy of the East India Company, formed in the early seventeenth century, and named the 'Bombay Marine' in 1686. It underwent several name changes, becoming the 'Royal Indian Navy' in 1934.

Bon voisinage

This French term can be translated as ‘good neighbourliness’. Bon voisinage agreements or treaties are based on principles relating to this concept, although it is not a precisely defined legal concept. These agreements or treaties are often signed between countries which share borders, in order to promote border co-operation and peace between them.


Often a local commercial agent in the Gulf who regularly performed duties of intelligence gathering and political representation.


An image photographically reproduced on to bromide-coated paper. Bromide is a light-sensitive bromine-based compound, and exposure reproduces the image on to the paper. The resulting image has the appearance and feel of a photograph. The technique is most suitable for producing a small number of copies.



Companion of [the Most Eminent Order of] the Indian Empire (accolade).

Variants: CIE C I E


Companion of [the Most Distinguished Order of] St Michael and St George (accolade).

Variants: CMG


Companion of [the Most Exalted Order of] the Star of India (accolade).

Variants: CSI C. S. I. C S I


A roadside inn providing accommodation and shelter for caravans (groups of people travelling together). Caravanserais were usually found along rural roads outside the walls of a town or village.

Chalgi Baghdad

A musical performance group and genre of Iraq.

Chargé d'affaires

A government's representative in a foreign country. A Chargé d'affaires may be installed if the government does not have an ambassador in that country, or during the ambassador's absence.

Chief Mate

The officer directly subordinate to the Captain on board a ship, in charge of the rest of the crew.

Variants: First Mate


A greek word for a water clock, literally meaning 'water thief'.


A collection of pages, usually gathered into quires, and bound between covers. Modern books are codices, as opposed to scrolls, rotula, tablets or other ways of preserving and presenting portable written material.


Section at the end of a manuscript text in which the author, or more often the scribe, signs off usually expressing gratitude to God for the successful completion of the task, and sometimes including information about himself, the date and place at which the text was finished. 


A term used to describe labourers from a number of Asian countries, now considered derogatory. It often referred to people employed as indentured or contract labourers in European colonised regions, but was also used to describe Asian labourers more generally, whether in their own countries or elsewhere.

Variants: Qoli coolies

Court of Directors

The Court of Directors was the group of directors who dealt with the daily conduct of the East India Company's affairs. It was headed by a Chairman and Deputy Chairman, and managed the Company's overseas government and trade, appointed and controlled employees, and liaised with the British Government, and, from 1784, with the Board of Control. It consisted of 24 members elected by the proprietors of the Company until 1853, when the number was limited to 18 members, six of whom were crown-appointed. The Court met at least once a week, and often two or three times.


Under the Indian numbering system, a crore is equal to one hundred lakhs, and one lakh is equal to one hundred thousand. It is mostly used in connection with money (rupees), but also can refer to units of measurement or people.

cultured pearls

Pearls created by pearl farmers under controlled conditions.


A percussion instrument consisting of thin round plates.



Distinguished Service Order (accolade).

Variants: DSO


System of postal communication used in Moghul India and later by the East India Company. Dak runners or 'dak harkara' carried messages, letters, news and intelligence, actually running with the mail as part of a relay system. They also could travel on horseback. The Hindustani word 'dak' was sometimes Anglicised in written records to 'daks' or 'dawk(s)'.

Variants: Daks Dawk Dawks


(Per.) book keeper, finance officer, or treasurer.

Variants: Duftardar Daftardar


A term adopted by British officials to refer to local sailing vessels, typically with lateen sails, used in the western Indian Ocean. The term is of uncertain origin, and is sometimes used as an umbrella term for non-European vessels, and sometimes used to refer to more specific types of vessel. Whether British uses corresponded to local uses of the term is uncertain.

Variants: Dow


(Ar. & Per.) an administrative council, or imperial or regional governing body. Also used to refer to a collection of poems and an official record book, logbook, or register.

Variants: Divan


A Non-Commissioned Officer in the Indian Cavalry equivalent in rank to a Havildar in the Indian Infantry.

Variants: Dafadar Daf‘dār


A public or private audience held by a high-ranking British colonial representative such as a Viceroy, Governor-General, or a visiting member of the British royal family. The term derives from the Persian word for 'court'.

Variants: durbars Darbār Darbar


eastern Anatolia

South-east Turkey today.


(Ar.) a ruler, prince, military commander, or governor of a province.

Variants: Amir amirs emirs

Envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary

A diplomatic representative who ranks below an ambassador. The term can be shortened to 'envoy'.

Variants: Minister plenipotentiary and envoy extraordinary



An East India Company trading establishment, where Company agents, or 'factors', resided. Factors were left behind at trading posts during the Company's commercial voyages to negotiate the sale of current stocks of goods with local merchants and to procure cargoes of goods to be shipped on subsequent voyages. Factories were run by a chief factor and a council of factors.


Fallah (singular), Fallahin (plural): Arabic for ‘peasant’. The term was used by British officials to refer to agricultural workers or to members of a social class employed primarily in agricultural labour in the Middle East and North Africa.

Variants: Fellah Fallahs Fallāḥ Fallahin Fallāḥīn Fallaheen Fellahin Fellaheen Fellahs


(Ar.): A housekeeper, servant, or cleaner. In the Gulf Residency, ferash was the title for a locally-hired uniformed orderly attached to the Political Residency or a Political Agency office.

Variants: Ferash Farrash


A Persian word meaning a royal order or decree issued by a sovereign, used notably in the Ottoman Empire (sometimes written ‘phirmaund’).



[Knight, or Dame from 1971] Grand Cross of [the Most Honourable Order of] the Bath (accolade).

Variants: GCB


[Knight] Grand Commander of [the Most Eminent Order of] the Indian Empire (accolade).

Variants: GCIE


[Knight] Grand Cross of [the Most Distinguished Order of] St Michael and St George (accolade). The first ordinary Dame Grand Cross was invested in 1984.


[Knight] Grand Commander of [the Most Exalted Order of] the Star of India (accolade).

Variants: GCSI


Grand Master of [the Most Eminent Order of] the Indian Empire (accolade).

Variants: GMIE


Grand Master of [the Most Exalted Order of] the Star of India (accolade).

Variants: GMSI

General Treaty with the Arab Tribes of the Persian Gulf

This agreement, made between Britain and ten tribal rulers of the eastern Arabian coast, was signed between 8 January and 15 March 1820. It followed the end of a military campaign fought by Britain against the Qawasim and their allies, and is commonly seen by historians as marking the start of 150 years of British hegemony in the region. The treaty is sometimes referred to as the General Treaty for the Cessation of Plunder and Piracy by Land and Sea, as well as by a number of short titles, including the General Treaty, the General Treaty of Peace, and the General Maritime Treaty.

Government of Bengal

The East India Company’s administration in Bengal. It was established in 1757 and was headquartered at Fort William, Calcutta [Kolkata]. From 1773 until 1833, Bengal was the most senior of the three subdivisions, or presidencies, of India (the other two being Bombay [Mumbai] and Madras [Chennai]), and was therefore sometimes known as the Supreme Government of India. Following this, the Government of Bengal became a provincial administration and remained so, first under the Company and then under the British Raj, until India's independence in 1947.

Variants: Bengal Government

Government of Bombay

The East India Company’s administration in the city of Bombay [Mumbai] and western India, established in 1668. During the period of Company rule, Bombay was one of the three main subdivisions, or presidencies, of India (the other two being Bengal and Madras) and was also responsible for relations with the Gulf and Red Sea regions until 1873, when responsibility was transferred to the Government of India's Foreign Department. From 1858 the Government of Bombay was a subdivision of the British Raj, and remained so until India's independence in 1947.

Government of Madras

The East India Company’s administration in the city of Madras [Chennai] and southern India. It was established in 1684 and headquartered at Fort St. George. During the period of Company rule, Madras was one of the three main subdivisions, or presidencies, of India (the other two being Bengal and Bombay). From 1858 the Government of Madras was a subdivision of the British Raj, and remained so until India's independence in 1947.


Also known as the ghurab, this vessel had a projecting bow and two or three masts, common in India and the Gulf. It was sometimes armed, and was relatively shallow and broad, with a square stern.

Variants: Ghurāb Grabb



(Anglo-Indian based on Perso-Arabic term 'taḥvīldār') Custodian; police sergeant; or a jail or prison guard. The term was used in the East India Company to distinguish native non-commissioned sepoys from white sergeants of the same grade. In Maratha administration, the term signified the keeper of a fort.

Variants: Havildars Hawildar Havaldar Hawaldar


Her or His Majesty’s Government in London.


Holis (singular), Hawala (plural): A group of people who migrated from the Arab shores of the Gulf to the Persian side over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many of whom have since returned to the Arabian Peninsula. Many of the Hawala participated in both Arab and Persian culture, thus playing an important role in cultural mediation across the Gulf. For further information, see expert article by Dr Ahmed Dailami.

Variants: Hawala Hoola Hooli Hualley



Indian Order of Merit (accolade).

Variants: IOM


From the mid nineteenth to the mid twentieth century, this was a title given by the Shah of Persia to the paramount chiefs of certain tribes in south west Iran, in particular the Bakhtiyari and Qashqa’i tribes.

Variants: Ilkhan Elkhan Il-Khan

India Office

The department of the British Government to which the Government of India reported between 1858 and 1947. The successor to the East India Company Court of Directors The London-based directors of the East India Company who dealt with the daily conduct of the Company's affairs. .

Indian Political Service

The branch of the British Government of India with responsibility for managing political affairs between British-ruled India and its surrounding states, and by extension the Gulf, during the period 1937-47. The origins of the Indian Political Service (IPS) can be traced to the formation of the East India Company’s Secret and Political Department in 1783, and arguably even further back to the 1760s, when the Company first appointed political residents to manage its relations with regional rulers. The members of the IPS, usually referred to as political officers, or ‘politicals’ for short, were predominantly of British origin, although a small number of indigenous officers were employed.

Variants: IPS


A small map or other image enclosed within the margin of a larger map, map sheet, or larger image; or papers placed inside a book or archival volume.



Knight [Commander of the Most Excellent Order] of the British Empire (accolade).

Variants: KBE


Knight Commander of [the Most Honourable Order of] the Bath (accolade).

Variants: KCB K C B


Knight Commander of [the Most Eminent Order of] the Indian Empire (accolade).

Variants: KCIE K. C. I. E. K C I E


Knight Commander of [the Most Distinguished Order of] St Michael and St George (accolade).

Variants: KCMG


Knight Commander of [the Most Exalted Order of] the Star of India (accolade).

Variants: KCSI K. C. S. I.


Knight Commander of the [Royal] Victorian Order (accolade).

Variants: KCVO


Knight of [the Order of] the Lion and the Sun (accolade).

Variants: KLS


A term used by the British officials to refer to a non-European labourer, especially one employed on a ship. The British employed khalasis in their agencies in the Gulf, in particular on the boats kept at those agencies.

Variants: Khalasis


(Ar. Per. & Hindi) an important letter usually sent in an elaborate textile pouch, dispatched as part of the royal or diplomatic correspondence of rulers and elites. In Arabic, the term kharita (pl. kharaʾit and khurut) means a pouch or bag made of leather, silk, or other materials; it also means a map.

Variants: Khureeta kharitas Kharīṭah


(Ott. & Per.) A deputy or lieutenant of the governor in Ottoman Iraq, with additional responsibilities as a high-ranking provincial judge.

Variants: kia



One lakh is equal to one hundred thousand rupees. Often spelled ‘lacs’ in India Office Records material.

Variants: lakh lac lacs lākh


A term used by the British officials to describe non-European sailors employed on East India Company ships. The majority were from South Asia, but Arab, Chinese and East African people, among others, were also employed and referred to as ‘Lascars’.

The term originates from the Farsi ‘lashkar’, meaning ‘army’, and referring to labour gangs contracted to work on ships in the Indian Ocean. This practice predated European intervention in the Indian Ocean and was later co-opted by colonial powers. The term passed back into local use as ‘lascar’, via Portuguese, English, and/or Dutch, and on the west coast of India was used to mean 'sailor' by the 17th century.

Variants: Lascars


A geographical area corresponding to the region around the eastern Mediterranean Sea. In the India Office Records the precise limits of what it describes vary over time. Latterly it tended to refer to a limited area centring on Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. But in earlier records its definition is more expansive than this, also encompassing Turkey, Greece and parts of north Africa.


An image reproduced from a printing plate whose image areas attract ink and non-image areas repel it. Traditionally the term referred to images produced from a flat stone printing plate but is now more generally applied to images from all types of printing plate employing the attract-repel principle. The process of producing a lithograph is known as lithography (derived from the Greek lithos meaning 'stone').

Variants: Lithographed Lithographic



In the seventeenth century, an experienced seaman. The term gradually came to mean an apprentice officer. A midshipman ranked above an ordinary or able seaman, and below a lieutenant, or sub-lieutenant, being the most senior non-commissioned officer.

Variants: Midshipmen


(Ar.) A colloquial form of the word emir, used mainly to refer to a group leader or a chieftain.


A term previously used in English to refer to a Muslim, or to relate to Muslims or Islam. It is now considered offensive as it implies that Muslims worship Mohammed as opposed to Allah.


A term used in the Middle East, Persia and South Asia to refer to a secretary, assistant or amanuensis. Munshis were employed in the British administration in the Gulf, where they often provided linguistic interpretation, and were usually of Arab or Persian origin.

Variants: Munshis


(Ar. & Ott.): During the eighteenth century this was the third most powerful official in Ottoman Iraq (after the Pasha and the Kiya). The title was given specifically to the Governor of Basra, and even though it was originally a temporary post (as a caretaker position in the event of a Wali or Pasha's removal) it later became permanent.

Variants: Mussaleem Mussalim


(Perso-Ar.) abbreviation of mirzadeh, which literally means ‘son of a lord’. A title of honour, placed before the surname. It was originally applied to princes, later to military leaders, and later still to secretaries, chieftains, and other ‘gentlemen’.



The captain or master of a boat.

Variants: nakhudas

Native Agent

An agent stationed in a port in the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula who would report to the Resident. Native Agents could work as a commercial agent, political representative, or news informant, with some agents combining all three roles. Acting on behalf of the Resident in minor matters, they would also assist East India Company employees who had Company business in their port. The British used the term 'native' to signify that such agents were indigenous to the region (i.e. not European), as they were usually recruited from Indian, Arab or Persian [Iranian] merchant communities. Although an official position within the British colonial administration, some individuals are referred to in the material as 'Native Agents' without formal appointments.

Variants: Native Agents

native letters

Letters in Arabic and Persian written by Native Agents which often also contain, as enclosures, correspondence from notable figures in the Gulf including local rulers, Persian officials, and merchants. The enclosures may also contain petitions raised by locals.


(Hindi from Ar.) Could refer to an honorific title; an official acting as a provincial deputy ruler in South Asia; or a significant Muslim landowner in nineteenth century India.

Variants: Nabob Navab Nawwāb Navvāb

News writer

A local informant who reported news and intelligence to the Resident, later known as a news agent. In the Gulf, this role could be undertaken by brokers or Native Agents.

Variants: news-writer news writers news-writers news agent news agents

North-West Frontier

A region of British India bordering Afghanistan. North-West Frontier Province was created in 1901, and today forms part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan.



Officer of [the Most Excellent Order of] the British Empire (accolade).

Variants: OBE


Order of British India (accolade).

Variants: OBI

Order in Council

A regulation issued by the sovereign of the United Kingdom on the advice of the Privy Council. In the context of the India Office Records, this most often refers to agreements made between the British Government and the governments of other states, which regulated their relationship and delineated their respective jurisdictions and responsibilities, particularly regarding judicial and military matters.

Variants: Orders in Council



An Ottoman title originating from the Persian term ‘Padishah’. It was used after the names of high-ranking male officials of the Ottoman Empire, and was typically given to provincial governors, high civil officials, and military commanders. The title was also occasionally given to women.

Variants: Peshaw Bashaw


A territory (Eyala or Wilaya) governed by a Pasha. The term also refers to anything that is designating the office or the jurisdiction of a Pasha.

Variants: Pachalic Pashalik Pashalie


(Indo-Portuguese) In the term's South Asian context, a low-ranking infantryman, orderly or assistant.

Persian Gulf

The historical term used to describe the body of water between the Arabian Peninsula and Iran. It remains in use internationally but in the second half of the twentieth century, another term, the Arabian Gulf, has also become commonly used, notably by Arab states. Simply the Gulf is also regularly used.


Also pesteh or peste; in Iraqi music a short metred vocal piece sung after a long maqam performance. 

Political Agent

A mid-ranking political representative (equivalent to a Consul) from the diplomatic corps of the Government of India or one of its subordinate provincial governments, in charge of a Political Agency (equivalent to a Consulate).  The title was used in Princely India, Eastern Arabia, and the Aden Protectorate.  After Britain's responsibility for Eastern Arabia and the Aden Protectorate was transferred from India to London, use of the title continued up to independence.

Political Resident

A senior ranking political representative (equivalent to a Consul General) from the diplomatic corps of the Government of India or one of its subordinate provincial governments, in charge of a Political Residency (equivalent to a Consulate General).  The title was used in Princely India, Eastern Arabia, and the Aden Protectorate.  After Britain's responsibility for Eastern Arabia and the Aden Protectorate was transferred from India to London, use of the title continued up to independence. 


The territory on the Indian subcontinent governed by the East India Company, and later the British Raj, was divided into three parts (Bengal, Bombay [Mumbai], and Madras [Chennai]), and each of these was referred to as a presidency. Each presidency had its own government, and sometimes the term ‘presidency’ is used in the records when it is actually the government of that presidency being referred to. For more information, see: Government of Bengal, Government of Bombay, and Government of Madras.

Prince Governor

During the Qājār period (1794-1925), the government of Iranian provinces was devolved to regional Governors who were often, though not always, Princes of the Royal line, and were therefore referred to in British sources as Prince Governors. These maintained their own courts and were primarily responsible for keeping law and order in their provinces and collecting taxes to be paid to the Shah in Tehran. They enjoyed a large degree of autonomy, often conducting their own independent foreign policy.

Variants: Prince-Governor

Private Papers

Generally, an archival term for a collection of documents acquired or created privately by an individual, distinct from (though not necessarily unrelated to) any formal or official documents collected in the course of their professional career. The term personal papers is also used. Within the British Library, Private Papers refers to any collection of documents acquired by, or donated to, the Library (or its predecessor bodies) from a private source.

The officer on a ship in charge of supplies, keeping financial records, and (in later use) other administrative affairs.



(Ar.) A train of travellers; a caravan; or any large party of travellers (such as pilgrims, merchants, or armies) moving between distant destinations.

Variants: cafila caphila kafila kafilah


Collection of papers folded in half and stitched together to form a gathering of folios.



(Hindi from Sanskrit) Historically refers to a king in India. During the British Raj, the title could also refer to members of the nobility.

Variants: Rājan Rājah Rājā


Raqam (singular), Ruqum (plural): Royal grants confirming specific trading privileges from the Shah of Persia.

Variants: Raqams Ruqum Ruqums Rukum Raqm


Recto and verso mean the front and back of a sheet of paper (or parchment in manuscripts). In languages that are written from left to right, 'recto' usually refers to the right-hand page and 'verso' to the left-hand page of a bound volume. However, in languages like Arabic, with a right-to-left text direction, 'recto' refers to the left-hand page and 'verso' to the right-hand page. 


An office of the East India Company and, later, of the British Raj, established in the provinces and regions considered part of, or under the influence of, British India, including the Gulf. Many grew out of commercial factories, but by the nineteenth century they were overtly political in nature. The head of a residency was known as a resident. Working under and reporting to the resident was a network of agents and officers (though up until the early nineteenth century a resident ranked below an agent). A resident in turn answered to one of the three Indian presidencies (Bengal, Bombay [Mumbai], and Madras [Chennai]).


A collective term for several sub-genres of either rhythmic or non-rhythmic music styles. Its origin can be traced to southern Iraq.

Rupee (rūpyah)

Silver coinage of varying weights limited initially to north India, and after the seventeenth century circulating across India. The silver coinage of the East India Company was modelled on local Indian examples, and the rupee was subsequently used as part of the monetary system throughout British rule in India. It has continued to be in use in India since independence in 1947. The rupee was also widely used in the Persian Gulf, and the Gulf rupee was introduced in the 1950s by the Reserve Bank of India for exclusive circulation in the Gulf, seeing use until around 1970.

Variants: Rupees



(Persian, orig. from Turco-Mongolian): Literally ‘Head of the Guards’. When applied to the royal camp, it referred to the Head of the Royal Body Guard, or the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Encampment.

Variants: Sirkishikshee bashi Sirkisheekchee bashee

Secret Committee

The East India Company first created a Secret Committee during the 1680s. The normal function of the Secret Committee, or Committee of Secrecy, of the Court of Directors during the period 1709-1784 was to safeguard the Company’s shipping, but it was often made responsible for overall control of the Company’s political, military and naval affairs, especially during the wars between Great Britain and France of 1744-1783. After the establishment of a statutory Secret Committee in 1784, the Committee of Secrecy was confined to protecting Company shipping. The statutory Secret Committee had two primary functions: to sign and despatch to the Company’s governments in India the orders of the Board of Control relating to matters of war, peace and negotiations with Indian states which were deemed to require secrecy; and to receive and deliver to the Board secret letters from India about the same such matters or other questions of administration treated as secret.


Transliteration of the word 'سيب', which in divers' communities referred to the person whose role it was to pull the diver up, using a rope, as well as occasionally steer the boat between diving spots. 


A term used in English to refer to an Indian infantryman. The term carries some derogatory connotations as it was sometimes used as a means of othering and emphasising race, colour, origins, or rank.

Variants: Seepoy seapoy sepoys seepoys Sipāhī

Shah of Persia

The title given to the ruler of Persia [Iran].

Variants: Shah of Iran


(Hindi from Ar. ṣarrāf) a banker, money changer, cashier, financier, or speculator etc.

Variants: Shrof

Silver gelatin

A photographic process introduced in 1871 and used as the main process for black and white photography until colour photography eclipsed the medium in the 1960s.

Variants: Gelatin silver


(Per. Ott. & Hindi) the leader of a tribe or a polity. The term also refers to a military rank or title given to a commander of an army or division.

Variants: Sardar sirdars Sardār


Measurements of the depth of a body of water, traditionally taken using a sounding line. Soundings may be written on charts to aid navigation in shallow water.


In the East India Company army and later Indian Army, an ordinary native cavalryman or mounted cavalryman equivalent to a Sepoy in the Indian Infantry and to a Trooper in the British Cavalry.

Variants: Savār



(Anglo-Indian term derived from South Indian languages) East India Company shipping term used to distinguish a non-European officer in charge of a ship's personnel and property from a European boatswain of the same grade; head of a ṭānḍā or a group of (usually non-European) labourers or lascars.

Variants: Tindals Tindall Tindale Tandil Tindail


In Persia, a unit of account worth 10,000 dinars, or a gold coin notionally of that value, issued from the eighteenth century until 1931. Also sometimes used in the wider Central Asian region to mean 10,000 of anything, especially in monetary or military terms.

Variants: Tomans


Used in three contexts:

  • Geographical region to the east of the River Jordan (literally ‘across the River Jordan’); it is not necessarily coextenisive with the geopolitical entities of the same name (see below)
  • British protectorate (1921-46), full name Emirate of Transjordan
  • Independent political entity (1946-49), full name Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan and now known (1949-) as Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Trucial Coast

A name used by Britain from the nineteenth century to 1971 to refer to the present-day United Arab Emirates. It derives from a series of maritime truces signed, from 1835 onwards, by Britain and the local rulers (the ‘Trucial Chiefs’), culminating in the Perpetual Maritime Truce of 1853. It gradually succeeded ‘Pirate Coast’ as the name most frequently used by the British.

Variants: Trucial States Trucial Oman

Turkish Arabia

A term used by the British officials to describe the territory roughly corresponding to, but not coextensive with, modern-day Iraq under the control of the Ottoman Empire. This area contained the Ottoman administrative divisions, or vilayets, of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra, which were ruled directly by the Ottoman Empire from 1831 to the end of the First World War. Turkish Arabia should not be confused with Ottoman Arabia, which refers to the areas of the Arabian Peninsula to which Ottoman authority extended.


Under flying seal

Letters sent under flying seal had a seal fixed to them, but were not sealed closed, meaning that they could be freely read before reaching their destinations.



(Ar. Per. & Ott.) an elected representative or attorney, acting in legal matters such as contracting marriage, inheritance, or business. Wakil can also refer to a high-ranking legal official, or to a custodian or administrator.

Variants: Vakils Wakil Wakils


Recto and verso mean the front and back of a sheet of paper (or parchment in manuscripts). In languages that are written from left to right, 'recto' usually refers to the right-hand page and 'verso' to the left-hand page of a bound volume. However, in languages like Arabic, with a right-to-left text direction, 'recto' refers to the left-hand page and 'verso' to the right-hand page. 



A seasonal or intermittent watercourse, or the valley in which it flows. If precipitation has lessened since the wadi’s original formation, it may now be left permanently dry. The term is usually restricted to arid or semi-arid regions, particularly in Arabic-speaking countries.


A follower of the Islamic reform movement known as Wahhabism, founded in the eighteenth century by Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab. Wahhabism was adopted by the Al-Saud family, who sought to create a new Arab state based on its teachings (ultimately leading to the formation of Saudi Arabia). Because of this, the India Office Records frequently use ‘Wahhabi’ to refer to the people and places under Al-Saud rule during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


(Perso-Arabic) minister, secretary of state or councillor. Under the Ottomans, the title vezir was given to members of the imperial cabinet (Divan-ı Hümayun) led by the grand vezir or Vazīr al-Mamālik, equivalent to the status of Prime Minister.

Variants: Vazīr

World Heritage site

The list is maintained by the international World Heritage Programme administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. The programme catalogues, names, and conserves sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity.


In the context of East India Company ‘factories’ or trading establishments, this meant the lowest of the four classes into which the Company’s civil servants were divided. In the early years of the Company, copying documents and book-keeping comprised the greater part of a Writer's duties but it continued to be used as a rank in the Company's service long after the duties of the Company's officials had ceased to be primarily commercial (it last appears as a civil service rank in the East India Register in 1841). The term ‘Writer’ could also mean a copying clerk in an office, either employed at East India House in London or by the Central, Provincial and District authorities in India.



Also Al-Zubarah, once a successful center of global trade and pearling.