The India Office Private Papers

Author

Lead Curator India Office Records, British Library
The India Office Private Papers offer a personal perspective on military, political, social and economic history over the period 1750–1947; in their private correspondence and diaries, people could write in different, often more open, ways.

The diary of Sir Lewis Pelly, the senior British official in the Gulf 1862–73, provides a minutely detailed view into the first official European visit to Riyadh. While his party collected specimens of the flora, recorded details of the fauna and noted topographical measurements in secret, Pelly’s personal observations are found in his diary.

First page of a fair copy of Lewis Pelly's diary of his journey from Kuwait to Riyadh and back. Mss Eur F126/58, f 1
First page of a fair copy of Lewis Pelly's diary of his journey from Kuwait to Riyadh and back. Mss Eur F126/58, f 1

Pelly’s Riyadh diary is a small but important part of the rich collection of 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. Private Papers held at the British Library that document the lives of officials of 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. and East India Company.

Papers of People from All Walks of Life

The Private Papers comprise over 5000 collections of personal papers which complement the official documents 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 majority of the collections cover the period 1750–1947, but there are some earlier papers.

Like the official records, they relate mainly to South Asia but also reflect interest in the Middle East, Southeast, Central and East Asia. The collections have come from people from all walks of life including Viceroys and Secretaries of State, district officials and their families, soldiers, scholars, travellers, missionaries, planters and businessmen. Most of the collections were created by Europeans, but there are a few by Asian people.

Portrait of Lord Curzon. From the Curzon Collection: 'Viceroy's Camp, Delhi, 1903'
Portrait of Lord Curzon. From the Curzon Collection: 'Viceroy's Camp, Delhi, 1903'

An Insight into Private Life

Just as the Pelly diary provides a rich insight into his experience of travelling through Arabia, the Private Papers contain a wealth of information about the way people lived and worked, their encounters with and studies of different countries, cultures and histories. As well as material relating to their official duties or scholarly interests, they often contain very personal material such as private letters, diaries, scrapbooks and photographs, giving insights into people’s ideas and lives.

They offer a different perspective on military, political, social and economic history; in their personal correspondence and diaries, people could write in ways which might not have been acceptable in their official capacity.

The papers of Lieutenant-General Sir Lewis Pelly, 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. in the Persian Gulf Historically used by the British to refer to the sea area between the Arabian Peninsula and Iran. Often referred to as The Gulf or the Arabian Gulf. (1862–73) are a fine example of the way in which professional, personal and intellectual interests are vividly documented in collections of private papers.

Also known as the European Manuscripts, to distinguish them from Asian language material in the Library, the Private Papers are still added to, by purchase and donation.