Lewis Pelly’s Private Papers

Karen Stapley

Author

Archival Specialist, British Library
The Private Papers of One of the Gulf’s Most Important Political Residents, 1862–72, provide a fascinating insight into British Policy in the period as well as providing a more personal insight into the life of a British official.

Throughout his life, Sir Lewis Pelly maintained a collection of personal and official papers relating to his career and interests, which, as per his instructions, his wife, Lady Amy Pelly, donated to 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. shortly before her death in 1924.

The Extent of the Collection

Covering the period 1838–92, the collection encompasses Pelly’s career in the East India Company and 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 touches on his life post-retirement, including a diverse range of personal interests such as concerns over Russia’s influence in Asia and interest in the women’s suffrage movement. The papers include personal and official correspondence, reports, journals, diaries, printed publications, certificates, his résumé and even his passports.

Front cover of a copy of the journal The Nineteenth Century, No. 182, April 1892. Pelly had read an article in the journal on the 'Prospects of Marriage for Women', by Miss Clara E Collet, five days before he died. Mss Eur F126/28
Front cover of a copy of the journal The Nineteenth Century, No. 182, April 1892. Pelly had read an article in the journal on the 'Prospects of Marriage for Women', by Miss Clara E Collet, five days before he died. Mss Eur F126/28

Official Records from the Political Residency, Bushire 1860s–1870s

Having served as 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. from 1862–72, Lewis Pelly was at the heart of British policy emanating from the Political Residency A diplomatic office of the British Government established in the provinces and regions considered part of, or under the influence of, British India. 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. at Bushire during the period. His papers augment the official records of the Political Residency A diplomatic office of the British Government established in the provinces and regions considered part of, or under the influence of, British India. , which, somewhat surprisingly, are rather sparse for the period 1850s–80s.

It is only because Pelly retained copies of much of his official correspondence and reports – most likely without permission to do so – that we have any records at all, for what has since been revealed to be a very significant period in the history of British Relations in the Gulf.

Letter from Shaikh Zayid I bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, Chief of Abu Dhabi to Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Pelly, HBM's Political Resident Persian Gulf, Bushire, dated 19 Ramadhan 1287 (13 December 1870). Mss Eur F126/45, f. 4r
Letter from Shaikh Zayid I bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, Chief of Abu Dhabi to Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Pelly, HBM's Political Resident Persian Gulf, Bushire, dated 19 Ramadhan 1287 (13 December 1870). Mss Eur F126/45, f. 4r

So, what happened to the official records for the period? There is no official reason why the records for this period were not retained. In The Records of the British Residency A diplomatic office of the British Government established in the provinces and regions considered part of, or under the influence of, British India. and Agencies 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. , Penelope Tuson, referring to the period 1850s‒1880s, suggests that ‘record keeping was clearly not very organised’. This seems at odds with the information recorded in the Pelly collection, which uses clearly defined referencing systems, frequently referring back to correspondence and documents from earlier Residents, the Government of Bombay and the Government of India, all of whom appear to have retained multiple copies of the official records being created by the Residency A diplomatic office of the British Government established in the provinces and regions considered part of, or under the influence of, British India. . It is fortunate, then, that Pelly created and maintained his personal copies of the official papers as well as his personal material.

The Original Donation and Destroyed Correspondence

The original donation to 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. contained more material than the collection that exists today, because, a few weeks after she made the donation, Lady Pelly appears to have had concerns about the nature of some of both the personal and official correspondence contained within the material and how it might reflect on her husband and asked for it to be returned. Her will reveals that she instructed that these letters – and other papers of her husband’s, which she had retained – be destroyed in order to ensure permanent protection of his reputation.

Still, regardless of the papers that were destroyed, a great number of illuminating records are accessible due to their place in the British Library’s collections. The collection provides a more personal insight into the life of a British Government official in the Gulf, showing what his role really entailed, what his lifestyle was like and the friendships he developed. However, it is also Pelly’s foresight in keeping many official records, including correspondence, dating from his time as 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. that is now a great benefit to historians of the period and those interested in the history of the Gulf.

Primary Sources

  • London, British Library, ‘Personal Papers of Sir Lewis Pelly to be Deposited at the India Office’ IOR/L/PS/11/253, P 517/1924
  • London, British Library, ‘Papers of Sir Lewis Pelly’ Mss Eur F126

Secondary Sources

  • Penelope Tuson, The Records of the British Residency and Agencies in the Persian Gulf, (London: India Office Library and Records, 1979)