Pitt Collection

Scope and Content

The collection contains the political, state, military and personal papers of members of the Pitt family and papers relating to the East India Company. The collection comprises English MSS 907-908, 928-935, 937 and 1271-1272: papers relating to Pitt collections by the Tomlines, including letters to William Pitt (the Younger) from Henry Dundas relating mainly to matters of State and the West Indies (Eng MS 907) and a catalogue of Pitt's correspondence and papers (Eng MS 908); papers relating to the East India Company, including Eng MS 928-931, are chiefly correspondence and papers relating to its military, political, financial and commercial affairs (Eng MSS 928-931) and statements respecting the trade and revenue of the company, specifically relating to Bengal, Tanjore and Arcot (Eng MSS 932-933). There are also reports on proposed plans for the govenment of British India (Eng MS 935) and on the use of convict labour for public works (Eng MS 937). The collection also includes the military papers of Pitt's elder brother, John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham (Eng MS 1271), and the personal correspondence of his sister Lady Harriot Pitt, later Eliot (Eng MS 1272), which provide a valuable resource for the period of the Napoleonic wars.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Pitt (1759-1806), known as Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister, was the fourth child and second son of William Pitt, later first earl of Chatham (1708-1778), prime minister. He was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and Lincoln's Inn. In 1780 he was practising as a barrister on the western circuit and in 1781 was elected to the borough of Appleby in Westmorland. He was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1782 and Leader of the House. With rising popularity, Pitt worked to reduce the national debt and stop smuggling. He passed the India Act in 1784 to establish dual control of the East India Company and centralise British rule in India. In 1785 Pitt launched a Reform Bill to rationalise 'rotten boroughs', but this was rejected.

Pitt was blamed by Fox for the war with France which started in 1793, after Pitt ejected the French ambassador in response to rising concern about the revolution. The economies of war forced Pitt to introduce Great Britain's first ever income tax. Encouraged by the war with France, Irish nationalists attempted a rebellion in 1798. Pitt's Act of Union with Ireland sought to resolve the conflicts there and grant Catholics equality, and formally united Great Britain and Ireland into a single realm, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. However, Pitt was unable to abolish restrictions on Roman Catholics, due the opposition of George III, and this led to his resignation. He returned three years later as Napoleon threatened invasion, and formed an alliance to defeat Napoleon at Trafalgar.

Pitt's literary executor, Sir George Pretyman Tomline, had been his tutor and friend at Cambridge. This established a connection which would later prove invaluable to Tomline. He assisted Pitt in his unsuccessful candidature for the university constituency in the general election of 1780 and when Pitt was elected Prime Minister in December 1783, Tomline gained political influence. Pitt appointed him to what was essentially the post of private secretary, under a different name to avoid a perceived conflict with Tomline's church career. Tomline was only thirty-six when he became bishop of Lincoln; this was seen by many as a political appointment. Tomline was present at Pitt's death bed and established himself as the custodian of his memory, undertaking a biography which was published in 1821 and criticized for an over-reliance on published sources. He died in 1827. His eldest son, William Edward (1787-1836), was MP for Christchurch, Truro, and Minehead.

Sources: J.P.W. Ehrman and Anthony Smith, 'Pitt, William (1759-1806)', and G.M. Ditchfield, 'Tomline, Sir George Pretyman, fifth baronet (1750-1827)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/22338 and http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/27520.

The East India Company was established by royal charter in 1600 as a joint-stock association of English merchants who wished to profit from the East Indian spice trade. By the second half of the eighteenth century, the Company was the major territorial and economic power in India with its headquarters in Calcutta. In 1784 the British government passed the India Act which instituted the Board of Control to exercise supervision over the Company's Indian policies. This change in the Company's status, along with other factors, led to the Acts of Parliament of 1813 and 1833, which opened the British trade with the East Indies to all shipping and resulted in the Company's complete withdrawal from its commercial functions. The Company continued to exercise responsibility for the government of India, under the supervision of the Board, until the re-organisation of 1858 in the wake of the Indian Mutiny.

Access Information

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Eng MS 907 was purchased by the John Rylands Library at auction at Sotheby's on 15 November 1937 (Lot 219).

Eng MS 908 was purchased from the booksellers Colbeck Radford & Co. Ltd in December 1937 (Catalogue 65, Lot 98).

Eng MSS 928-935 were purchased from the bookseller Bernard Halliday in November 1938.

Eng MS 937 was purchased from Myers & Co. of London in February 1939.

Eng MSS 1271 and 1272 were purchased at auction at Sotheby's on 8 November 1960 (Lots 169 and 171).


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan and Jo Klett with reference to:

Other Finding Aids

English MS 907 is catalogued in the Supplementary Hand-List of Western Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1937. English MSS 908, 928-935 and 937 are catalogued in the Hand-List of Additions to the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1937-1951. English MSS 1271-1272 are catalogued in the Hand-List of Additions to the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 1952-1970.

Custodial History

MSS 907-908 were once in the custody of Sir George Pretyman Tomline, bishop of Winchester, Pitt's tutor and literary executor, and his son William Edward Tomline.


For English MSS 1271-1272 see the note in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, vol. 43 (1960-1), p. 274.

Corporate Names