Interview with Sir Paul Benthall [sound recording]

Scope and Content

Sir Paul Benthall's career in India in commercial and civil posts, from 1924 until the 1950's, with reminiscences of people and events: Family and educational background; journey and first impressions of India; the European community in India; his work in the Bengal jute trade; characteristics of Indian labour strikes and trade union organisation; memories of Suhrawardy and of Gandhi; memories and opinions of Sardar Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajagopalachari; Benthall's experience and reminiscences of the judicial system of British India; the growth of the Nationalist movement and European attitudes towards it; his volunteer force work during World War II; the Bengal famine; Indian independence and his assessment of British rule in India; Benthall's work in trying to prevent, and then coping with the aftereffects of flooding in the Brahmaputra Valley in 1950.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Paul Benthall - 1924 Joined Bird & Co. and F.W. Heilgers (merchants agents and managing agents) Calcutta. 1934-55 Partner (later director) of both firms. 1948 and 1950-53 Member, Central Board, Imperial Bank of India. 1950-1953 Chairman, All India Board of Technical Studies in Commerce and Business Administration. 1945-47 President, Royal Agri-Horticultural Society of India. 1953-73 Chairman, Bird & Co. (London) Ltd.

Access Information

Sound recording currently unavailable at SOAS Library due to preservation reasons. Researchers can access a copy of this audio recording at the British Library Listening & Viewing Service. For more details see or contact / 020 7412 7418.



Addendum to the summary of an interview with Sir Paul Benthall. Towards the end of the first side of Playback Cassette 2 a new subject, namely a tea box factory in the North East Frontier Tract, is suddenly introduced in terms which indicate that it had already been mentioned. Some words appear to have been accidentally omitted and the following explanations seems to be called for. Bird & Co. had built a tea-box factory near the area where India, Tibet, China and Burma meet. The timber for the boxes was obtained from virgin forest. The trees were felled and cut into logs by hand. The logs were dragged by elephants to a tramline, loaded onto trucks by tusker elephants, and then drawn by small steam locomotives to the factory or to a point on a river bank where they were made into rafts and floated downstream into the factory. Elephants were vital to the operation and the company owned about fifty.

Conditions Governing Use

Private study only. For publication or broadcast please refer to Archivist

Copyright held by British Library

Custodial History

Recorded as part of the ’Memories of the British in India’ project by India Office Library & Records [subsequently the Oriental and India Office Collection, British Library]. This recording was previously held at SOAS Library as part of the 'British in India Oral Archive Project' collection [Reference OA2], removed from this collection in August 2014 to reflect the recording’s alternative provenance as part of the ‘Memories of the British in India’ project.

Location of Originals

Original sound recording of interview available at British Library Listening & Viewing Service [Reference: C63/17-23]