Costello Papers relating to the Bhowal Sanyasi case, India

Scope and Content

This collection consists of eight oversize printed portfolios containing photographs of evidence relating to the Bhowal Sanyasi case, India. The items in this collection originate from the Appeal from Original Decree (Sreemati Bibhabati Devi v. Ramendra Narayan Roy), over which Costello presided as Acting Chief of Justice. This part of the trial took place at the High Court of Judicature, Fort William, Bengal, India, 1939. Also included is a box of newspaper cuttings relating to the case taken from The Statesman, Calcutta, 1939, as well as court schedule lists, 1939.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Leonard Wilfred James Costello (1881-1972), lawyer, politician and judge, was born in London on 25 Aug 1881, eldest son of James and Alice Costello. He was educated at Dulwich College, reading for a BA and LLB at Peterhouse, Cambridge in 1902, and an MA in 1906. He was called to the Bar (Inner Temple) in 1903, and practised in London and on the Midland circuit between 1903 and 1926. He was a lecturer in Common Law at University College, Nottingham, 1906-1908. He was a High Court judge in Calcutta between 1926 and 1940, and was also Acting Chief of Justice, Bengal, during May-Aug 1937 and again from Jul-Aug 1939. He was MP (Liberal) for Huntingdonshire from 1923-1924, and was High Sheriff of Devon 1945-1946. He published articles on policies and economics, as well as The Pocket Law Lexicon (1921) and The Profiteering Act, 1919, fully annotated (with Richard O’Sullivan, 1919).

Costello was knighted in 1935, and awarded a CBE in 1946. He married twice, first to Winifred Avery in 1907 and secondly to Joan Piper in 1952. With his first wife, he had two daughters. He died at Uffculme, Devon, on 2 Dec 1972.

The Bhowal Sanyasi case ran from 1933 to 1946, creating a sensation across India, with courts involved in London, Calcutta and Dhaka. The case was concerned with the dispute of inheritance of an estate and the identity of the Second Kumar of Bhawal (a Bengali princeling or zamindar) who was declared dead under mysterious circumstances, and who came back to life after twelve years.


The original arrangement of the collection has been retained.

Conditions Governing Access

Access to this collection may be restricted because of Data Protection legislation. Please check with the Archivist in advance.


Biographical information taken from Who was who, 1971-1980.

Other Finding Aids

Not currently listed.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Charlotte Berry, Archivist, 7 April 2005, and encoded into EAD 2 June 2005.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction of this collection may be restricted because of Data Protection legislation. Please check with the Archivist in advance.

Custodial History

Given to the University Library in c 1974 (via the Department of Law), presumably following the death of Costello, a Devon resident, in 1972.

Related Material

According to Chris Cook, Sources in British political history 1900-1951, vol. 3, 1977, the personal papers of Costello were bequeathed to his daughter Mrs. Robert Kent of Reigate, Surrey. Other papers are held at the British Library (India Office).


It is not known whether this information has been used as the basis for publication.