Bombay Diaries

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This collection consists of photocopies and transcripts of East India Company papers held in India relating to the British factory in Bombay, 1755-1820, and similar for Basra 1763-1811. Also included is some copied correspondence of French consular correspondence.

The diaries were used in effect as the ledgers of the Secret & Political Department in Bombay, which split into two separate departments in1809. The diary system went on until 1820, and much later all the ledgers were numbered in one sequence, although the diaries for the separate departments ran concurrently. The diaries were used as a means to creating the daily records of the English East India Company's activities in India and throughout its trade routes, covering commerce and the company's involvement in administration, politics and war.

Administrative / Biographical History

The East India Company administered the official pre-1858 British government of India (from London). The documentary archives of this administration are held jointly at the British Library (Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections) and in Bombay. The Secret and Political Department which created these Diaries was formed in 1754 under the orders of the Court of Directors, with Proceedings beginning in March 1755. The department dealt mainly with subjects of a political nature, viz. correspondence with residents at foreign courts, transactions with foreign nations, military affairs etc. In the period 1809-1820, the records of the department are divided into two separate departments, 1. Political Department and 2. Secret Department. From 1820, the Department became known as the Political Department, and dealt mainly with subjects relating to Native States within the jurisdiction of the Bombay Government, boundary disputes, extradition etc. From 1920-1938 the Political Department was re-designated as the Political and Reforms Department, with Treasure Trove, meteorology, emigration and matters relating to government servants being transferred from the General Department between 1929-1930. In 1938, the Services were also transferred to the Political and Reforms Department, which was renamed as the Political and Services Department. Since 1960, the Department has been designated as the General Administration Department.

The East India Company was established in 1600 as a joint-stock association of English merchants who received, by a series of charters, exclusive rights to trade to the 'Indies'. The 'Indies' were defined as the lands lying between the Cape of Good Hope and the Straits of Magellan, and the Company soon established a network of warehouses or 'factories' throughout south and east Asia. Over a period of 250 years the Company underwent several substantial changes in its basic character and functions. A period of rivalry between the Old and New Companies after 1698 resulted in the formation in 1709 of the United Company of Merchants Trading to the East Indies. This 'new' East India Company was transformed during the second half of the eighteenth century from a mainly commercial body with scattered Asian trading interests into a major territorial power in India with its headquarters in Calcutta. The political implications of this development eventually caused the British government in 1784 to institute standing Commissioners (the Board of Control) in London 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, under the supervision of the Board, for the government of India until the re-organisation of 1858.

Throughout most of these changes the basic structure of Company organisation in East India House in the City of London remained largely unaltered, comprising a large body of proprietors or shareholders and an elected Court of Directors, headed by a chairman and deputy chairman who, aided by permanent officials, were responsible for the daily conduct of Company business. The Board of Control maintained its separate office close to the Government buildings in Westminster. In 1858, the Company merged with the Board of Control (aka the Board of Commissioners for the Affairs of India) to create the India Office.

The Company established a library in East India House in 1801 as a public repository for the safe custody of books, manuscripts and works of art placed in its care by its servants in India and by others. The East India Company's Library was systematically developed by the Company and the India Office as a reference library for official administration and as a learned library for scholars, and it served, from 1867, the archival function as the place of legal deposit in Britain for works published in British India. The practice by which the councils and committees in factories, settlements and centres of government routinely sent copies of their own Indian proceedings and minutes to London for reference contributed significantly to the comprehensiveness of the archives of the East India Company and the India Office from the earliest years.

Both the East India Company and the Board of Control made provision for the care and custody of their records, the Company mainly through the office of Registrar and Keeper of the Indian Books (from 1771), and the Board through the Librarian and Keeper of the Papers (from 1811). In 1860 the India Office surveyed its predecessors' records, and destroyed a large amount of material, particularly commercial records, considered to be ephemeral, while retaining what were judged to be the important historical records. The preservation of the pre-1858 records and of the newly-accumulating records of the India Office was assigned to a central Record Department in 1884. After the independence of India, Pakistan and Burma in 1947 and 1948 the Indian Records Section (later the India Office Records) and the India Office Library were administered by the Commonwealth Relations Office, later the Commonwealth Office, and (from 1968) by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In 1982 the India Office Library and Records were placed on deposit with the British Library Board, and the India Office Records have since been administered, as Public Records, in the British Library Asia Pacific & Africa Collections (formerly Oriental and India Office Collections).

Arrangement

The collection is arranged as following, according to the Department responsible for the creation of the records: 1. 1778-1808 Secret and Political Department; 2. 1811-1820 Secret Department; 3. 1809-1820 Political Department

Conditions Governing Access

A set of master photocopies and transcripts is available at Special Collections. A second set is also available at the Arab World Documentation Unit. For further information, please enquire with the Archivist.

Note

Further information can also be found in: Forrest, George W. (ed.) Selections from the letters, despatches and other state papers preserved in the Bombay Secretariat: Home series, vol. 2 [Selections from Bombay diaries 1722-1788: appendices], Bombay 1887.

Listed by Charlotte Berry, Archivist, 16 April 2004 and encoded into EAD 1 June 2004. All administrative information has been taken from The hand book of the Bombay archives (see Finding Aids) and the website of the India Office, British Library.

Other Finding Aids

A full catalogue is available ('Descriptive listing' compiled by Ruth Butler, 1989, based on Descriptive Catalogue of the Secret and Political Department Series 1755-1820, V.G. Dighe, Bombay 1954).

A guide to the related archive collections held in Bombay can be found in: The Handbook of the Bombay Archives, Sanjiv P. Desai, ed. Capt. Dr B.G. Kunte, Bombay, 1978.

Alternative Form Available

Photocopies and transcripts of the diaries are also available at the Arab World Documentation Unit. For further information, please enquire with the Archivist.

Conditions Governing Use

Usual EUL restrictions apply.

Custodial History

Presented to the University by Sultan Mohammed Al Qasimi (1939- ). The extracts held at the University were selected for their relevance to the Arabian Peninsula and the sea-routes around it. They were sampled from the originals held in Bombay and were used by Sheikh Sultan in his PhD research on piracy based at the University of Exeter.

Related Material

All records created in the course of the administration of the British East India Company's Presidency of Bombay are now held in the Bombay Archives/Record Office (Central Archival Repository of the Maharashtra State), India, including the original diaries.

Other records of the Political and Secret Department are held in the India Office, British Library (L/P&S: India Office: Political and Secret Department Records, 1756-c1950). The contents of the Political and Secret Department Library of official publications, and of the departmental reference collection of official Memoranda, are also held here.

See also: Unpublished source material relating to Charles E Davies' publication The blood-red Arab flag: an investigation into Qasimi piracy 1797-1820, based mainly on material held at the Bombay Archives (including the 'Bombay Diaries'), held at AWDU (A/Z G.3.HN/DAV)

Bibliography

Al-Qasimi, Sultan ibn Muhammad, Shaykh of Sharjah, 'Arab 'piracy' and the East India Company encroachment in the Gulf, 1797-1820', (Exeter University, PhD), 1985 (2 vols.) (includes the texts of 59 original documents concerning the British naval expedition to the Arabian Gulf in 1809); Al-Qasimi, Sultan ibn Muhammad, Shaykh of Sharjah, The myth of Arab piracy in the Gulf, London 1986; related reading: Charles Davies, The blood-red Arab flag: an investigation into Qasimi piracy, 1797-1820, 1997

Additional Information

The original Bombay Diaries are held at the Bombay Archives, India (Department of Archives, Government of Maharashtra, Bombay).

Geographical Names