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The Background to British India
The East India Company & British India

The India Office Records

Have you Lost Ancestors en Route to Australia?
Perhaps they came via. India!
The AIGS Library may hold the record which will help you in finding the missing link.
Visit the Library or use our Research Service.

The Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies
hold a significant number of films relating to records in British India. The major part of the collection are the almost complete indexes to the Ecclesiastical Returns containing christenings, marriages and burials which took place in Protestant and Catholic churches in the three Indian Presidencies: Madras 1698-1948, Bombay 1709-1948 and Bengal 1713-1948, as well as in the Indian Native States 1923-1950, St Helena 1767-1835, Fort Marlbro (Sumatra) 1759-1825, Prince of Wales Island (Penang) 1805-1929, Macao and Whampoa 1820-1833.

Ecclesiastical Returns were similar to Bishop's Transcripts, being the official copy sent back to the East India Company or the India Office in London.

There is a selection of other records including Civil Service Records for the Madras Presidency 1741-1858, East India Company Lists and GRO War Deaths Indian Services 1939-1948.

There is also a catalogue to the India Office holdings in the British Library.

A short Background History

The history of British India is that of the East India Company until 1858. The original company which was set up to trade on the mainland of India and in the Spice Islands (East Indies) was incorporated in 1600. The first trading post, known as a station or factory, was set up at Surat on the West Coast (Bombay Presidency) around 1612 and the second at Fort St. George (Madras Presidency) 1640. Bombay was leased to the company by Charles II who had acquired it as part of Catherine of Braganza's dowry in 1662. The mouth of the Ganges was known as Kallikati (Calcutta) and here Fort William was established around 1665. These three factories in time developed to become the three Presidencies of India, each controlling the ever-growing areas around them. Until 1813 the Company had a complete monopoly of all trade east of the Cape of Good Hope across to Cape Horn, that is all of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. No British subject could go to India without the permission of the East India Company or live there without a licence granted by them. 

The East India Company's influence spread with Fort Marlborough (Bencoolen) being established in Sumatra. For a time this was a Presidency in its own right controlling other factories along the west coast. Other factories were at the Prince of Wales Island (Penang), Singapore, Malacca, Java, Borneo, Celebes, Siam (Thailand), Persia (Iran) and the Persian Gulf, Macao and Whampoa (China). St Helena was settled by the East India Company in 1659 and was held and administered by them until the island was handed over to the Crown in 1836. 

The rival French company, Compagnie des Indes, was established in the 18th century and succeeded the Dutch as Britain's chief rival in Asia. For the first time the Company was in conflict with the Indian people as both the English and French enlisted the local Indian rulers to further their cause. The East India Company also enlisted armed forces in Britain and over the years accrued more and more Indian territory. This was against the wishes of the London Directors and the Government. In 1773 the Government intervened to create the Bengal Governor as Governor-General of all the Company's Indian lands. Later a London Board of Control was appointed to supervise the East India Company.

In 1857 the Indian Mutiny took place in northern India (the Seepoy uprising). The following year the British Government effectively brought the Company to an end. India was then governed by London through a Viceroy in Calcutta and later Delhi until independence was granted in 1947.  

Some other sources of information on British India available in the Library are:

A Guide to the India Office Library, 016.954 SUT.
A Brief Guide to Biographical Sources, 016.954 BAX.
Anglo Indian Genealogy in the Library of the Society of Genealogists, 929.3 SOC.
The Indiaman, magazine of the British Ancestors in India Society.
Chowkidar, the magazine of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia.

The following collection of books on graves in Asian Cemeteries
published by the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia, is available in the AIGS Library

Agra Cantonment Cemetery
Assam & North-East India: Christian Cemeteries & Memorials
Bangkok - The Protestant Cemetery
Bencoolen: The Christian Cemetery and the Fort Marlborough Monuments
Bimlipatam: Christian Cemeteries
Burma Register of European Deaths and Burials, 1983
Burma Register - Supplement
Calcutta South Park Street Cemetery
Calcutta - Register of Graves & Standing Tombs in the South Park Street Cemetery (From 1767)
Cbiang Mai: 'Dc Mortuis' The Story of the Foreign Cemeter
Chittagong - Christian Cemeteries
Dehra Dun - Chandranagar Cemetery
French Cemetery, Calcutta
Himalayan Headstones from Ladakh Kashmir
Ipoh & Taiping: War Graves & Graves of Europeans in the  Cemeteries in Ipoh & Taiping,
Perak, MalaysiaJava – British & Empire Graves [1743-1975]
Kacheri Cemetery, Kanpur: A Complete List of Inscriptions with Notes on Those Buried There
Kota Bharu (Malaysia): European Graves in the Jalan Hamzah Cemetery
Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia): St Mary's Cathedral &  the Jalan Birch Cemetery
Malacca - Christian Cemeteries and Memorials
Meerut - The First Sixty Years (1815-1875)
Meerut Part II (1876-1939)
Monghyr – Short History & Its British Cemeteries
Munnar, Kerala: Burials 1990
North Bihar: Garden Graves & Isolated Cemeteries
Patna and Dinapore
Penang & Perak: Christian Cemeteries
Penang: Graves in the Protestant Section of Western Road Cemetery
Peshawar Cemetery, Pakistan
Peshawar: Monumental Inscriptions II
Polibetta, Coorg: Burials at Christ Church 1985
Quetta - Monuments and Inscriptions
Quilon and Trivandrum (Malabar Coast)
Ranchi, Bihar: Burials 1987
Rawalpindi - Cemeteries and Churches
Seremban (Malaysia Gravcs in St Mark's Churchyard, and the Anglican Section of the Seremban Cemetery
Singapore: Early Cemeteries
South Park Street Cemetery, Calcutta
Teluk Anson (Malaysia); European Graves in the Jalan Anderson Cemetery
Tombs in Tea, Bangladesh
Vizagapatam and Waltair (from 1699)
Vizianagram: Cantonment Cemetery
Yokohama, Japan – Gaijin Bochi, The Foreigners' Cemetery

AIGS  India Research Services

The India Office Library

A brief guide to the India Office Collection in the British Library.

This article first appeared in the Buckinghamshire Family History Society journal Origins, June 1996 edition. This article is adapted from an illustrated talk given by Tim Thomas of the India Office Library and details supplied by Barney Tyr-whitt-Drake who is a member of both the Buckinghamshire Family History Society and the British Ancestors in India Society.

The East India Company was set up by merchant venturers in 1599 with a capital of £30,000, a huge amount for that time. The East India Company controlled trade with India exclusively until 1834 but from 1784 there was some British Government intervention through the Board of Control or Board of Commissioners. In 1858, after the Mutiny, the Government took control, and the India Office was established, operating until independence in 1948. Records from all three sources exist, as 160,000 documents and files contained on nine miles of shelving, located in the India Office Library, Blackfriars Road, London. The records belong to the Foreign Office but are administered by the British Library Oriental Department and will be removed to the new St Pancras site eventually.

The three types of material are: documents produced by Head Office in London (first the East India Company, then the Board of Control, finally the India and Burma Office); documents sent as information from the East; and associated official paperwork, such as the ecclesiastical records of British residents, not only for India, but for Afghanistan, Central Asia, China, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Persian Gulf, Aden and St Helena. Ceylon, on India's doorstep, is a curious omission, coming under the East India Office only in 1792–1805; other records belong to the Colonial Office.

Some records have been destroyed and some have been lost over the years. The records were found ‘confused in a garret' at East India House in Leadenhall Street, in 1682, subsequently removed (with losses) to an old warehouse in 1720, and it was not until 1771 that a Keeper of Accounts and Papers was appointed. In 1833, many of the early shipping lists pre-1800 were thrown out and on takeover in 1858, 320 tons of records presumed to be duplicated were disposed of; despite attempts to recover some non-duplicated papers from scrap merchants, much was lost. The interests of future historians and genealogists were never the prime concern.

Despite this, a mass of biographical information remains. Every upper and upper middle-class family had some connection with the East India Company and it is also now becoming obvious that very many ordinary families did too, as soldiers, sailors and traders.

The East India Company organised India into three Presidencies, based on Bengal, Madras and Bombay. Normal church records of baptism, marriage and burial for a wide spectrum of the European and Eurasian communities survive from about 1700 and were mostly sent as Returns, similar to Bishops' Transcripts to London. They survive for Bengal 1713–1948; Madras 1698–1948; Bombay 1709–1948.

The registers, separate for each area, are indexed from the late 19th century, but not fully, only by surname and initials, with marriages recorded under the husband's name only until the 1890s. Burials for St Helena include Napoleon Bonaparte. He was buried in grounds owned by a Mr Talbot who complained about sightseers. The body was removed to Les Invalides but his burial certificate remains in the records.

Probate of wills was always under the civil jurisdiction of the Accountant General's Department; the 17th and early 18th century documents are written out in full in the Consultations of the settlement where the person died. In 1727, Mayors' Courts were set up in the Presidencies, then a Supreme Court. There are also Consultations for St Helena (1707–1836); Straits Settlements (1819–39). District Courts operated from 1865–1944. There is a Register of Probates from 1787–1914, arranged alphabetically, for UK residents only, which deal mostly with pensions. A separate series for the years 1774–1944 was copied to London from the 1780s (in PCC registers to 1858). From 1792–1915, there is an index of soldiers' Wills.

There are three major groups of people likely to be included in the records:

Covenanted Civilians working for the East India Company and Indian Civil Service; the ‘heaven born', so-called for their dominance over military and native people. Young men as Writers to the Factories (trading posts), they kept accounts and were responsible for correspondence with London. Every letter to Head Office was completed in triplicate to ensure delivery, two copies were sent by two different sailing ships and the other went overland. All senior posts as Writers were obtained by a nomination by the Directors and these Writers' Petitions (or job applications) had to include baptismal certificates, testimonials and details of education. There are 89 volumes of these before patronage was abolished in 1856.

In 1806 an East India Company College was set up at Haileybury to prepare young men for service in India. The college records are a valuable supplement. There are also Presidency and Provincial Civil lists from 1702–1860 and an Indian Civil list to 1947.

From 1741–1846 a bond for faithful service was required. Becoming a Writer was the passport to great riches and it was not always acquired without dubious dealing and corruption. A young man who survived ten years, exiled in a trying and dangerous climate, expected to go home rich and the East India Company allowed leeway for creative personal trading as long as its profits were not affected. Allegations of corruption from outsiders were rife and both Clive and Warren Hastings suffered jealous prosecutions.

Uncovenanted Civilians: Subordinate posts in the East India Company were not nominated by directors or bonded. From the 18th century, Eurasians and some Indian-born Europeans were recruited for service on the railways, police, public works and the post office. Marriage between male Europeans and Indian or other local women was normal before the 19th century and their descendants had preference in these jobs. Only with the arrival of European women was intermarriage frowned on. The Eurasians then lived in an awkward limbo between the races. Some Anglo-Indians who stayed on also became impoverished.

There are civil service career and establishment lists giving name, occupation, salary and period of service; deaths are listed from 1870–1949, with date of death and next of kin. Later special technical personnel such as civil and railway engineers, telegraphists and forestry officers were recruited. There are entry papers dating from 1860. The Royal Indian Engineering College at Coopers Hill has records from 1871–1906 and there are career details in civil lists.

Any British person wishing to visit or live in India before 1833 required the permission of the East India Company and these applications exist. All British persons abroad were encouraged to notify births to the chaplains or to the later consuls, to retain their rights to British nationality. Marriage certificates should state if both parties are British citizens or British subjects—there is a subtle distinction.

Army: Intervention in the internal affairs of states to protect trading posts as well as rivalry with French and Dutch companies led to the establishment of a standing East India Company army. European troops in increasing numbers were recruited and native soldiers (sepoys) were trained under British officers. They were organised under the three Presidencies. Early records cover East India Company soldiers only, not regular army units sent to help control the tiger. Officers' lists from 1781 for Bengal, 1759 for Madras and Bombay. Army cadet papers similar to the writers' applications exist from 1789–1860 and are indexed. There are service records from 1830.

There is a series for artillery officers and a school at Addiscombe trained them from 1809–60. From 1858, cadets could go to Sandhurst, be commissioned in an Army regiment, then transfer to the Presidency armies and there was full amalgamation with the regular army from 1861. From 1898 direct commissions to the Indian Army were allowed and sons of existing old India hands were given preference. From 1914 they trained at Wellington College and Quetta. Indian Army lists exist from the 19th and 20th centuries with personnel details from 1930–48. Hodson's List of Officers of the Bengal Army and his manuscript cards for this and the Madras and Bombay armies are held by the National Army Museum.

Private soldiers were recruited from the 1750s and training depots established in the 1790s at Newport in 1801, Chatham in 1815 and Warley in 1843. There are embarkation lists from 1753–1861 from Liverpool, London, Dublin, Cork, Edinburgh, Bristol. They list age, native parish, occupation and musters give a physical description. Musters Rolls for Bengal exist from 1716, Bombay from 1708 and Madras from 1762. The early ones are limited to names and casualties from 1790–1861.

There should be no British ‘other ranks' after 1861, but there were NCOs and others who chose to stay on to serve out their time with native units instead of transferring to the regular Army and some were borrowed later. Lists from 1861–1907 and discharge certificates exist for those who left service in 1861.

The Army Medical service has entry papers from 1804–1914. D.A. Crawford details careers in Roll of the Indian Medical Service 1615–1930. The entry papers have more parental information.

The East India Company had a maritime service but many of the early records were lost in 1860. The Company ceased to finance ships in the early 18th century and merchants, including some East India Company directors, built their ships, provided crews and chartered back to the company. The Directors had to approve the appointment of officers and their papers survive minus baptismal certificates from 1787–99 and 1820–33. There are also logs, journals and passenger lists which make rivetting reading which describe the early years when all was strange and new. St Helena, a staging point, has embarkation lists from 1742–1808, created to check the garrison from leaving the island. Hardy's Register of Ships lists all voyages out and their captains.

From the 1680s the Bombay Marine Service was an armed protection force, their territory spanning the China Seas and the Persian Gulf. The Service was responsible for keeping pirates under control, for troop carrying and for marine surveys. In 1830 the Service became the Indian Navy, then in 1863 it was demoted to the role of the noncombatant Bombay Marine with harbour duties only, but in the 1890s it was restored as the Royal Indian Navy. A small marine force existed in Bengal and Calcutta ports handling navigation and hydrographic surveys.

The East India Company also appointed Anglican chaplains who served as part of the military service. There are lists, but parental information is rare, though details of marriage and children are included. Catholic priests were non-official and regarded as troublemakers because some felt they stirred up natives.

Pension records exist for the East India Company Army and Medical Service. There is a Lord Clive Fund for enlisted men and a Poplar Fund for seamen. The Madras Military fund records details of births, marriages, children, and for daughters their marriages.

The India Office Records are contained within the Oriental and India Office Collections of the British Library.

Classes of Records held by the India Office in London

A: East India Company: Charters, Deeds, Statutes and Treaties c1550–c1950

B: East India Company: Minutes of the Court of Directors and Court of Proprietors 1599–1858

C: Council of India Minutes and Memoranda 1858–1947

D: East India Company: Minutes and Memoranda of General Committees 1700–1858

E: East India Company: General Correspondence 1602–1859

F: Board of Control Records 1784–1858

G: East India Company Factory Records c1595–1858

H: India Office Home Miscellaneous Series c1600–1900

I: Records relating to other Europeans in India 1475–1824

J&K: East India College, Haileybury, Records, and Records of other institutions 1749–1925

L: India Office Departmental Records

L/AG: India Office: Accountant-General's Records c1601–1974

L/E: India Office: Economic Department Records c1876–1950

L/F: India Office: Financial Department Records c1800–1948

L/I: India Office: Information Department Records 1921–1949

L/L: India Office: Legal Adviser's Records c1550–c1950

L/MAR: India Office: Marine Records c1600–1879

L/MED: India Office: Medical Board Records c1920–1960

L/MIL: India Office: Military Department Records 1708–1959

L/PARL: India Office: Parliamentary Branch Records c1772–1952

L/PO: Secretary of State for India: Private Office Papers 1858–1948

L/PWD: India Office: Public Works Department 1839–1931

L/P&J: India Office: Public and Judicial Department Records 1795–1950

L/P&S: India Office: Political and Secret Department Records 1756–1950

L/R: India Office: Record Department Papers 1859–1959

L/SUR: India Office: Surveyor's Office Records 1837–1934  

L/S&G: India Office: Services and General Department Records c1920-c1970

L/WS: India Office: War Staff Papers 1921–1951

M: Burma Office Records 1932–1948

N: Returns of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials 1698–1969

O: Biographical Series 1702–1948

P: Proceedings and Consultations 1702–1945

Q: Commission, Committee and Conference Records c1895–1947

R: Records received in London and incorporated in India Office Records

R/1: India: Crown Representative: Political Department Indian States Records 1880–1947

R/2: India: Crown Representative: Indian States Residencies Records c1789–1947

R/3: India: Viceroy's Private Office Papers and other Government Records 1899–1948

R/4: India: British High Commission Cemetery Records c1870–1967

R/5: Nepal: Kathmandu Residency Records c1792–1872

R/8: Burma: Records of the Governor's Office 1942–1947

R/9: Malaya: Malacca Orphan Chamber and Council of Justice Records c1685–1835

R/10: China: Canton Factory Records 1623–1841

R/12: Afghanistan: Kabul Legation Records 1923–1948

R/15: Gulf States: Records of the Bushire, Bahrain, Kuwait, Muscat and Trucial States Agencies 1763–1951

R/19: Egypt: Records of the Cairo, Alexandria and Suez Agencies 1832–1870 

R/20: Aden: Records of the British Administrations in Aden 1837–1967

S: Linguistic Survey of India c1900–c1930

V: India Office Records Official Publications Series c1760–1957

W, X & Y: India Office Records Map Collections c1700–c1960

Z: Original Registers and Indexes to Records Series c1700–1950


Copyright ©  Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies Inc. 2012
Updated 14th November 2011