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The Papers of Lord Curzon (1859-1925) from the Oriental and India Office Collections at the British Library, London

Part 1: Demi-official Correspondence, c.1898-1905

Adam Matthew Publications are proud to be making available a new range of resources from the Oriental and India Office Collections (OIOC) at the British Library. The first of these offers the papers of one of the Raj's most noted figures, Lord Curzon, and provides a core group of papers of central significance for any study of British rule in India. The second, by way of contrast, offers a collection of diaries and related records describing life in India from c.1750 onwards, enabling scholars to better understand the social history of India during the Raj. Taken together, these projects will provide a substantial base for fresh research in Indian and Imperial history, allowing the story to be told from a variety of perspectives.

"He was a man of vision who, unlike his predecessors, had wanted his position and came to it with an unequalled knowledge of Asian affairs. Curzon was certainly the most attractive and intelligent Viceroy, and India's best ruler under the British Raj."
Lawrence James

writing in Raj: the making and unmaking of British India (London, 1997)

George Nathaniel Curzon, Marquis Curzon of Kedleston (1859-1925) was educated at Eton and Oxford and travelled widely as a young man, visiting Persia, Turkistan, Afghanistan, India, Ceylon, China, Korea and Japan. His travels resulted in a series of incisive books including Russia in Central Asia (1889), Persia and the Persian Question (1892) and Problems of the Far East (1894). These writings earned Curzon a reputation as a shrewd observer and analyst of Foreign Policy, which was underlined by his swift rise in politics from MP for Southport (1886), to Under-Secretary of State at the India Office (1891-2), and Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office (1895-8). In 1898 Curzon was appointed Viceroy of India and to some extent he regarded the appointment as a meeting with destiny and an opportunity to assist the providential role of Empire. He saw “the hand of Divine Providence behind the creation and expansion of an empire which was a supreme force for good in the world.”

India was a place where “a great work of industrial and commercial exploitation” was the challenge to be met for the benefit of Britain, India and the world. By reviving the durbar as a new imperial spectacle, he helped to bring together the local elites with wealthy entrepreneurs and stressed the orderliness of Empire. But it would be a mistake to see Curzon purely as a paternalist and capitalist. He was also a champion of Indian self-government, reminding his colleagues of the crucial role of the princes in the administration of India, and of Indian soldiers, engineers and artisans in a number of conflicts and in the development of British Africa and Asia.

The Curzon Papers from the Oriental and India Office Collections (MS.EUR F111 & F112) document all aspects of his involvement with India. As befits a man noted for efficiency and organisation, the papers are formidably well-organised.

Part 1 contains a substantial series of demi-official correspondence c.1898-1905, with the Queen-Empress and King-Emperor, the Secretary of State for India, and leading figures in British and Indian politics such as Mr Balfour, Sir Arthur Godley and others. Part 1 also includes Curzon's correspondence relating to the Indian tour of the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1905.

In contrast Part 2 details his private correspondence for the period, which is less formal and often more revealing. Curzon's private sentiments are laid bare, as is his exasperation with civil servants and the Indian Congress.

Also included in Part 2  is a multi-volume Summary of Lord Curzon's administration in India bringing together a post-hoc analysis by Curzon and his officials of his time as Viceroy, with transcripts of key documents. This provides an ideal entry into the mind of Curzon, the period in which he served and the way in which he saw himself.

This is followed by the official papers and files on the internal administration of India, which offer a wealth of detail on many topics such as:

  • Agricultural reforms, from famine relief and irrigation to the establishment of an Agricultural Research Institute
  • Industrial and Commercial reforms, from the opening of 6,000 miles of new railway lines to the rapid increase in factories and workshops in India
  • Financial reforms including a 50% reduction of the salt-tax
  • Military and Police reforms including the creation of new training schools, the expansion of the Provincial Police and the re-arming of native regiments
  • Educational reforms with an emphasis on the teaching of science and medicine
  • Conservation and Heritage including the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act of 1904, the creation of the Archaeological Department and planning control
  • the partition of Bengal, 1905

Part 3, covering the official papers and files on Foreign and Frontier Policy, documents 'the Great Game' of political influence in the Middle East and Asia played out between Britain and Russia, especially in frontier areas such as Afghanistan, Persia and Tibet.

Curzon resigned as Viceroy in 1905 following a dispute with Lord Kitchener, Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, who was seeking more influence in Indian affairs. However, Curzon maintained a strong interest in India and Empire as can be seen from the substantial body of post viceregal correspondence in Part 4. This includes material relating to the relocation of the capital of India to Delhi, the creation of memorials to British rule and his concerns for the emerging Indian state. His correspondence also has much on the emergence of the USA as a world power, the situation in China, and the future of the empire.

Part 5 coveres the period 1906-1924. In 1915 he was made Lord Privy Seal and joined the War Cabinet a year later as Lord President of the Council. The Mesopotamia campaign brought him in close touch with Indian forces. From 1919 to 1924 he served as Foreign Secretary and was disappointed not to succeed Andrew Bonar Law as Prime Minister in 1923.

The final part in the series of the Papers of Lord Curzon, Part 6, provides a unique body of evidence concerning:

  • His early travels to Iran, Turkistan, Afghanistan, India, Ceylon, China, Korea and Japan.
  • Scrapbooks concerning his time in India - how was he perceived by the Press at home and abroad?
  • Files on the Far East - the period from 1898 to 1925 saw the Boxer Rebellion and the 1912 Nationalist Revolt in China; and the 1902 Anglo-Japanese Alliance, the Russo-Japanese War and the annexation of Korea by Japan.

Biographers have been unanimous in praising his intellectual capacity, industry and attention to detail and even anti-imperialists agree that he was one of the greatest Viceroys to have served India. It is an irony that, while seeking to serve empire, he may have served to spur on nationalism. These records provide an ideal platform from which to survey his administration and a critical phase in imperial history.

"...the most uncompromising, brilliant and adamant of India's viceroys."
Simon Schama, writing in A History of Britain, Vol 3 (2002)

"...the most uncompromising, brilliant and adamant of India's viceroys."
Simon Schama

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