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Diaries and Related Records Held at the British Library, London

Part 1: Diaries and Related Records Describing Life in India, c.1750-1842

Part 2: Diaries and Related Records Describing Life in India, 1819-1859

Publisher's Note - Part 1

“The European Manuscripts of the Oriental and India Office Collections of the British Library are probably the world’s largest collection of private papers relating to India and South Asia. They comprise about three hundred collections of British statesmen, soldiers, administrators, scholars, missionaries, businessmen and others, and some three thousand smaller deposits.”

David M Blake

Consultant Editor

Former Curator of European Manuscripts,The British Library

In 1600 Queen Elizabeth I granted a charter to the “Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies”. Within a century three rapidly expanding centres of power had been established on the west and south east coasts of India and on the Ganges delta. A little over a century later Britain had asserted herself as the dominant European power in India. The remaining provinces were ruled by princes and the East India Company drew up treaties with them which were beneficial to both parties. The princes kept their privileges but had to cooperate with the British. By the time of the Mutiny in 1857 almost two-thirds of India were under British control.

After the Mutiny which shook British power in India, particularly in the north and the centre, the British constructed a more complex conservative system of government with a Civil Service which aimed to be fair and efficient. A Viceroy and Governors were appointed. Hundreds of millions of pounds were invested in India, it was regarded as a symbol of incorruptible administration of a subject people by an Imperial power and in 1876 Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India.

However the years 1901-1919, with the impact of global events such as the First World War and the rise of protest in India, saw a big change in the relationship between Great Britain and India. Inspired by Gandhi the nationalist movement increased in strength and in 1947 Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy was appointed to dismantle the Raj. On 15 August 1947 two new Dominions, India and Pakistan were carved out of the old Indian Empire.

The Directors of the East India Company established a Library in 1801 for the safe keeping of books and manuscripts placed in their care and the European Manuscripts Section began as a place of deposit for the private papers relating to India as distinct from the Company’s official archives. In 1858 the Company was abolished and its Records and Library were taken over by the newly appointed India Office. When the India Office was abolished in 1947 the material, after passing through various other repositories, was transferred to the British Library in 1982 and in 1991 was merged with the Oriental Collections Department of the British Library to form the Oriental and India Office Collections. OIOC is now part of the Asia, Pacific and Africa Department.

Included in the European Manuscripts Section are documents of every type: diaries, private letters, memoirs, official correspondence, scrapbooks, photographs and paintings. The diaries form a large and important part of the collection and provide us with a first-hand account of the official, military, business, social and private life of a wide variety of British people living and working in India between the late-eighteenth and the mid-twentieth century.

India during the Raj: Eyewitness Accounts - Diaries and Related Records describing life in India, c1750-1844 Part 1 comprises around 60 diaries and related records of many different styles, from a wide variety of authors. These diaries provide us with a vivid insight into life in India during the early period of the Raj before the Indian Mutiny and the changes which came with it. They include military diaries, diaries of engineers, surveyors and medical staff, of East India Company civil servants and those sent on official missions, travellers’ diaries and diaries of wives of East India Company officials and soldiers.

Members of the British Army and Navy

We include diaries of rank and file soldiers in the army in India as well as high ranking officers. Some diaries describe solely the everyday routine of military life, marches and engagements with the enemy, whereas many give us a fascinating insight into Indian life and culture, describing native Indian customs, flora, fauna and architecture. Several tell of unpleasant times spent in imprisonment after capture.

Some diaries have only recently been acquired by the European Manuscripts Section, after being discovered many years after they had been written. One such diary, which is an important record of the First Afghan War, is that of Captain (later Lt Colonel) William Anderson (1803-1858). He was a major figure in the First Afghan War and a reknowned cavalry commander in Shah Shujah’s force. Before the murder of Sir A Burnes in Kabul he kept his diary for recording useful memoranda but afterwards from 1841-1842 he made daily entries, covering the murder of Macnaghton, the Kabul insurrection and retreat and his time as a prisoner of Muhammad Akbar Khan and later release in 1842 with the arrival of Pollock. His wife and small daughters were imprisoned with him and we include a fascinating four page account by Mrs Amy Anderson of their experiences during the march from Kabul, imprisonment and finally their release. Of the 16,500 people who left Kabul in January 1842 only one arrived in Jalalabad. Most died of cold and starvation in the passes and the remaining 122 men, women and children were taken prisoner. First hand accounts of this episode in British military history are very rare and for this manuscript to surface after 150 years was a major coup.

Another unique diary is that of Colonel Cromwell Massey who was captured by Haidar Ali at the battle of Conjeveram, Madras. We include the original diary which is tiny, only 4” by 4” and also a printed transcript. It was written between 1780 and 1784 while he was a prisoner in the Fort of Seringapatam together with Colonel Baillie and two hundred other soldiers. Massey’s notes were written in tiny writing with ink he made himself and although he was constantly searched he managed to keep the diary hidden from his guards. He gives us a very clear idea of the hardships and indignities they had to endure:

“4th Oct 1780 ….The Head Myer and a Bramin came into the soldier’s prison the 19th Sept and chose out 15 healthy looking young men and took them to ye Killedar’s house, where they were pressed to entertain, that on their refusing they were threatened with instant death and taken from thence one by one into an apartment where an operator assisted by 6 stout Coffries circumcised them by force….”

One diary we include ends on a very sad note, describing the hardships of imprisonment of Captain Arthur Conolly of the Bengal Army and Envoy to Khiva from 1840-1842. He was executed in 1842 on the instructions of the Amir of Bukhara.

An example of a diary of a high-ranking officer is that of Brigadier-General John Carnac (1716-1800) who, after defeating the Delhi Emperor near Bihar in 1761, defeated the Marathas in the Doab in 1765. From 1776-1779 he was Member of Council in Bombay and a member of the Superintending Committee on the expedition against Poona in 1778. We include his diary for 1756-1757 during his time as part of an expedition to Bengal under Lord Clive. Included are details of military manoeuvres and skirmishes and the battle with Rajah Monickchund.

Captain John Budgen in his diary for 1798-1802 recounts his experiences as ADC to Sir David Baird on his travels through India. Discipline of the lower ranks was obviously difficult at times as he relates:

“….Sergeant Wood tried by a court martial for being drunk on duty. Broke and sentenced to receive two hundred lashes….”

Campaign diaries provide us with the minutiae and the brutality of war. The earliest campaign diary held in the European Manuscripts Section is Journal du Siege de Pondichery… written by an unknown French officer covering the period August to October 1748 and describing with minute and sometimes gruesome detail the relief of Pondicherry.

An important campaign diary is that of Captain Henry Anderson (1779-1810) of the Bengal Army. His diary from 1803-1809 contains accounts of marches, battles and the disastrous siege of Bhurtpore during the Maratha War 1803-1805. It includes also a description of the long march from Muttrah and back and then to Cawnpore, 1806-1807, with a narration of the campaign in the Doab in 1807, with plans of fortifications and of breaching batteries.

An example of a diary kept during the Third Mysore War is one attributed to Major Alexander Dirom covering the years 1790-1791. He was the deputy Adjutant-General in this war and tells of the difficulties of co-ordination between his troops and their ally Nizam of Hyderabad who had a huge personal retinue and who took about with him a huge “Bungalo” which required 2,000 coolies to carry it. His personal anecdotes on personalities he met are humorous and enlightening. Relating a meeting with Darrajah he remarks:

“…. Darrajah squints and had a silly empty look during the time we were there – he was either scratching his toes or fingers, & the soles of his feet- with respect to military matters I am apt to think he is quite ignorant….”

We also include some diaries of naval officers and that of Lieutenant Richard Runwa Bowyer of The Hannibal tells of his imprisonment by the French and later Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan of Mysore from 1781-1784. He bears it all with a sense of humour but as the following extract shows food was a constant obsession:

“I sold a Teaspoon, & bought some Bonanoes and made a Pie: and after first taking a deal of pains with it: a Dog got in and ate it up: I also employed a Portuguese to procure me a Bottle of Liquor, & he was to throw it over the Prison Wall: but altho’ we stood ready to catch it with an extended Blanket, the fellow threw it in the wrong direction & broke the Bottle….”

Included also is a very early and extremely interesting ship’s log of a journey from Bombay to England in 1713 and the private diary of Isack Pyke, Captain of the East Indiaman The Stringer. He describes his impressions of Bombay and the Cape of Good Hope in 1712-1713, illustrating it with lovely pen and ink drawings of architectural sites.

Surveyors, Engineers, Medical Staff and Chaplains

Some members of the army did not actually take part in fighting but were indispensable to the army’s smooth running such as surveyors, engineers, surgeons, veterinary surgeons and chaplains.

We include the diary for 1758-1759 of Sir John Call (1732-1801) who was Chief Engineer to the East India Company from 1751-1770, serving Lord Clive for five years and Sir Eyre Coote at Pondicherry. His diary gives an account of the siege of Fort St George by the French and gives, not only details on the skirmishes and the weaponry used, but also the numbers of men captured and killed.

Captain (later Lt General) Charles Reynolds (c1756-1819) had seen service against the Marathas and Tipu Sultan and surveyed many routes on his own initiative. He was officially appointed as surveyor and in 1785 accompanied Charles Malet on a mission to the Maratha chief Scindia during which he surveyed the route from Surat to Agra and Delhi. His diary for that mission gives precise details on mileage, the landscape and the architecture:

“Agrae: We were lodged by Lindia’s order in the famous Mausoleum-which is one of the most delightful buildings that can well be conceived and I think I may venture to say the world cannot produce its equal…. The workmanship within about the tomb is exquisitely inlaid with different kinds of stones representing flowers in their natural colours with all their nature folds and as big as nature that a skilful painter would I think find it difficult to throw his shades….”

Francis Buchanan-Hamilton (1762-1829), as Assistant Surgeon to the East India Company’s Medical Service, kept a vivid journal of his travels through Burma in 1795 when attached to a mission to Ava to conduct botanic research. His journal gives detailed geographical information as well as facts on the customs and language of the people. From 1803-1805 he was Surgeon to the Governor-General, Lord Wellesley, conducted a statistical survey of the Bengal Presidency from 1807-1814 and later became Superintendent of the Calcutta Botanic Gardens.

The diary of Edward Ward Walter Raleigh (1802-1865) of the Bengal Medical Service describes his journey up country from 1827-1828 as assistant-surgeon to Lord Amherst, the Governor-General. Details are given on his daily duties as an itinerant surgeon, operating on a member of the garrison to extract a cataract, relieving Amherst’s lumbago and on the perks of the job – receiving an elephant by lottery: “…The one I drew had not a promising appearance….”

We include one example of a diary of an army chaplain. Reverend George Trevor (1809-1888) was the chaplain in Madras from 1836 to 1847. His diary, 1836-1837 covers his journey out to India and his experiences during his first few months in Madras:

“Sunday 13 March This evening Mr Norton had a party of 30 “native gentlemen” at which he discussed to them about sundry English laws and customs, particularly the method of taxation. There was a JP present….”

East India Company Civil Servants

We include a mix of diaries ranging from those of young inexperienced civil servants to high ranking members of the Company. Some diaries are pragmatic, revealing only the day to day details of the author’s life and work. Some however recount the busy social lives of a civil servant of the Raj - the dinners, games of billiards, tiger hunting etc. Many of the diaries, provide us with wonderful detail and illustrations of the Indian landscape, architecture and local customs.

Concerned with official business and sharp in its tone is the private diary of Sir Philip Francis (1740-1818) during his final three years (1777-1780) as a member of the Governor-General’s Council. He gives concise summaries of the business of the Council, expounds his political views and does not disguise his distaste for the petty frictions which took place in Calcutta society:

Bitter news from America (via Bombay). Burgoyne taken. Hastings and almost every Body here in high Triumph. They seem to consider their own Security as united with the Ruin of the Empire…”.

The diary of the young civil servant John Ryley, from 1797 to 1798 describes his work routine but also reveals his lively social life. He was stationed at Jaunpur, north-west of Benares and his social life consisted of an exciting round of billiard games, breakfast parties, tiffin and young ladies!

The diary of William Parry Okeden (1800-1868) of the Bengal Civil Service relates his journey from Calcutta to Agra in 1821 while in his post of Assistant to the Judge, Register and Magistrate of the Zillah Court at Murshidabad. It gives vivid detail on the countryside and villages he passed through. It also provides a unique and detailed record of his tiger hunting activities for 1823-1841 when he was Civil and Sessions Judge in the Moradabad district.

The following extract describes the Indian countryside he passed through in August 1821:

“Passed Seebgunge about 8, when we crossed the river and arrived at Bhangulpore at 11. It is a very pretty station, and quite unlike the places in Bengal, for, instead of plains covered with rice, a hilly country, covered with mangoe topes and Indian corn with the Rajemal hills in the background, present to the eye a most beautiful view. The inhabitants are almost all Mohamedans, and the ruin of a college, for that religion is still to be seen….”

Below he gives us a taste of tiger hunting:

“April 20th 1834 A Bunjarah arrived this morn with intelligence of a tiger having killed three of his bullocks in two days at Niaghaut, six miles off. I started immediately, and on coming to the ground found it was heavy kanse and thick forest of semallow trees. On entering the kanse, an animal moved ahead of me. Powneah caught the scent . She was in the right humour, and giving one whisk of her trunk, she was up to the tiger in a minute….”

Members of Diplomatic Missions

During the late eighteenth century several diplomatic missions were sent out to India by the British government. One diary recording such a visit is that of George Paterson (1734-1817), compiled between 1769 and 1775. He was secretary to the mission sent out to negotiate with the Nawab of the Carnatic, in response to his complaints of extortion by East India Company officials. Paterson’s diary covers eight volumes and is devoted to his work affairs and impressions of the country, both on his arrival and on a thousand mile tour of the Carnatic. He recorded everything he observed of local Indian customs and summarised or quoted from dispatches and letters which were exchanged between his mission and London. He describes his daily visits to the Nawab and their conversations and records his growing intimacy with officials in Madras. The diaries are a wonderful combination of the formal and the informal.

In contrast the journal for 1775-1776 of Captain (later Lt Colonel) Allen Macpherson (1740-1816), Secretary and Persian interpreter to Lt Colonel John Upton on a mission from the Bengal Council to the Maratha Government, contains mostly notes of official business. They are nonetheless very interesting for their description of negotiations with the chiefs of the Marathas:

“They further declared that they wished nothing as much as lasting peace with the English and that the Colonel might depend upon their taking every measure in their power consistent with the honor and safety of their country to establish such a peace. The Colonel observed to them that the presence of their chiefs was a circumstance which the Governor-General and Council considered as indefensible….”


During the nineteenth century many men went out to India to make their fortune and to explore unknown territories. The diaries of Charles Masson (1800-1853) who explored Punjab, Sind Baluchistan, Afghanistan and Iran are a fascinating account of the experiences of an explorer and orientalist over a period of thirteen years from 1828 to 1841. Included are not only details of the scenery and routes but maps and sketches. Charles Masson was born James Lewis but after deserting from the army in 1827 he assumed another name and travelled to Afghanistan. In 1835 after his pardon he became the Political Agent to the Government in Kabul until his return to England in 1838.

Below he describes an encounter with a family on his travels:

“…. I found a family in which no one could speak Persian, and I being acquainted with Pushts? we were eventually at a loss. I succeeded in conveying the information to the master of the tent that bread was the article needed and that he should be paid for it. I agreed to everything and urged him to be hasty….His attention was attracted by the sight of a tin pot which I had purchased at Kandahar…. I presume the proximity of the village alone prevented him from making them booty. Bread was at length served…. Having smoked the chilhum, as is invariably the custom in these countries after meals, took my leave….”

Sometimes we do not know exactly who the author is but this does not detract from the interest of the diary, especially when the diarist give such detail on the scenery, towns, villages and architecture as does the Commander of a small East India Company fleet sent to explore up country from the Ganges delta in his diary for 1821.

Wives of East India Company Officials and Soldiers

Women’s diaries are extremely important as they give us a different insight into the world of India during the Raj – women reveal intimate personal and family details as well as describing the formality of dinner parties and social engagements. The diaries provide us with views of the Indian landscape, architecture and way of life. Sometimes they also reveal how women dealt with the difficulties of war and imprisonment.

The well known diaries of Lady Florentia Sale and Frances (Fanny) Eden are included but we also offer diaries of lesser known but equally fascinating women which provide an unequalled view of women’s lives in India during the early part of the Raj.

Lady Florentia Sale (1790-1853), wife of Major-General Sir Robert Henry Sale gives a vivid account, in her diary for 1841-1842, of her experiences during the First Afghan War and a harrowing description of the retreat from Kabul in 1842. She and other women and children were carried off in January 1842 by Akbar Khan as far as Bamian where they bribed Afghan soldiers to release them and were rescued by Sir Richmond Shakespeare on September 17th later that year.

As a contrast from the horrors of war we also include her notebooks of a stay in Agra in 1832. There are wonderful descriptions of Indian architecture and everyday scenes of India life with lovely watercolours and pencil drawings.

Frances (Fanny) Eden (1801-1849) was the sister of George Eden, 1st Earl of Auckland and Governor-General from 1836 to 1842. During this time he had to deal with serious famines and the First Afghan War of 1838-1842. Fanny’s diary, covering 1837-1838, recounts her experiences on a journey up country from Calcutta to Simla. Included are descriptions of temples, villages and the local people, scenery and animals, brought to life by wonderful illustrations:

“March 2 ….They are still in the same place & they killed two more tigers this morning which showed more fight than the others – there is some satisfaction in a tiger being killed, the natives crowd round the body & are so pleased – last night just as I was going to bed, they came and told me a Rajah had brought me a spotted deer, peacocks and 2 pots of honey…. I was not to refuse them….”

Mrs M E Doherty, the wife of Major Joseph Doherty of the 13th Light Dragoons, kept a journal of her voyage to India with her husband in 1818 and included in the journal are beautiful watercolours of life on board ship. Later her life in Bangalore from 1818-1820 is described in detail – luncheons, tiffin, dinners and rides out in the carriage.

Sofia Elizabeth Prosser (d 1835), wife of Richard Plowden of the Bengal Civil Service, describes her daily life in Calcutta in her diary for 1787-1789 and gives a marvellous account of a trip up the Ganges with all its attendant surprises:

“Nov 1 1787 It did not rain but blew a gale of wind and the first object I saw from the cabin window was the corpse of a woman beating against the shore, the sight struck me with horror! We imagined it was the body of some one who had been drowned. But the Egans told me it was a Hindoo woman who in all probability had been thrown into the river as it is a custom among the Hindoes….”

Mary Fitzgibbon (1813-1862) was the wife of Richmond Fitzgibbon, a veterinary surgeon in the Madras Army. Her diary, covering a period of thirty years from 1831 to 1861, is an intimate record of her personal life and her travels around India.

Mary Ann MacFarlan (1810-1873), the wife of David MacFarlan of the Bengal Civil Service in her diary for 1834 tells of her daily life in Calcutta and gives her opinions on Hindoo culture.

Lady Frances (Fanny) Chambers (1758-1839) who married Sir Robert Chambers, Chief Justice of Bengal at the age of sixteen was said by Dr Johnson to be “exquisitely beautiful”. Her diary for 1784 gives brief but interesting details of a busy social life of balls and dinners in Calcutta.

Lady Lucretia West (d 1828), wife of Sir Edward West, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Bombay from 1823 until his death in 1828, kept a diary for the whole six years of her marriage. She describes her voyage out to India as a new bride, her husband’s legal preoccupations and her family and social life.

For reference we have also included some biographical notes on the authors of the diaries. Please note that it was not possible to find details on some of the lesser well known diarists.



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